There are at least $2 billion reasons why the decision was made to split the third The Hunger Games book, Mockingjay, into two movies. Money aside, though, the decision gave the filmmakers a ton of freedom, and allowed them to craft a more satisfying arc. The kind of freedom not even Katniss Everdeen could win. We spoke to director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacboson, and they told us why Mockingjay is really two stories.
“Mockingjay Part 1 was much more political, more internal,” Lawrence told io9. [Mockingjay Part 2] is much more about war [and] the consequence of war, and kind of has the sort of umbrella themes of the entire series.”
The Hunger Games series started as a trio of popular books written by Suzanne Collins. Those books got optioned by Jacobson, bought by Lionsgate, and then turned into three uber-successful films with the fourth, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, opening November 20. It’s expected to be one of the biggest hits of the year.
“I always found this last chapter was about transition, said Jacobson. “In the beginning, [hero Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence] volunteered for her sister. She is threatened into a circumstance where she’s always had to decide how to react toward the script that’s been given to her. And [at last], this is the movie where she’s off book. She has to improvise, she has to lead, she has to make it up as she goes along, and she has to live with the consequences of those choices. She has to know what it is to be a leader. Seeing that character grow into her own and take charge of her voice and destiny is very satisfying to me. And that was the important thing in this one. That and a sense of completeness. I really wanted you to feel we had totally completed the story.”
Lawrence was looking forward to completing the story, too. He directed three out of the four movies in the series, so breaking up Mockingjay gave him a chance to do a great many things. First of all, he was able to make two back-to-back movies that are incredibly different from the first two in the series, the first of which was directed by Gary Ross.
Lawrence confessed that when it came to the second movie, he worried it would feel too much like a repeat of the first one.
“I think I worried about repetition more with Catching Fire than I did with Mockingjay 1 or Mockingjay 2,” the director said. “Just because there were going to be a lot of events in that film that we had seen [in the first film]. There’s going to be another Reaping! There’s going to be another train trip to the capitol! Training in the capitol! Tribute center! A parade! And so, really it was like, ‘Wow. How do I go through this one and make it feel different from the first time around?’ Whereas once you hit Mockingjay 1, the story completely changes.”
Not only does part one go in a new direction, part two is even more different. It becomes a bigger version of what we’ve already seen, which makes it an ideal finale to the series. It’s an exponential expansion of the idea that started the whole series.
“It’s still an arena [in Mockingjay Part 2], Lawrence said. “It’s just thematically different. But the themes of these stories have always been, for me, the consequence of violence and so whether you’re in games or whether you’re on a real battlefield, it’s the same kind of thing for me. There’s just a lot of parallels. I mean, President Snow [Donald Sutherland] starts to use the real warfare for entertainment, and there’s traps and pods, so there’s lots of similarities.”
Expanding the story also gave the filmmakers opportunities to concentrate more on key moments and expand characters who were crucial, but otherwise secondary, in the books. One example is President Coin, played by Julianne Moore.
“She’s a huge part of the book, but she’s actually in very little,” said Lawrence. “Actually, your sense of Coin is all in Katniss’s mind. You’re hearing her think and talk about Coin. But pretty early in the book, Katniss has decided that Coin isn’t a very good person. Right? Which kind of leaves her nowhere to go in the movie. And so we need to create a character that we thought was experienced and was active.”
So, because there was a whole other movie to fill, it gave Lawrence and the team the ability to round out the character, which they did with the help of both Moore and Collins. “We wanted to make sure that there was an evolution for Coin,” said Lawrence.
“One of the things we worked on was this idea that [Coin] kind of really did believe in the system of [District] Thirteen,” Lawrence explained. “She dressed like everybody else and believed in the system of rules that were in place... And you can see there’s a visual change with hair, makeup, how she dresses, there are emotional changes with her, [and] obviously political changes with her, but that was something that we really mapped out carefully over the course of the two movies.”
“You know, we got some flack for splitting the movies, I think they’re two distinct stories, but really, that kind of evolution would be a much, much, much more difficult thing to do in the course of two hours, versus the course two films,” he said.
The split also allowed Mockingjay Part 2 to really give audiences some huge, huge set pieces that might have been rushed in a single film. One in particular, set under the streets of the Capitol, is expertly crafted, with music that taunts your expectations, and camera work that dazzles your eyes—bringing to mind similar franchise movies like The Avengers and The Lord of the Rings.
“It was a very complicated and complex sequence,” Lawrence said. “It started with boards, moved into pre-viz. [But] we didn’t quite have the right kind of choreography that I needed, so I brought in my stunt coordinator, and we decided what the sewers were going to be like, what that final room was going to be like, so we sort of built a mock-up and a stunt team went in and choreographed it.”
Star Jennifer Lawrence did all her own stunts in the scene (save for one very obvious one) and when your lead actress goes to that level for the film, the director knows the audience should see it.
“One of the goals was to make sure we were being as smart as possible with geography—and not just doing fast cuts, and not hiding things in fast cuts,” the director said. “That meant holding on things longer and letting things play out, and so we did that quite a lot in that sequence.”
And while the music in the scene is one of the highlights, it was a late addition, and not even something Lawrence originally planned.
“The only thing we didn’t really figure out going into the editing of that sequence was exactly where the music would come in and go out,” he said. “Originally I imagined it all being silent. Just sound effects. And then working with the composer, we put music in, but then we actually drop it out at a certain point and let it continue in silence.”
Now, we’re going to talk about how expanding the novels into two movies affected some of the bigger events in the book. Jump ahead to the next photo if you haven’t read Mockingjay.
First up is the moment we all know is coming. The big reveal. The death of Katniss’ sister Prim. In the book, this happens very quickly and out of nowhere, so both Lawrence and Jacobson felt that was the way to handle it in the movie.
“It happens fast in the book, it happens quickly in the movie. I think it kind of has to,” Lawrence said. “There are moments where things are quick and things are surprising, shocking and kind of traumatic. That was the experience I wanted people to have, when watching that moment in the movie... When horrible things happen in real life, you know, it’s kind of unexpected, it’s kind of a blur.”
And yet, because there was more time, Mockingjay Part 2 is able to play more with Katniss’s reaction to it. The death happens so quickly and so in the heat of battle, it takes several scenes for Katniss to even process it, which adds a new layer of complexity.
“Something that interested me, that we talked about this with Suzanne, was the emotional consequence of this for Katniss,” Lawrence said. “Katniss is actually sort of shutting down through this whole movie. And there’s hardly a tear shed by Katniss until the end. It takes real time or her. I think it just makes her shut down more. It makes her angrier. It makes her a bit numb. I think she’s not allowing herself to process. It’s a messed up version of grieving, but it is a version of grieving. And she’s kind of unable to truly mourn and have any kind of catharsis until she goes home and that’s the very beginning of her healing. And I think she’ll honestly never completely heal.”
Any healing at all is seen in the polarizing epilogue, which jumps into the future to reveal the final fates of the main characters. Originally, filming of that scene was scheduled during the shooting of Mockingjay Part 1, but weather, and the fact they had another movie to shoot, changed that. Quite poetically, this ended up being the final scene Lawrence shot with the full crew.
“We were going to shoot that at the end of our time in Atlanta for principal photography, and we had a whole horrible winter ice storm and all this kinds of stuff,” Lawrence said. “And by the time we had to move to Europe, it hadn’t become green again. Because it was part of the second movie, we decided ‘We’ll shoot it in a year. We’ll go to Europe, we’ll stay on schedule, it’s one scene, it’s easy, we can keep it small. And we’ll cut part one, release part one, and sometime in spring or early summer or something we’ll just all get back together and everybody’s into it because it would be a little reunion.’ So that’s what we did. I think it was June or something in Atlanta, we had a real scaled-down crew, and got Jen and Josh and you know, the kids out there, and did the scene.”
With the franchise now coming to its close, Lawrence and Jacobson have different, but equally lofty, views on how they want history to remember it.
“I hope that Katniss will stand tall as one of the great characters of all time,” said Jacobson. “I hope that Katniss will be a role model for social change and the need for social change. The ability of one person to create enormous change. I hope that that sticks. And I hope to have any role in the continued fight for gender equality. In front of and behind the camera. I guess that would be my ambitions.”
As for Lawrence, he just hopes the films reach a status where the kids who grew up with them want to show them to their kids. “It has a huge fan base, and they’ve been part of their lives for four or five years now. And you know, they might have been twelve and now they’re going off into college. But the idea that in ten years when they want to show their kids and they just remember that time in their life fondly - following the stories, following the movies, the actors - you know. That’s a cool thing for me.”
Whether or not either of those things happen, the only reason they’re a possibility is because Suzanne Collins did something so special with her books.
“What Suzanne Collins pulled off in these books was so difficult,” said Jacobson. “Which is a story that explores the consequences of violence and the ability for it to be exploited for entertainment without exploiting it for entertainment. That’s a very hard thing to do. And to make a story about a female protagonist whose two sides are represented by two men in her life—without making a story about a female protagonist that’s about the men in her life. Suzanne pulled off something extraordinary.”
So is this really then end? Can Lionsgate and this team really leave this franchise, at the peak of its popularity? Jacobson says yes. Unless something very special happens.
“I was given the opportunity to adapt three great books, we got four movies out of it that I’m really proud of,” she said. “For me, Hunger Games is Katniss and we’ve told her story. And any times Suzanne Collins wants to tell more stories from the world, sign me up.”
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