Peeta Mellark didn't get much to do in the first Hunger Games movie — so how do you make him cool enough to deserve Katniss Everdeen? We spoke with Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence about the many ways he decided to "expand" the the second chapter in the Hunger Games series. Including upgrading Peeta from baby baker to badass Hunger Games victor. Spoilers ahead...
You filmed (and are filming) all three of the final Hunger Games movies all at once, what is this grueling pace like? Do you get breaks?
Francis Lawrence: The pace is a little insane, I will say that. We finished production on Catching Fire in (I would say) March. We sort of went down for a little bit so Jen could do her award stuff. And then we had another two weeks of shooting, but we finished in March. As we went into editing we started production on the Mockingjay movies. So script development, and working on the visuals and all of that. And when Catching Fire finished in August, we went back out to Atlanta. We've already shot five weeks of Mockingjay 1 and 2. And now I'm taking a break. It's a pretty furious pace.
Well not really not a break because you're doing press for Catching Fire right now.
Well yeah, it's a break from shooting to do press. Yeah.
A great shock in this film was the expanded world. Visually and in the dialogue everything was expanded upon. Even the train is bigger and built out — you see the back of the train, and it's amazing. Was this important to you and how did you find places to build upon and expand?
A lot of it, quite honestly, came from the book. It was one of the reasons I was really excited to come onto the project. I'd never been a part of a sequel before, and hadn't worked with this cast, and never sort of come into something with a set of visual parameters already. But I quickly saw, when I really thought about Catching Fire that it was really filled with loads of opportunities for world building. Which is something I love to do. Even though there was some esthetic unity that I need to carry through, there was a lot of invention as well. So we get to see a different version of District 12 because it's winter, and see more of it and add to it. We're going in to see District 11, District 6, District 8, see more of the train. We create a whole new arena. It was just a blast.
As a fan of the book I noticed a lot of nitty gritty changes as well. The first big change I noticed from Hunger Games to Catching Fire was you recast the cat. Why did you recast the cat?
You know what that was actually, and I was happy to do it, that was a request from Nina the producer and Suzanne the author. That they thought the cat from the first movie was not the way he was described in the book. And that had annoyed a bunch of fans, and things like that. But it also just kind of bothered them that Buttercup was not a black and white cat. So I was happy to get one that felt like the Buttercup of the book.
It's funny because now people are split. Some people think we should have continued on with what happened in the first movie. And some people are really happy. You never win.
Were there any other requests from the author?
No, no, no. That was, quite honestly, the only simple thing, the Buttercup situation. Everything else was working on the story. We worked closely with Suzanne, which was partly why that came up.
There are a lot of objects and people in Catching Fire that were just glossed over in the first movie. For example, you brought Octavia and Flavius back. What was the reasoning for bringing those characters in that were not introduced in the first film?
It's interesting because when you're doing a series of movies, and a series of stories like this there are characters that make it all the way through that are in the books that carry some importance. Octavia and Flavius were a set of those characters. They were a part of that prep team and worked with Effie and became an element. You look at that great moment from the book when they're at that part and they're eating and Flavia offers up the pink liquid that makes you throw up so you can eat more. It's worth having them in it just for that moment.
Totally agree, it felt like you made an effort to humanize and expand the people of the Capital. Specifically Effie Trinket through Elizabeth Banks.
I wanted to do two things with the people of the Capitol. I wanted to, overall, add a kind of sophistication to the costuming. Because I thought the more sophisticated they would be in terms of the sort of hedonistic, lush lifestyle that they lead with how they eat and how they dress and how they present themselves, [that] would actually make them a little scarier. And with certain characters, like Effie, I wanted to humanize. She may be a Capitol person through and through but she's actually connecting with our lead very strongly. I wanted to give her, her own story. For Effie, who's been always given District 12 and they're always the losers. Suddenly she has something that's historic. She doesn't just have one victor she has two. And she really likes them, and now suddenly they're getting pulled back into the games and even for someone who's so Capitol like Effie she suddenly starts to feel for them and feel the injustice of the situation. That was really interesting to me.
I definitely feel like that was something that was something demonstrated in the film that wasn't really necessarily fleshed out in the books.
A lot of it two was, quite honestly, is born out of… this is kind of the organic thing when you're making movies. When you look at the first movie all the performances are great but you love Effie more because of Elizabeth. [So then we think] what are we going to do with Elizabeth? You can have little funny moments or you can actually create a real character arc for Effie, and that was the fun thing to do. The same with Haymitch to sort of go through and see a different level of humanity in him. Especially if you start to understand he is the reason he is the way he is.
You fleshed out a lot of folks in this book. You fleshed out Johanna Mason and more, was there any other characters or District or scene that you were really excited to expand upon from the book?
I think the thing that I was really interested to explore, and not necessarily with the secondary characters but with Katniss and Peetah and even a little with Haymitch and some of the other victors, was the damage that the games have done to them. Seeing the elements of Post Traumatic Stress and seeing how that manifests in different characters. And to understand that being a part of that kind of violence and taking part of it and just witnessing it changes people. That was something that is really interesting to me and that was something that carried through the rest of the stories.
What was the hardest obstacle to create in the Quarter Quell?
The trickiest thing technically for shooting was probably the spinning Cornucopia. We weren't really sure how to do that, and we ended up really building an island that spun. That was pretty time consuming and pretty tricky. In the end, in terms of visual effects, was probably the fog. Just making sure that looked right, felt right, moved correctly, the pace was right, that ended up being trickier than I thought it was.
It feels like in Catching Fire you get away with a lot more violence than in the first film. There's a scene where an old guy gets shot in the head. You don't get to see it, but you see it.
I'm always interested in the impact of it, the emotional impact of it and the consequence of it versus the actual gore and and visual of it. Ideally you feel the intensity of it, but you're not really seeing the gore. And I think that's the bang. It's interesting that you say because the violence, to me, is so different in this one. You have kids killing each other a lot in that first story. This is a very different kind of thing. There's much less human on human violence in this movie than in the first movie. The arena is much more of a threat than any of the other tributes. There's a little bit of fighting but most of it is running away from fog and monkeys and tidal waves, spinning islands and all that stuff.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Catching Fire was a change you made. In the first movie Peeta doesn't kill anybody because, I don't know why. The first thing you have Peeta do in the Quarter Quell is drown another one of the victors. Was that intentional?
It was intentional. It was intentional. Yeah we made an effort to change Peeta a little bit. We just felt that he was a little too helpless. At times he can feel like a piece of baggage. We wanted to make sure that he was a little more vital. He can't injured all the time, he can't be getting carried around all the time, he can't be getting saved all the time. It was the thing that we worked on. It took a little while to figure out the right balance. It really changes your point of view on him when you come in and he's in a fight and he ends up killing somebody.