We hopped on a call with The Hunger Games movie producer Nina Jacobson, who after reading the book couldn’t imagine not making the movie, so she decided to buy the rights. Read on to find out how Nina feels about the books’ controversial violence, and how they had to make hard choices to bring The Hunger Games to life.
What was your involvement from the beginning?
I originally secured the rights to The Hunger Games from Suzanne Collins. I think I was able to convince Suzanne of my passion because it was heartfelt and genuine.
I tried to protect the book throughout development and production to create an adaptation that honored the book. That meant collaborating with the right director (Gary Ross) and choosing a studio, Lionsgate, that really loved the book as much as we did. I was also part of the casting process, on set, and working through post production. You're there to support the vision of the people who you selected to execute the movie.
How did you know that Jennifer Lawrence was the one to play Katniss?
She really stole the part in her audition. She made us all cry; it was pretty intense. Jen is an extraordinary actress. She has extraordinary range, complexity, and depth. Once she auditioned, it was impossible to imagine anybody else as Katniss.
There’s been a lot of talk about the violence in the books. What do you say to parents about the violence?
I'm a mom and I'm mindful about what [my kids] see and read. I didn't let my 11-year-old read the book until this past summer. The books are recommended for readers aged 12 and up, and we wanted to make a movie that could be seen by the kids who first discovered the book. I think the book and the movie take on very sophisticated themes that kids are savvy about. They are very much aware of what they watch in terms of reality TV, that it's more TV than reality...
We worked hard to make sure that the movie didn’t dilute the level of intensity of the games, but we also couldn’t glorify it, either.
The book is all Katniss’ internal perspective. How did you decide what was important to add to the movie and what was best left to the imagination?
You have to ask the question: Why does [Panem] hold the Hunger Games? Why is it a critical tool in the Capitol’s suppression of its people? Answering that question was an important thing for the movie to do. We found a way to do that in the scenes between Haymitch and President Snow.
Once Katniss is in the game she doesn’t know why the rules change, what gives rise to the twists and turns. We needed to creating a context for those things, understanding the impact on the population with what happens. The game makers have to respond to the effect the games have on the observers. We have to answering the questions that the book asked, but outside of Katniss’ imagination. Katniss has to guess and we get to show the audience. It was important to create the context of the games, to show Haymitch's influence throughout the games, and portray the growing unrest being caused by the games. Katniss actions have enormous effects and we wanted to make sure those scenes were added.
With much of the audience being readers, will there be differences from the books?
Yes, we tried to show some of the big changes with the first spot, we wanted to put as many of our eggs into the sister relationship basket as we could. That was a big chance. [Author] Suzanne was open early on to changes; she was very perceptive. We chose to let people know from the very first TV spot that the focus would be on the relationships between the key characters. As much as I love the stylists in the book, there wasn’t time to show them. I hope to explore them in future movies, but in this movie, we just didn’t have the time to devote to the multiple stylists.
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Who is your absolute favorite character in the book?
Katniss is an extraordinary character. It’s the idea of a girl who has a goal of protecting her family, specifically her sister. She’s not civic minded, she doesn’t trust other people, she can only worry about her family. The way she ultimately grows over the course of the movie to trust others starts with her relationship with Peeta. She reaches this ethical line, she transcends self-interest. It’s a powerful message for young people, and Jen really captures that in her portrayal of Katniss.
Tell us about the music in the film.
I think that Gary had very clear ideas about the score at the beginning. When Katniss is in the pyramid, that the sound comes from her point of view. It was important not to overscore the movie, he was judicious. The score makes it all almost unbearable. It should be unbearable. Gary was fantastic.
What was your process for casting the younger tributes?
You’re looking for naturalism. It’s easy for young actors to fall into the “Look, I’m acting!” trap. I look for authenticity. Parents and kids who have their feet on the ground, doing it because they love to act, and not because they want to be famous.
The setting of Katniss’ district is supposed to be in Appalachia, how did you come to the decision to film in North Carolina?
We couldn’t believe what a great thing it was. North Carolina is too good to be true. The mining town, that flare that we used for the reaping. We were looking through pictures and it was so ridiculously perfect, it was hard to imagine shooting anyplace else. North Carolina fit the bill so well. You have the modern qualities of Charlotte that we were able to use as the capital.
There seems to be this idea in Hollywood that girls don’t see movies, how do you think The Hunger Games can change that perspective?
I don’t know if I believe that. If you look at Titanic, or Twilight, or Harry Potter, the women are such a huge part of that success. Anyone who underestimates the power of girls in the market does that at their peril. Girls are a passionate and real audience. If you get it right, if you capture their interest, there’ll be there.
Are there sequels planned?
Our focus is the first movie, but We hope people will want to see another one! We’re working on the second script right now and hoping for a 2013 release.
That was our Hunger Games interview with producer Nina Jacobson. Hopefully you're even more excited to get to the movies! Have you already bought your tickets?
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