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THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
Release Date: March 23, 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Screenwriter: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"The only thing stronger than fear is hope."
-- President Coriolanus Snow, THE HUNGER GAMES
In the ruins of the land formerly known as North America, the annual Hunger Games are about to get under way – and 16-year-old contender Katniss Everdeen has only the remotest chance of beating the fearsome odds. Like most of the nation of Panem, Katniss lives in one of twelve enslaved districts, ruled over by a mystery-shrouded Capitol, which after decades of chaos and war, now suppresses the people under the thumb of a harsh yet decadent dictatorship. Every year, on Reaping Day, each of the districts must choose, by lottery or volunteer, one boy and one girl to represent them in the Capitol's twisted idea of grand entertainment that proves its total control, while also giving the famished populace the faintest ray of hope to hang onto. These are the Hunger Games -- an intense gladiatorial competition between 24 adolescent warriors known as Tributes, broadcast live on TV until only one survivor remains. . . and once Katniss is entered there is no turning back.
On this day, in District 12, the unthinkable happens – Katniss' little sister, Primrose, whom Katniss has helped to feed and care for much of her life, is chosen for the Games. In a brave, self-sacrificing move that she knows might seal her fate, Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place. Instantly, she and her new co-Tribute, the baker's son Peeta Mellark, are taken into custody, whisked to the Capitol, thrown into glamorous makeovers and grueling training, readying themselves to be pitted against the ruthless "Career Tributes," who hail from the wealthier districts and have prepared for these Games their entire lives. In the days to come, under the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss will sharpen her instincts, hone her archery skills and focus her growing strength and will on what seems to be the task at hand: stay alive at all costs.
But as she enters the forested outdoor arena as a surprise leading contender in the Games, Katniss begins to see that far more than the promise of fame, fortune and existence itself are on the line. For if she is to win, she will have to make decisions both defiant and heart-rending, weighing survival against humanity, safety against trust and life against love.
THE HUNGER GAMES is directed by Gary Ross, with a screenplay by Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. The executive producers are Robin Bissell, Collins and Louise Rosner-Meyer. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Sternberg, with Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.
The behind-the-scenes team includes Oscar®-nominated director of photography Tom Stern (THE CHANGELING, MILLION DOLLAR BABY) ; editors Stephen Mirrione, an Oscar® winner for TRAFFIC; and Juliette Welfling, an Oscar® nominee for THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY; production designer Philip Messina (OCEAN'S TWELVE, OCEAN'S THIRTEEN) ; 3-time Oscar®-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky (SEABISCUIT, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, PLEASANTVILLE) and composers T Bone Burnett (Oscar® winner for CRAZY HEART) and eight-time Oscar® nominee James Newton Howard.
THE HUNGER GAMES PHENOMENON
Welcome to the intense reality of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who must try to survive – by sheer wits and will alone – a future world that is at once high-tech and apocalyptic, glitzy and primal, unsettlingly dangerous and a telltale mirror to our own. Unfolding entirely through Katniss' intimately personal POV, THE HUNGER GAMES reveals how this miner's daughter from a dark future transforms from a mere pawn in a lethal televised contest to a soulful, sacrificing heroine who comes to realize that she has even more to protect and fight for than her own family.
Few who have encountered Katniss have been able to resist the visceral excitement of watching her find her strength, resolve and heart while under the most extreme pressure a teenager could imagine. This was certainly true for the production executives at Lionsgate Entertainment. For them, Katniss' journey jumped off the pages of Suzanne Collins' literary sensation THE HUNGER GAMES with such beauty and force, they felt instantly it deserved to be captured on screen.
When producer Nina Jacobson had bought the rights to the novel in 2009, THE HUNGER GAMES was just beginning to find a devoted audience. Jacobson brought it to Lionsgate's film executives Joe Drake and Alli Shearmur, among other studio executives, and they instantly became obsessed with Katniss and her journey. It was only as development began that the popularity of the books swelled in tandem with anticipation of the movie. Millions began to wonder how a filmmaker might bring to life Collins' fresh twist on a sinister future and – most of all – bring to life the complicated but gutsy heroine who made the book's adventure feel so harrowingly true.
Ultimately, Lionsgate and Jacobson put together a team, headed by visually bold director Gary Ross, that was equally compelled by Katniss' arc and how her evolution as a human being touched millions of readers. The idea behind the screen adaptation was to visually get inside Katniss' head, and ultimately her heart, the same way that Collins had done in words. In that way, the film would not only capture Katniss' battles with her fellow Tributes in the Games, but would also mine the rich themes Collins had explored through Katniss' life-changing experience: personal sacrifice, star-crossed love and the question of where our current society might be headed.
Katniss' world was initially inspired, Collins says, by her fascination with the ancient Greek myth of Theseus – who every nine years sent a phalanx of young boys and girls into a deadly labyrinth to fight the monstrous Minotaur. It was equally influenced by her experiences channel-surfing through an unsettling blur of reality TV and war coverage, wondering what this mix of entertainment and true-life terror boded for the future of society. Together, these two ideas added up to the birth of Katniss Everdeen – who enters a violent and mythic future from a perspective unlike any other. Her adventure in the Capitol of Panem, once she takes her sister's place in the Games, might have the breathless pace of a sci-fi thriller, but it is at heart about a girl coming to grips with the moral dilemmas of power, injustice and self-preservation at the same time in life as she is also discovering love, independence and her own identity.
A former children's TV writer and a mother of two, Collins found a way to make Katniss' world feel so deeply personal that readers couldn't help but imagine how they would feel in her place – as she is first driven to save her sister, her family and herself, but then begins to see the glimmer of a chance to make a difference for others across the shadowy landscape of Panem.
Collins was not afraid to take Katniss into risky terrain, because she knew teens were already grappling with these questions in the world around them. In her book proposal for the series, Collins wrote: "Although set in the future, THE HUNGER GAMES explores disturbing issues of modern warfare such as who fights our wars, how they are orchestrated, and the ever-increasing opportunities to observe them being played out." Yet she also balanced that with Katniss' growth and evolution into someone as courageous and principled as she is stubbornly tenacious. She noted that Katniss, though initially "distrustful," takes from this adventure "a deep capacity to love and sacrifice for those few people she cares for."
The success of THE HUNGER GAMES hinged on readers identifying with Katniss -- and that is exactly what happened. The book was soon being passed from hand-to-hand, reader-to-reader, developing a devoted following that flowed into the culture at large. Author Stephen King dubbed Katniss a "bow-and-arrow Annie Oakley," The Atlantic Monthly called her "the most important female character in recent pop cultural history" and The New York Times praised Collins' "convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine." Stephanie Myer, author of the TWILIGHT series, blogged: "The story kept me up for several nights in a row, because even after I was finished, I just lay in bed wide awake thinking about it."
Once word began to get out about the books and the impending movie, their popularity began to spread like wildfire. When the film went into production, there were about 8 million copies of the novels in circulation; by the time production wrapped there were 12 million and now the number has exploded to over 26 million. The first novel has since spent more than 180 consecutive weeks and more than three consecutive years to date on The New York Times bestseller list. Collins went on to write two more best-selling books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, which established Panem as a realm that has taken up permanent residence in the popular imagination.
Early on, Collins made the decision to entrust Katniss and the re-creation of her life in Panem to Lionsgate because she liked their hands-on approach, accessibility and commitment to the spirit of the story across the entire top tier of Lionsgate's film group. "Everyone we needed to get the movie going was right there on the phone," she recalls. "The studio was small enough for that to be possible and I felt it would be our best chance of seeing the story become a film."
Lionsgate made it their mission to show Collins that they would be faithful to her vision for how to bring the book to the screen. "Suzanne thought we were the House of SAW," recalls Joe Drake of his first phone call with the author, "but we convinced her that we could sensitively and accurately handle the material, citing our work on such films as the Academy Award®-nominated PRECIOUS and Best Picture winner CRASH."
Nina Jacobson was equally impressed with Lionsgate's passion for the project. "I felt so connected to it and I was certain that there was a great movie to be made -- but one that had to be treated with care," she explains. "I made a very passionate case to Suzanne that her vision needed to safe-guarded and Lionsgate gave us their full support for a faithful adaptation that would not be about blood and gore, but thematically driven."
Collins was likewise gratified by Jacobson's contributions. "Of all the producers we met, I felt Nina had the greatest connection to the work," says the author. "I believed her when she said she would do everything she could to protect its integrity."
From the beginning, Drake, along with Lionsgate's President of Production Alli Shearmur and marketing head Tim Palen, had lovingly referred to Suzanne as 'Mother Hunger Games. ' Their most important aim was to stay true to their word to her about how the book would be treated, and their choice of director was the first – and maybe the most important – decision they'd make on the path to honoring that commitment to Suzanne and her book.
The process of safeguarding the story and the character of Katniss began with choosing a director that would bring the story to life technically, but more importantly, emotionally. Their choice was sealed when Gary Ross showed up for the first meeting with Lionsgate prepared with extensive storyboards, and a video presentation of real kids talking candidly and passionately about why they love the book so much.
Explains Shearmur, "After this show of tremendous understanding and sensitivity, we all agreed that Ross was the man for the job. He's known both for the fantastical vision of PLEASANTVILLE and the visceral emotions of SEABISCUIT, and it was that balance that was so essential to this film."
For Jacobson, Ross had the perfect blend of epic and intimate storytelling skills to immerse the audience directly into Katniss' most subjective experiences. "Gary is not just a director but a writer/director and that was an important distinction for this movie," she says. "Getting the book right was such a big responsibility, and Gary's understanding of how Katniss' POV had to be the heart and soul of the story was spot on. He really connected with Suzanne, and they ended up writing the script together. Most importantly, while Gary has amazing visual ideas, he always knew this story had to come from a character place. So he approached it in such a way that characters drive the suspense at every turn and the audience has the chance to experience this world completely through their eyes."
Ross then brought on board producer Jon Kilik, with whom he had collaborated on PLEASANTVILLE. He, too, was won over by the book. "It has elements of classic movies that I've always loved, from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE to THE BREAKFAST CLUB, blended with a dystopian vision of where our society could be headed. I found that to be an amazing mix and as soon as I read it, I told Gary I was in," Kilik recalls. "I've known Gary since 1997 and I knew he was the right choice for THE HUNGER GAMES because he has children who love the book, and because he has this very rare and unique ability to evoke both teen angst and alternate worlds. Even though this story takes place in the future, I think Gary perceived that it's more reflective of today than you might think – and that's why people, not just kids but adults too, really connect to Katniss and Panem. Katniss is trying to survive a tough world of game playing and manipulation, just as we all are."
PANEM THROUGH KATNISS' EYES
Gary Ross first witnessed the impact of THE HUNGER GAMES and Katniss Everdeen on his own children. "I'd heard people raving about THE HUNGER GAMES and when I asked my kids about it, they kind of exploded and started going on and on until I had to stop them from telling me the whole story," he recalls. "Their enthusiasm was so infectious, I went upstairs, started reading, and by 1:30 a. m., I said 'I have to make this movie. ' It was that impulsive."
Right away, Ross had an unwavering vision of what lay at the heart of THE HUNGER GAMES' appeal. "My mind was clear from the beginning," he says. "I saw there was something really beautiful happening underneath the story. It's obviously a viscerally exciting tale of survival within a lurid spectacle of the future. But I think what really compels people to pass the book from one person to the next is that it is at bottom about one girl, Katniss Everdeen, finding her own humanity. She begins as someone who only wants to fight for herself, for her personal survival – yet what she finds in the course of the Games is something more important than even staying alive. Her heart opens and she becomes someone who's willing to sacrifice for something bigger. "
He continues: "The essential thing is that you are in Katniss' shoes. In SEABISCUIT, I wanted to viscerally put the audience on the racetrack. In THE HUNGER GAMES, the audience has to be in Katniss' head. You know what she knows. You don't know more. You're in this experience 100% with her. To that end, the film required a very subjective style. It had to be urgent, immediate and tightly in with Katniss the whole time."
His desire to bring Katniss' quest for survival and something more to life might have been instantaneous but Ross has a long history of bringing imaginatively detailed and never-before-seen worlds to life on screen. It began with his Academy Award®-nominated screenplay for BIG about a child transformed into a man; evolved with his directorial debut PLEASANTVILLE, which he also wrote, about two teens transported into a 1950s sitcom; and continued with SEABISCUIT, which he wrote, produced and directed, taking audiences into the fabric of the Great Depression through the unlikely story of an underdog racehorse.
Ross was now ready to tackle creating Panem – entirely as it would be viewed by Katniss as she travels from her remote, hardscrabble District to the eye-popping Capitol, and into the unforgiving forest where the Games begin, her perspective broadening at every step. He began by going directly to the source, inviting Suzanne Collins to collaborate on the adaptation, and to bring all her deep insight into the Games and Katniss' vital inner life with her. "It wasn't just that Suzanne was involved. We became a writing team," states Ross. "It was a fantastic, electric partnership. To know that you are writing a film not only supported by the author but with her input is a real gift."
Recalls Collins: "Gary wrote a draft which incorporated his incredible directorial vision of the film and then he very generously invited me to work with him on it. We had an immediate and exhilarating creative connection that brought the script to the first day of shooting."
Collins understood that the film would necessarily be its own experience, no matter how faithful to the book's essence. "When you're adapting a novel into a two-hour movie you can't bring everything with you," she notes. "Not all the characters are going to make it to the screen. For example, we gave up Madge, cut the Avox girl's backstory, and reduced the Career pack. It was hard to let them go but I don't think that the choices damaged the emotional arc of the story. Then there was the question of how best to take a book told in the first person and transform it into a satisfying dramatic experience. In the novel, you never leave Katniss for a second and are privy to all of her thoughts. We needed to find ways to dramatize her inner world."
As Ross and Collins worked through these challenges – as well as the question of how to present the violence that is so much a part of what Katniss faces in an appropriate yet impactful way for a PG-13 audience – they came to admire each other's creativity. "Gary was a complete pleasure to work with," sums up Collins. "Amazingly talented, collaborative and always respectful of the book."
Everyone involved was excited to see their collaboration blossom. "Suzanne left it to Gary to interpret the mix of casting, photography and production design, but she also supported him artistically," explains Jon Kilik. "While Gary made sure all the futuristic ideas and clever designs from the book are there, the screenplay he and Suzanne wrote is really about relationships, family, survival and the story of a girl trying to find her way home."
For Ross, the screen adaptation had to start with the world that has made Katniss who she is: Panem, a dystopian future realm which owes a debt to classic sci-fi influences from George Orwell to Margaret Atwood, yet that Collins made specific to both a 16-year-old's view-point and our current moment in American culture. "The back story of Panem that has to be alluded to is that a variety of forces -- global warming, scarcity of resources, lengthy wars, all these things – ripped away at what used to be American culture and culminated in a very oppressive state. When the districts rebelled, the Capitol instituted the Hunger Games as a means of control, to keep the people in line," explains Ross.
Both Ross and Collins wanted to highlight the way the Games amplify today's obsession with reality television into something that puts Katniss and her fellow Tributes in mortal danger. As sinister and despised as the Games are, people across Panem nevertheless get caught up in them because they yearn to see someone they relate to triumph and have his or her life transformed.
"The Games are like a Roman spectacle but they're also a lot like the reality TV we see right now," comments Ross. "People are riveted by the Games because we all have this need to root for someone to make it. When President Snow says 'the only thing stronger than fear is hope' it's because he knows hope is what gets people so involved in the contest. It's one of the brilliant things that Suzanne does in the book – she shows how the best way to control people is not to subjugate them but to get them to participate. That's how the Capitol uses the Games to control the districts."
Ross also began to envision the physical architecture of the Capitol, which he knew had to radiate authority to Katniss but also reveal the cynical decadence of those who would prosper while she and others struggle. He and Collins agreed the city should be rooted in history, not fantasy, even as it nearly overwhelms Katniss in the beginning. "We wanted the Capitol to give off a sense of its past," he explains. "If you look at any seat of power -- from the Brandenburg Gate to Red Square -- it's open space punctuated by buildings of tremendous mass. That was our idea behind it. To Katniss, it all evokes a sense of might and power."
WHO'S WHO IN PANEM
In District 12:
Katniss : The Tribute who becomes a heroine when she volunteers to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games
Gale : Katniss' fellow hunter, rebel and best friend, who is heartbroken when she volunteers and departs for the Games
Peeta : The male Tribute from District 12, who has long harbored secret feelings for Katniss
Katniss' Hunger Games Team:
Haymitch: Victor of the 50 th Hunger Games, now the rarely sober mentor for Katniss and Peeta
Effie : Katniss' elaborately-coiffed escort and PR handler for the Games
Cinna : Katniss' personal Stylist for the Games who becomes her unexpected confidante and supporter
Portia : Peeta's Stylist for the Games
Venia, Flavius and Octavia : Katniss' Prep Team for the Games
Marvel and Glimmer : The ruthless, dangerously skilled Career Tributes from District 1
Cato and Clove : Hailing from District 2, the two most fearsome Career Tributes in the Games
Foxface : The female Tribute from District 5, whose smarts lead her to favor strategy over force
Rue : The Games' youngest Tribute from District 11, who becomes Katniss' closest ally
Thresh : The male Tribute from District 11
The Capitol Powers:
President Snow : The dictator of Panem who rules with his own brand of laid-back brutality
Seneca Crane : The head Gamemaker, who created the 74 th Hunger Games
Caesar Flickerman : The official television interviewer for the Games
Claudius Templesmith : The infamous TV announcer of the Hunger Games
CASTING THE GAMES
Once word was out that a film version of THE HUNGER GAMES was in the works, speculation about casting snowballed into an internet phenomenon of its own. Amidst the hoopla, the filmmakers began coming to grips with just how intensely invested fans of the book were in seeing something they could believe in on screen. "It became clear that everyone who read the book had their own clear idea of who Katniss or Gale or Peeta should be," notes Gary Ross. "It's a testament to how connected people become to this story, and I found it incredibly exciting."
Adds Nina Jacobson: "People were very opinionated about who should play the roles and that was obviously a lot of pressure. But I feel the same way when I love a book – I don't want anyone to mess it up. So as we began the casting process, we talked a lot about looking for the essence of these characters in the actors. You can create a lot of different things on screen, but you can't create that essence. You have to go out and find it."
Katniss and District 12
It began with the most difficult character of all to cast – the girl who rises from the dust and grime of Panem's mining district to become an iconic rebel heroine: Katniss Everdeen. Her origins might be common, but Katniss is anything but a simple girl. Driven by harsh circumstances, she can be cold and calculating at times but at her core she is selfless and loyal. Only 16, she also is still very much in the process of forming her own ideals and notions of love and self-worth. . . in a world where such things are nearly impossible.
"Katniss is a fierce, independent survivor," describes Gary Ross. "She's a hunter, an archer and an athlete, and as the story begins, she already has amazing skills she's developed to protect and fend for her family. Most importantly, she's someone who comes to know her own truth. One thing Suzanne and I talked about is that she is a bit like Joan of Arc – someone who can't abide tyrants, which ultimately gives her the courage to defy the Capitol."
Executive producer Robin Bissell further observes, "In the middle of the Games, important questions arise for Katniss – not just can she survive but is she able to love, and who does she love? She gains remarkable strength but also blossoms as a human being."
Young actresses across the world coveted the role, but the search stopped when Ross and Lionsgate executives met with Jennifer Lawrence, who had garnered an Oscar® nomination for her devastating performance as a girl protecting her family in the low-budget indie thriller WINTER'S BONE. Most importantly, Collins herself gave her blessing to Lawrence.
Collins admits that initially she had some trepidation over the idea that anyone could embody the Katniss she'd envisioned. But Lawrence set those worries to rest. In a letter to readers of Entertainment Weekly, Collins wrote: "In her remarkable audition piece, I watched Jennifer embody every essential quality necessary to play Katniss. I saw a girl who has the potential rage to send an arrow into the Gamemakers and the protectiveness to make Rue her ally. Who has conquered both Peeta and Gale's hearts even though she's done her best to wall herself off emotionally from anything that would lead to romance. Most of all, I believed that this was a girl who could hold out that handful of berries and incite the beaten down districts of Panem to rebel. I think that was the essential question for me. Could she believably inspire a rebellion? Did she project the strength, defiance and intellect you would need to follow her into certain war? For me, she did. Jennifer's just an incredible actress. So powerful, vulnerable, beautiful, unforgiving and brave. I never thought we'd find somebody this amazing for the role. And I can't wait for everyone to see her play it."
"I felt I'd found the one person who could possibly play Katniss," recalls Ross of meeting Lawrence. "I've worked with many amazing actors but I think someone like Jen comes around once in a generation. She's an unbelievable talent and she brings so many qualities that are raw and true to the character, from her natural athleticism to her emotional power. I can always imagine different versions of films I direct, but I can't imagine a version of this film without Jen."
Adds Jacobson: "In her audition, Jen stole the role. There was instant power, intensity and certainty in her performance. Some people can be fierce and others can be tender, but Jen is both."
Lawrence says one thing instantly drew her into the depths of Katniss: "Her strength." She continues: "I'm always drawn to strong characters, because I want to be like that. This is a girl who has the whole world placed on her shoulders and she becomes a kind of futuristic Joan of Arc. I just knew that I had so much respect for the books and who she is that there was nothing I wouldn't do to bring that out in the right way. I also loved that Gary understood that this movie is not about Katniss looking cool with a bow-and-arrow – it's about her being heartbroken by all that she has to do."
The actress was undeterred by what she knew would be intense scrutiny by Katniss' millions of fans. "There's a lot of pressure when you're playing a character so many people are crazy about, but I felt I could rest easy because I was committed to do the very best that I could," Lawrence states. "I knew we had a group of talented people focused on making the best possible movie and that's what I believed in."
With Lawrence cast, the next task was to find the boy with whom she is paired in the Games: her co-Tribute, Peeta Mellark, who has long had a secret crush on Katniss but cannot be sure if she is to be trusted. Taking on Peeta is Josh Hutcherson, best known for his roles in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and BRIDGE TO TERIBITHIA -- and once again Ross was instantly certain about the choice. "It was unbelievably clear with Josh. He came in and was able to articulate everything we felt about the character," the director recalls. "He said 'Peeta is someone who can disarm the world with his charm, but he knows who he loves and he's always loved Katniss. He loves her so intensely, she is the one person he would give everything for. ' After that, I felt 'now I have Peeta and I can do this film. '"
Suzanne Collins was equally taken with the casting. She put it this way to Entertainment Weekly: "If Josh had been bright purple and had six foot wings and gave that audition, I'd have been like 'Cast him!' 'We can work around the wings!' He was that good."
Hutcherson remembers that the minute he began reading the book, he was swept up and felt a connection with Peeta. "I've never seen a character so close to me as a person," he says. "His self-deprecating humor, his outlook on life, and the way he wants to stay true to who he is no matter what are all things I could really relate to from my own life. I was very into Peeta from the get-go."
As the Games get underway, Peeta becomes even clearer about his aim. "His goal is to make sure Katniss survives," Hutcherson explains. "His greatest skill is his ability to talk with people, to negotiate and manipulate, and he uses that not in a conniving way, but to protect Katniss."
That was easy for Hutcherson, given his rapport with Lawrence. "I think Jen perfectly encapsulates a young woman who finds the power to take care of herself and others around her. She has both a hardness and a vulnerability that's beautiful and really genuine," he says of his co-star.
Playing Katniss' longtime best friend in District 12 is Australian actor Liam Hemsworth. He, too, came to the set with a very strong sense of his character. "Gale is a decent but strong-minded guy who hates nothing more than the Capitol," says the actor. "He hates everything they stand for. He hates what they do to people. And he thinks the Hunger Games are very, very wrong. With Katniss, he's always felt they were each other's only escape from this horrible world they live in. But once Katniss is picked for the Hunger Games, he is forced to watch this whole thing unfold with Peeta, wondering who she is really meant to end up with."
Notes Jon Kilik: "Casting THE HUNGER GAMES was like fitting pieces of an epic puzzle together and Liam as Gale was one of those perfectly matching pieces. He's got such a strong physical presence, and a kind of natural heroic quality, that really embodies who Gale is in the book."
District 12 is also home to the one person who fuels Katniss' survival instincts like no other: Primrose, the little sister Katniss swore she would always protect and whose place she takes in the Games. In auditions, Ross was immediately impressed with Willow Shields, an 11-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Willow was one of those amazing finds, and I was dumbstruck that a girl at her age could have so much talent," says Ross.
Says Shields, "Prim is someone who has had a really rough life and yet she's always really helpful and nice to her sister."
Once Katniss is sent to the Capitol, Primrose is left in the care of her traumatized, widowed mother, who finally begins to awaken from her daze. Mrs. Everdeen is played by Paula Malcomson, the Irish actress seen on "Deadwood," "Lost" and "Sons of Anarchy." For Malcomson, THE HUNGER GAMES was a true ensemble experience. "Gary put together a great cast. He is someone for whom every detail is precious and that's the stuff actors love: all that connective tissue that allows you to explore the moments between the moments," she says. "I found it exciting to see this phenomenal book brought to life by people who cared so much about what they were doing."
When Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol for the Games, their lives are overtaken by a team devoted to turning them into both TV superstars and shrewd warriors. This entire process is supervised by Effie Trinket, their jack-of-all-trades escort and PR campaigner. To play the outrageous but equally desperate Effie, Ross chose Elizabeth Banks. The director had worked with her in SEABISCUIT, but she caught his attention for Effie when she wrote him an impassioned letter asking for the role.
"I read the book right when it was published and immediately fell in love," Banks recalls. "I called everyone I knew the minute that I heard they were making a movie of it. It was a dream of mine to be in it from the get-go, and Effie was the one character I knew I could play."
Ross was impressed by her enthusiasm but continued going through his usual rigorous casting process, considering a wide range of people. Yet, as time went on, the choice became evident. "Eventually, as I began to really think about the part and what it requires, I saw that it had to be somebody who has comedic sensibilities but, at the same time, isn't just interested in the comedy," Ross says. "Liz really understood that and she was able to see Effie in a context that was incredibly important to the story."
Banks wanted to bring out not only Effie's perky humor but also her complexity as she juggles her precarious position in the Capitol with the eerie realties of her job. She's a very flamboyant person, but I also think she's scared," Banks observes. "She sees firsthand the oppression that is going on around her, whereas I think most of the Capitol's citizens live in ignorant bliss. But she also has the knowledge that, as much as these lives are at stake, her lifestyle is at stake as well, and if she ever pisses anyone off, they could take all this away from her."
Another beloved character found in the Capitol is Haymitch Abernathy, District 12's only living Hunger Games victor – now middle-aged, bitingly sarcastic and rarely sober – who becomes the official mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Haymitch may believe the Games are all just a show and winning is as futile as losing, yet he slowly but surely becomes Katniss' advocate. He is played by two-time Academy Award® nominee Woody Harrelson, known for his wide-ranging screen characters in such films as THE MESSENGER, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and the recent RAMPART.
Harrelson was seduced by the sly rebel within Haymitch's celebrity-savvy soul. "You might say he's a bit anti-authoritarian, which I can relate to," remarks Harrelson. "He was a kid who won this thing and then suddenly, he was making money, people were nice to him and he had a nice place to live but he just found it all to be a fraud and absurd. He starts out not wanting to become emotionally invested in Katniss, because as far as he's concerned, she's not going to be around long, but as things go along, he starts to think maybe, just maybe, she has a shot."
Harrelson and Lawrence embodied the tricky relationship between Haymitch and Katniss. "Haymitch has a lot of friction with Katniss because they're so similar," notes Nina Jacobson. "They're both scrappy survivors and he can't help but develop a grudging respect for her. In Woody, you can see the man who has seen and experienced it all and has that weariness. But you can also see that subversive, fiery man who has the intelligence to help Katniss through the Games."
Ross watched Harrelson not only find the comic side of Haymitch but the disillusionment that drives his savage wit and is upended by Katniss. "There's a truth and kind of sadness and anger underneath what Woody does in this role," the director observes. "Even though Woody is amazingly funny, he also brought a real smoldering subtext to Haymitch."
While Haymitch attends to Katniss' strength and strategy, her appointed stylist Cinna forges her image, revealing not only his artistic skill with such head-turning outfits as the "Girl on Fire" dress, but a caring heart as well. Taking on the role is Lenny Kravitz, the rock star and actor who gave a memorable performance in PRECIOUS. "We needed somebody for Cinna who could be strong, sexy and have great appeal without a lot of adornment," Jacobson observes. "This is a character who is handsome on his own terms and a rock star in his own right. So we got a guy who's a rock star in real life."
Kravitz found the character riveting. "Cinna helps Katniss create her vibe and teaches her how to attract viewers during the Games so that she can get sponsors," he explains. "I think he falls for Katniss as a person, and he not only wants to help her with her styling but as a human being." He also says working with Lawrence made that easy. "She plays Katniss as someone who really knows who she is and for someone so young, that's a beautiful thing."
The Capitol Power Players
At the dark heart of Capitol power lies Panem's dictator, President Coriolanus Snow, the architect of the nation's oppressive rule and the man who senses the danger in Katniss becoming a heroic underdog in the Games. Ross felt early on that a veteran actor like Donald Sutherland would give the character the weight and depth needed to make him real. "You have to have a real gravitas," notes the writer/director. "Donald Sutherland is someone who was able to bring a tremendous amount to President Snow in just a few key scenes."
Sutherland says that Ross was the draw for him. "He's a brilliant writer," comments the actor. "The script was really compelling and I thought it could be significant in reaching young people. It was beautiful to work with him and to watch him work and be inspired by him."
While President Snow has control over all of Panem, the darkly creative genius behind the 74 th Hunger Games is Seneca Crane, the appointed Gamemaker who has the power of life and death over the 24 young Tributes. He is portrayed by Wes Bentley, who Gary Ross has been a fan of ever since his acclaimed role in AMERICAN BEAUTY. "I thought Wes could create something so interesting with this character," says Ross. "Seneca is someone who is drunk on his own youth, ambition and success and Wes reveals how that becomes self-propelling."
Bentley found Seneca surprisingly intricate. "In talking to Gary, I realized he's not quite the cynical bad guy," he muses. "He's more a product of the Capitol's corrupted culture. He's not conniving to be a terrible human being. He's really a tech wizard and a showman who's trying to make his mark yet he's not really paying attention to the consequences of his work."
Rounding out the Capitol's most prominent denizens are Oscar®-nominee Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the journalist turned probing official interviewer for the Games and British actor Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, the Hunger Games' legendary television host. Says Jacobson of Tucci's role: "When I saw Stanley in his blue wig being so funny and extreme in a kind of CABARET way, it was all so wrong and yet so right for the character."
Once the Games get underway, Katniss must take the measure of her fellow Tributes, any one of whom could cause her demise. The casting of the two dozen Tributes was a major undertaking. "In the book, each Tribute has his or her own very specific social ranking and physical description, so we were very selective and cast them one at a time," explains Jon Kilik. "Our casting director, Debbie Zane, is just amazing at finding the most talented people from ages 12 to 18. She cast a wide net and was incredibly diligent. She and Gary worked patiently and very hard until we put the whole group together."
The most fearsomely dangerous of the competitors are the so-called "Career Tributes," who have been groomed and physically trained for the Games since the day they were born. Especially worrisome to Katniss are the four most favored Careers: Clove played by Isabelle Fuhrman, Cato played by Alexander Ludwig, Glimmer played by Leven Rambin and Marvel played by Jack Quaid. Each brings his or her own special skill.
"Clove has a lot more brains than a lot of the Tributes," says Fuhrman, who recently came to the fore in the horror movie ORPHAN. "The interesting thing is that she looks very girly and frilly, but she also a very dark side to her."
Adds Ludwig, best known for his role in RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN: "Cato is someone who is very strong, physically and mentally, and is ruthless, but I think deep, deep down there was a good person inside him before he went into these Games."
For Rambin, seen in roles on "One Tree Hill," "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI: Miami," the key to Glimmer was going at everything 110%. "Glimmer considers the Games an honor," she notes. "She enjoys the fame, and because of that she can be a great threat."
Quaid, who makes his feature film debut in THE HUNGER GAMES, says of Marvel: "I wouldn't say he's the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is ecstatic to be there and he just goes for it."
Among the more ordinary Tributes who are just as terrified and overwhelmed as Katniss, two immediately draw her respect: little Rue, who was reaped for the Games at the tender age of 12; and the quick and clever Foxface. A pair of rising newcomers takes on the roles: Amandla Stenberg as Rue and Jacqueline Emerson as Foxface.
Stenberg went all out for the part, rolling in dirt outside before auditioning for Ross at his home. "I had leaves in my hair and everything," Stenberg recalls. "Gary has a really nice house, and I didn't want to sit on anything and get it dirty, so I found a little stool to sit on. I was really nervous." Anxious as she was, it was clear she had a deep affinity for Rue, who becomes Katniss' ally. "I'd read the book four times and I just loved Rue because she's so smart and agile and yet sweet," says Stenberg. "I think when Katniss sees Rue, she thinks of her sister and that's why she loves her."
On the set, Stenberg also developed a tight-knit, best-friends relationship with Lawrence that further added to their roles. "They bonded in a real big sister/little sister way, which was fantastic for the movie," says Ross. "Sometimes they were laughing so much I had to tell them to knock it off but it truly mirrored the closeness that Katniss and Rue have."
One of Suzanne Collins' favorite scenes is Rue's final sequence, which Collins witnessed on set. "The scene's so key, not only because of its emotional impact on Katniss — Rue's essentially become Prim's surrogate in the arena — but because it has to be powerful enough to trigger the first rumblings of the rebellion," notes the author. "It's very demanding for the actors. All three of the kids — Jen, Amandla and Jack — gave terrific performances. T Bone Burnett came up with this lovely, haunting melody for the lullaby. And Gary, who was masterminding the whole thing, filmed it beautifully. There's this one shot of Katniss cradling Rue in the periwinkle with the lush background of the forest. On the monitor it looked like an exquisite portrait, like something you'd frame and hang in a museum. I remember Amandla came and sat next to me between takes and asked me, 'So, what did you imagine it would be like?' And I said, 'Like that. ' But really, it exceeded my expectations."
Rue's co-Tribute, Thresh, played by Nigerian newcomer Dayo Okeniyi, tries to watch out for her. "Thresh is your basic, hard-working guy from the farming district who loves his family and just wants to see them again. For him, Rue is like a baby sister," says Okeniyi. "He wants to protect her, but he knows a time may come when he will have to make a decision between his life or her life. In his heart, there's a constant tug-of-war."
Emerson was equally taken with Foxface. "I love that she's the smartest Tribute and that's the way she makes her way through the Games," she observes. "Her whole strategy is to evade capture. She's always two steps ahead of the game, thinking of the one thing nobody else could."
Yet within all the physical drama, Emerson says that Ross always kept the cast focused on the inner experience of their characters. "The great thing about Gary directing THE HUNGER GAMES is that he set out to find the heart of this story," summarizes Emerson. "It's not just a flashy action movie. It's about people and ideas you'll walk out of the theatre thinking about for a long time."
DESIGNING THE GAMES
As the cast began to prepare for their adventure in Panem, Gary Ross and his crew dove into bringing Suzanne Collin's vision of the futuristic world they inhabit fully alive on screen. It all started with Ross' photographic concept – to navigates Panem through the subjective experience of Katniss Everdeen, just as Collins had done on the page – which came to life in a collaboration with Oscar®-nominated director of photography Tom Stern (who recently shot Clint Eastwood's J. EDGAR).
"One of the most important things to me and to Tom was to convey the immediacy and first person point-of-view that makes the book so irresistible," says Ross. "This meant shooting in an urgent, intensely personal way that I've always wanted to use, but has never suited the subject matter of films I've done before."
This first-person POV would imbue every detail of the film and also become the cornerstone for the bold set pieces created by production designer Philip Messina, who found himself in the position of turning portions of modern-day North Carolina into futuristic District 12, the Capitol and the arena where the Games unfold.
Messina calls the look he and Ross established for the film "retro-futuristic." He explains: "It's kind of as if you took early Mid-Century, Depression-era America and suddenly brought it into the distant future, with twists of high technology. The book created an alternative universe where on the one hand, you have people scratching in the dirt to survive; and on the other, you have flying hovercraft. So we wanted to stay very true to that portrayal."
It was something vital to all of the filmmakers. "Phil was really able to create the future in a way that still felt rooted in the real history of North America," notes Nina Jacobson. "We all wanted it to feel like this could be us in a few centuries. And he did that, while creating a great range of sets from The Hob in District 12 to the Capitol to the amazing forests."
Much like the actors, Messina knew he would be up against readers' high expectations and personal imaginings of Panem. But, like Ross, he drew his inspiration directly from the book wherever possible. "Gary was determined to not only be true to the spirit of the book but also to the details of the book," notes Messina. "This meant that we never thought 'let's ditch this' when things were complicated, but rather we asked 'how can this be accomplished?' We were determined to design ourselves out of difficult situations in order to be as faithful as possible to the novel."
Messina and Ross shared illustrations with Collins to get her input. "She would sometimes say 'that's exactly how I pictured it,' Messina recalls. "Could there be a better comment from the author who came up with this world?"
One of Messina's first tasks was creating the Seam, the poorest area of impoverished, mining-focused District 12, where Katniss and her family live. Shooting in an abandoned mill town in Henry River, North Carolina, he found a grouping of 1920s homes that closely matched the environment described by Collins in the book. "This area was absolutely perfect for the Seam," says Messina. "We couldn't have imagined it falling in our lap any better than that."
For Ross, Messina's work on the Seam pulls the audience right into the harshness and seeming hopelessness of life in District 12. "The Seam had to have a feeling of squalor and decay," he describes. "It is one thing to live in poverty, but it's another to live in a place without any individuality, where all the houses are cookie-cutter and feel like they're made by a company and not people. Phil found the perfect location to bring out the regimented sameness surrounding Katniss."
For Reaping Day in the town square of District 12, the production shot at an old cotton gin in Shelby, North Carolina, bringing in 400 extras for the shoot, as well as building the tracks for a train system that carries the district's precious coal to the Capitol. "It was a lot of work," says Messina. "We brought in about 300 feet of railroad track and then had trains craned onto it."
Another intensive project was creating The Hob, the derelict but teeming black market of District 12. "The Hob is the marketplace and souk of District 12," describes Ross, "where Peacekeepers turn a blind eye. Phil brought to life an incredible marketplace where people sell all kinds of junk and things they've found on the way. It really evokes the deprivation of the District."
All of this contrasted in the extreme with Messina's designs for the Capitol, which were primarily built in a former Phillip Morris factory. "You see the Capitol through Katniss' eyes in the book and we wanted to reflect the opulence and vastness of scale she sees," he says. "I was thinking of these buildings from the 1936 World Fair in New York that were kind of temples of industry and we really riffed off that. The Capitol had to be imposing but also outrageous because to the people who live there it's like Marie Antoinette's decadent court."
The colors in the Capitol are a mix of icy and acid tones. "There's color but it's not necessarily friendly," set decorator Larry Dias comments. "There's no warmth to the colors. Everything is assaulting."
Katniss' own senses are assaulted as she rides into the Capitol with the other Tributes on the customary horse-drawn chariots that are part of the pomp and ceremony of the Games. Messina knew this would be another key design. "I tackled the chariots early on," he says," and we looked at zeppelin-style designs that would echo the Capitol's high-tech Maglev trains. We painted the chariots with automotive paint in black and chrome and even though they are mean looking, they also have the beautiful lines of sculpture. I think they hearken back just the right amount to Rome."
Shifting gears again, Messina designed the Games' Training Center as a bastion of raw sweat and anxiety. "The training center had to be scary and dark, with some Roman iconography but also very American, too. Gary and I thought of it as the scariest high school gymnasium you could imagine," laughs Messina. "The idea was to take the fear from gym class and factor that by ten."
"The Training Center is where all the Tributes start to size each other up, as they start using their skills," notes executive producer Robin Bissell. "Phil did an amazing job of building a set that allows that to happen."
For the lush, perilous woods of the arena itself, Ross had something very specific in mind and he found it in a pristine conservation area. "I wanted the arena to be a hardwood forest," says the director. "I didn't want it to just be coniferous. I wanted it to feel intrinsically American. In North Carolina, we were able to find an amazingly verdant natural forest that was just right."
The arena also contains one of the most challenging of all of Philip Messina's designs: the Cornucopia, a giant gold horn containing a cache of Panem's hybrid weapons and valuable supplies that the Tributes must battle for as the Games kick off. "I was a bit scared of how the Cornucopia was going to look, but in the end it is one of my favorite pieces in the whole movie – a huge, nasty sculptural horn in the middle of a field," says Messina. "We looked at Frank Gehry designs and a lot of modern architecture with folded planes and fractalized surfaces and kind of riffed on all of that. It looks like it fell from the sky onto this field."
Ross notes: "Phil created exactly what I wanted to see: a large, metallic, sculptural element that almost seemed like a knife's edge jutting into this natural world."
Even in the woods, the attention to detail was unwavering, right down to finding the right tree to house the infamous Tracker Jacker nest. "The tree had to be just right," notes location manager Todd Christensen. "It had to be the right size and have the right branches and it had to work for all the different angles of the scene as Katniss has an important exchange with Rue."
In the end, Messina was very satisfied by the way all of Panem unfolded into something highly unusual but palpably real. "I've done bigger movies but I haven't ever done anything that was as creative and fun as this design-wise," he concludes.
For the cast, the tactile feel of the sets translated into more immediate performances. "The sets were so helpful to creating the character of Katniss," notes Jennifer Lawrence. "I'd never seen anything like them and I felt like I was in some kind of wonderland for most of the shoot. From my house in District 12 to the woods, everything was even better than I'd imagined it in the book."
Costumes, Hair and Makeup
Equally key to Panem's vivid reality is the work of costume designer Judianna Makovsky, who has been a regular collaborator with Gary Ross. Yet this film would take them places they've never before explored. "This isn't the type of design we usually do," admits Makovsky. "It gets into realms of fantasy fashion in the Capitol, but we also wanted the look to be recognizable and relatable, taking today's haute couture a step further. For me it was a wonderful challenge. How often do you get the chance to do such outrageous clothing, hair and makeup?"
Makovsky started with the vast, yin-yang contrasts between the Districts and the Capitol: the former as rough-hewn and raw as it gets, the latter with no limits to its excess. "The Districts have very limited palettes," she explains. "They're gray and blue-gray. Then, when you get to the Capitol, we have two palettes: one is bright pastels, with lots fuchsias and turquoises, and the other is more acidic yellows and greens. There's a meanness to the Capitol, so we also decided to put a lot of black in there to mute the brightness and outrageous colors."
Katniss' clothes also shift as she moves from District 12 to the Capitol. "The clothes in District 12 are all work wear and Katniss has mostly hand-me-downs," Makovsky says. "On Reaping Day, she wears the blue dress described in the book, and we found a great vintage fabric that has the has the right kind of simplicity to it. But when she gets to the Capitol, her chariot costume is a leotard and tights with tall boots and it all has a very shiny, dramatic aspect."
As for Katniss' famed "Girl on Fire" dress, Makovsky thought about the intentions of the man who, in the story, designs it: Katniss' stylist for the Games, Cinna. "Cinna's a very elegant man, so we thought he would design an elegant dress, and only when it twirls would the flame within the bottom of the dress suddenly become visible," Makovsky says. "We wanted the dress to feel more high fashion than 'Dancing With The Stars. ' We added Swarovski crystals so it sparkles when she moves, but when she's standing still, it's just a beautiful dress with flame-like pleats."
Makovsky approached one of the story's most flamboyant dressers – Effie Trinket – with care, talking at length with Elizabeth Banks about her take on the character. "We agreed that Effie is both a little prim-and-proper and outrageous," Makovsky says. "There's a bit of 'schoolmarm' about her, but she's also a bit sexy. When she's in District Twelve, she contrasts starkly with the people there. But when she gets to the Capitol, her look gets wilder and crazier. Her sleeves get larger, the colors get brighter and she changes wigs with every costume, from pink to green to lavender."
Banks was thrilled with the process. "We all consulted over email back and forth," she recalls," and I had many, many fittings. Suddenly one day it was like, 'There she is! There's Effie!!'"
Like Banks, Woody Harrelson had very specific ideas for the look of Haymitch Abernathy. "You might think he'd be disheveled, but my take on him was he's a little bit of a bon vivant in dress," Harrelson says. Adds Makovsky: "With Haymitch's look, there's a sense that he's created an outward persona that isn't who he really is – he's putting on a bit of an act. There's this sort of Edwardian dandy style to him. He's refined but also a little dangerously sexy."
Most of the costuming details came straight from the novels – from Caesar Flickerman's blue hair and suit and Cinna's gold eyeliner to President Snow's scruffy beard and the Peacekeepers' gleaming white uniforms which Makovsky wanted to be both of another time and recognizable as police. "The Peacekeepers needed to stand out enough to be scary, but I didn't want them to look like they came from another planet," she explains. "The uniforms follow the basic shape that exists today in motorcycle cops and SWAT teams, but we take it a step further. And since they don't really have hand-to-hand combat but use electronic wands, they can look very elegant."
For the outfits worn by the Tributes, however, Ross and Makovsky instituted a change. "In the book, everybody wears exactly the same thing, but in a film you have to be able to see the Tributes in the woods and know who each person is," explains the costume designer. "So Gary made the decision that each District would have their own color jacket but everything else would remain the same. For the jackets, we worked to create something that looks high-tech but that would be lightweight and versatile, allowing us to hide padding and harnesses for all the stunt work."
The bold design extended to hair and makeup, with as many as 80 hair and makeup artists working in a single day for the film's large crowd scenes. Lead makeup designer Ve Neill, a three-time Oscar® winner, says THE HUNGER GAMES "is a makeup designer's dream with everything from high-fashion and avant-garde beauty to prosthetics and injuries, a vast scope and challenge for any artist."
Following the trajectory of the costumes, Neill's makeup work begins in gritty shades of beige in District 12 only to erupt into a rainbow array in the Capitol where Neill attempted to straddle the fine line between the playfulness of luxe fashion and outright comedy. "The idea was for the Capitol to be visually stunning in a way very close to the book, but without looking silly. The men of the Capitol are extremely groomed with colored hair and the women all have bleached eyebrows, giving them a very austere look," she explains.
Once the Tributes are in the arena, the makeup changes again to become more stripped-back and real as the contest for survival starts among the Tributes in the forest. "That part of the film became about dirt and cuts and Tracker Jacker wasp bites," she notes.
Lead hair designer Linda Flowers felt liberated by not having to comply with current trends. "There were no boundaries and nothing holding me back from being creative," she says. "I loved that there were so many interesting colors and textures in the hair for Panem. You don't get that many opportunities to do things like lime-green hair! But the big challenge was finding the balance of creating interesting, original looks that you can also take seriously, because the Capitol isn't supposed to be whimsical. It's a society with a mean core to it and that has to come across."
For Katniss, Flowers remained faithful to her signature braid, creating a side-swept style that is practical yet distinctive and took 20 minutes each day to prepare. "We stayed very true to Katniss' look from the novel, adding just a few touches to make it more visually interesting," she explains.
Other Tributes went a bit farther afield. "For Clove, I was inspired by those Kung Fu movies with women in ponytails, so we made her a kind of tier of pony-tail balls that really suit the character. Glimmer is very glamorous so she has this pretty fishbone braiding. And Rue's hair is very innocent because she's the youngest," explains Flowers.
There were days shooting on the Capitol sets when the hair and makeup teams had to oversee more than 400 wigs, 500 pairs of bleached eyebrows and hundreds of extras flowing through the process of transformation into the Capitol's idea of style.
As with Messina's work the bottom line was a sense of reality – albeit an imaginative one. "Judianna Makovsky and Ve Neill created a look that doesn't feel outlandish, but one rooted in the history of American customs," summarizes Jacobson. "One of Gary's strengths on this film was maintaining a consistent tone throughout, from the Capitol's eccentricity to the intense physicality of the Games, and the design team brought all the right instincts to do that. It all feels like one story."
TRAINING FOR THE GAMES
Much like the Tributes they portray, the young cast of the film had to immediately jump into the most intensive training of their lives to prepare for the highly physical action of the Hunger Games. They beefed up, leaned out and dialed in their skills via a comprehensive but crash-bang, 8-week training program just before production began. Most of all, they immersed themselves into the psychological situations faced by their characters, who each must use everything they've got – body, mind and soul – if they have any hope of beating the remote odds against them all.
"We had to take a cast, most of whom had no previous action experience, and turn them into stunt people capable of firing bows, throwing spears and climbing trees," explains Gary Ross. "There was a massive training component to making it all real. In the end, we only rarely used stunt doubles."
Stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and Allan Poppleton began by teaching combat choreography to the cast – with a twist. "The interesting part is that Gary really didn't want the action to feel choreographed so we tried to create a more spontaneous feeling of wild, emotional struggle," explains Stahelski. "We looked at each character and talked about their skills, their energy levels, the way they move and working with all of those elements, ran with the action sequences from there."
Meanwhile, stunt trainer Logan Hood set up a gym program with an emphasis on functional fitness – using everything from free weights to pushups and pull-ups to rope climbs and high box jumps – with each actor given a custom training program specific to their character. The training also included elements of "free running," the newfangled sport of urban gymnastics, featuring free-form, creative acrobatic moves over all kinds of obstacles.
"The training had to transfer directly to their characters' personalities and backgrounds," explains Hood. "We weren't interested so much in creating 'gym bodies' as in creating seamless, believable performances for each of the Tributes."
Though Jennifer Lawrence is naturally athletic, she says she worked hard at trying to bring out Katniss' grace under fire. "Since half the movie for me is running, I worked extensively with a running coach. All day long I was running down mountains, through sticks and brush, and doing it over and over again," she explains. "I also worked a lot on climbing, both at rock gyms and on real trees, as well as on vault stunts and even more on archery. The training was really rough, but also really fun."
The Zen focus of archery was challenging for Lawrence to master – as she learned to use both an old school hunting bow and the futuristic "recurve" bow, a twist on current Olympic bows, used in the Games -- but very rewarding when she did. "Archery is a real mind game, all about total focus," she says," and if you do one thing wrong, you get whipped with a string going like a hundred miles an hour and it's painful! I developed a real love-hate relationship with it. Ultimately, the bow became my friend."
As part of her stunt work in the woods, Lawrence also had to confront a wall of fire created by Special Effects Set Foreman Brandon McLaughlin and Special Effects Coordinator Steve Cremin who built steel trees to withstand a forest blaze that was later enhanced by Visual Effects Supervisor Sheena Duggal. Says McLaughlin: "Gary's idea was to keep everything real as possible. So instead of a ten-foot fireball that defies reality, he wanted a six-foot fireball moving at Katniss in a way that you really feel it."
By the time production was underway, Lawrence was ready for whatever Katniss would face. "Jennifer was up for anything, bringing a great attitude to the training," recalls Robin Bissell. "Every day she would drive out to UCLA to train then head to the Valley for stunt training, then off to rock climbing and then to Santa Monica for lessons with an Olympic archer. She worked really, really hard and by the time we were filming, she had an amazing acumen for all of Katniss' skills."
Though he's been involved in sports since he was a little kid, Josh Hutcherson had to put on 15 pounds of muscle for the role of Peeta. "I had to eat a lot of food and work out hard five days a week, with a lot of heavy weightlifting," he explains. "The training was rigorous but it worked. And I loved doing all the running, jumping and evading people.
Hood adds: "We had Josh eating a ton and doing a crash program of heavy push and pull exercises. We had such a short lead time, but he jumped right into it."
The muscle building was one thing, but finding the competitive edge necessary for the Games was something else again. "We had to learn to go from hanging out with your fellow actors to finding all kinds of fear and aggression against them. It was a very drastic transition every day, but we had amazing actors who brought that out physically," says Hutcherson.
Alexander Ludwig especially had his work cut out for him as the ferocious Cato. "The fight training was extremely intense," Ludwig admits. "I trained and trained and trained because I really wanted to be skilled the way Cato is. It was a great experience because I got to learn a lot of cool stuff, diving over things, doing flips, and more. I wanted to incorporate it all in the film, because I didn't want to let any of what we learned go to waste."
Dayo Okeniyi also had to do a lot of training to play Thresh. "I had to gain about 20 pounds so I went on a rigorous protein diet, did bodybuilding exercises, trained with swords, trained with boxing, and trained hand-to-hand combat for two months. But I love that stuff, so it was awesome."
The entire cast was awed to see the results of their work ethic. "We were doing a lot of fun things like somersault rolls, balance boards, jumping on high blocks and obstacle courses," recalls Jacqueline Emerson who plays Foxface. "But suddenly, you realize you've built all kinds of strength and stamina."
Like the Tributes, the cast also had to endure the mercurial threats of shooting in the deep woods, which ranged from extreme weather to wild bears – not a complete surprise, given they were shooting in an area of North Carolina known for having the highest black bear density in the United States. "At times, if felt like we were all participating in the Games," remarks Jon Kilik. "We were literally confronting snakes, bears and lightning and that is something you feel on the screen."
"It was brutal at times," Jack Quaid admits. "We had torrential downpours, flooding, scorching heat and then a bear would wander onto the set. But it was an amazing bonding experience. For most of us, this is either our first or second movie, and here we were flung into this crazy world. We definitely all had a great story to tell about what we did on our summer vacation."
In the end, Ross wanted that heady mix of Katniss' exhilaration, adrenaline, mortal fear and moral dilemmas to transfer directly to the audience as the characters battle to survive. He knew there could be no holding back from the character's raw emotions and tough decisions. "The beauty of what Suzanne did in the book was to always be honorable and never exploitative," sums up Nina Jacobson. "She achieved that so deftly and Gary set out to keep that part of THE HUNGER GAMES' legacy."
For Suzanne Collins, that legacy is most of all about provoking young minds to think about the direction of the world's future. As she told The New York Times about her hopes for THE HUNGER GAMES' impact: "It's crucial that young readers are considering scenarios about humanity's future, because the challenges are about to land in their laps. I hope they question how elements of the books might be relevant in their own lives. About global warming, about our mistreatment of the environment, but also questions like: How do you feel about the fact that some people take their next meal for granted when so many other people are starving in the world? What do you think about choices your government, past and present, or other governments around the world make? What's your relationship to reality TV versus your relationship to the news? Was there anything in the book that disturbed you because it reflected aspects of your own life, and if there was, what can you do about it? Because you know what? Even if they're not of your making, these issues and how to deal with them will become your responsibility."
# # #
A BRIEF GUIDE TO PANEM
AND THE 74 th ANNUAL HUNGER GAMES
History: The nation of Panem arose from the ashes after apocalyptic events and a global war nearly destroyed life as it was known in North America. Over time, 13 districts came under the rule of a despotic Capitol hanging on to the last vestiges of civilization. Approximately 74 years before these Hunger Games, Panem experienced the so-called "Dark Days," when the districts unleashed a deadly rebel war on the Capitol. The Capitol regained control, obliterating the 13 th district completely, and instituted the Hunger Games as a means of intimidating its citizens, lulling them with its unforgiving form of entertainment, and keeping the youth in line.
The Capitol: Located in the area formerly known as the Rocky Mountains, the Capitol is both Panem's central seat of government and a decadent realm of style, fashion and indulgence. Those who live in the Capitol have their own lifestyle and are largely unaware of the suffering of those who live in the outlying districts. The Capitol is also the home of Panem's dictator, President Coriolanus Snow.
The Districts : The twelve outer Districts of Panem are industrial centers serving the interests of the Capitol. They vary in wealth and culture, but the iron fist of the dictatorship controls all. No District citizen can visit the Capitol except to play in the Hunger Games. District 1 manufactures luxury goods; District 2 is a gem mining and defense center; District 3 produces electronics; District 4 is dedicated to fisheries; District 5 is involved in science and research; District 6 develops transportation; District 7's specialty is lumber; District 8 is the textile center; District 9 grows the nation's grain; District 10 raises livestock; District 11 is focused on agriculture including vegetables and herbs; and District 12, located in the Appalachian Mountains, is the coal mining district that fuels the Capitol.
Games : An annual contest for the last 74 years, in which 24 Tributes ages 12 through 18 – one boy and one girl from each of Panem's 12 districts – are forced to enter a themed arena contest in which they are forced to fight, until only one person remains. The entire event is broadcast live and is mandatory viewing for the entire nation of Panem.
Tributes: Tributes are aged twelve to eighteen years and chosen for the Hunger Games via lottery. Tributes can also volunteer for the Games or volunteer in place of another person, as Katniss does for her younger sister Primrose.
Tributes : Volunteers for the Games from the richer districts, who have been training their whole lives, entering the Games with incredible advantages in strength and skill. They have been taught to believe there is no greater glory than winning the Games.
Peacekeepers: Panem's version of police, who work exclusively for the Capitol and patrol 24-7.
Escorts : Often flamboyant Capitol citizens who accompany the Tributes to the Games and serve as their advocates, advisers and PR strategists.
Prep Team : A group of stylists and make-up artists charged with making the Tributes glamorous celebrities for their public appearances and the televised Games.
Jackers : Genetically altered wasps created in the Capitol and known for their vicious sting.
Victors: Victors are those few who have won the Hunger Games, after which they attain riches for life, though at a terrible price. Some Victors, such as Haymitch Abernathy, become Mentors, training Tributes from their districts.
Berries: A poisonous fruit that factors into Katniss' ultimate strategy to beat the rules of the
THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY: AWARDS, NOTABLES, & BEST BOOK LISTS
(Updated August 2011)
#1 USA Today Bestseller #1 New York Times Bestseller #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller
3 Apples Teen Choice Book Award (New York) 
Abraham Lincoln Award: Illinois' High School Readers' Choice Award 
Arkansas Teen Book Award 2010 (Level 1: 7th-9th grades)
ALA [American Library Association] Best Books for Young Adults 
ALA [American Library Association] Popular Paperbacks for Teens ("What If…Fantasy and Dystopia") 
Booklist Editors' Choice List 
California Young Reader Medal [2010-2011]
Children's Book Council Children's Choice Book Award (short-listed) 
Chelmsford (MA) One Book Selection 
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award 
Cybils Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award for Fantasy & Science Fiction 
Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award [2010-2011]
Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers 
Grand Canyon Reader Tween Award (Arizona) 
Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (The Writing Conference, Inc. ) 
A Horn Book "Fanfare" Book 
Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award (Middle Grades) [2010-2011]
Isinglass Award, Barrington Public Library (New Hampshire) [2009-2010]
Kentucky Bluegrass Award Winner (Grades 9-12) 
Keystone State (Pennsylvania) Reading Association - Young Adult Book Award 
A Kirkus Best Young Adult Book of the Year 
Maine Student Book Award [2009-2010]
Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award - High School [2010-2011]
Missouri Truman Readers Award (Grades 6-8) [2010-2011]
Missouri Gateway Readers Award (Grades 9-12) [2010-2011]
Nebraska Golden Sower Award 
Nevada Young Reader Association Award (Young Adult) 
New Hampshire Teen Reader's Choice Award 
New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award 
New York Public Library "Stuff of the Teen Age" 
New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award 
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice 
A New York Times Notable Book 
North Carolina School Library Media Association Young Adult High School Book Award [2009-2010]
Ohio Buckeye Book Award - Teen Section 
Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award - High School Award (Oklahoma Library Association) 
Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award - Intermediate Award (Oklahoma Library Association) 
Oregon Readers Choice Award 
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award [2009-2010]
PNLA (Pacific Northwest Library Association) Young Reader's Choice 
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year 
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, Illinois Children's Choice Award 
Rhode Island Teen Book Award 
A School Library Journal Best Book 
South Carolina Junior Book Award [2010-2011]
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award [2010-2011]
South Dakota Library Association Young Adult Reading Program Award [2010-2011]
South Dakota Young Adult Reading Program List - High School 
Teen Buckeye Book Award (Ohio) 
Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award [2010-2011] Texas Lone Star Reading List 
Texas Tayshas Reading List 
Thumbs Up! Award, Michigan Library Association 
Utah's Beehive Book Award (Young Adult) 
Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award  Virginia Readers' Choice Award [2010-2011]
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 Lionsgate