Home Entertainment Director Francis Lawrence explains the secrets to THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE's success

Director Francis Lawrence explains the secrets to THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE's success

6 min read

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of those far too rare franchise sequels, in that it actually improves upon its predecessor, itself a fairly decent movie. And while many may say that the film benefits hugely from having the effortlessly charming – and current girlfriend to the internet – Jennifer Lawrence in the lead (and really it does), that’s not the only secret to its box office and critical success.

So just what are these other factors which makes the movie so damn good? Well, it’s not Sam Clafin’s pectorals.



Speaking to Empire, the other Lawrence in this equation, director Francis Lawrence (no relation), broke it down, paradoxically beginning with the ending. Specifically, just how true it was to Suzanne Collins’ original novel it was (something which I also picked up on when I reviewed it).

“The ending comes from the book, of course, but the big difference with the very last scene is really the nuance in Jen’s performance. I think that was something that she and I worked on and saw something happen on the day, and that changed the way I shot it a little bit. Other than that, the dialogue comes straight from the book.

“I remember specifically that even when we had some different dialogue, and there was a different interpretation of the scene, we just said, ‘You know what? Let’s do what’s in the book.’ And we word-for-word picked the dialogue out of the book, so it’s all pretty close. The book does take a little more time getting to that last scene, though. We didn’t want to do that, but we went for the book ending.”


However, as faithful to the source as Lawrence (that’s Francis, not Jennifer) and writers Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy may have been, they were very strategic in snipping around the book’s potential adapted narrative pitfalls.

“There’s a section in the movie that even Suzanne – and it’s safe to say this because Suzanne Collins, the author of the novel, said this herself – called the ‘Cinematic Dead Zone’. There’s a part that really works in the novel, but it was going to be hard to put it into the movie.

“If you look at it structurally, it’s the second quarter of the film, so it’s basically back from the Victory Tour but before they’re called back in the Games. There’s a stretch of the story from the book there that is almost entirely lifted out. We discovered, quite honestly, that in the movie we really didn’t need it. There were a couple of pieces of information that we had to figure out where to plant in other spots, but this way we could keep the urgency up in a much stronger way by excising that. And there are a couple of really cool moments in the book that we were sad to lose, but that’s the biggest difference.”

The casting of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Games Master Plutarch Heavensbee was considered a coup by many, and rightfully so. The Oscar winning actor could be accused of slumming it a bit here, as he usually goes in for much heavier fare. And initially, that’s exactly what it looks like, as he doesn’t even get involved in the film’s ebullient pageantry. But once the character’s true motivations are revealed, that’s when you realize that there’s a much subtler game afoot, and one that needs a deft hand to pull off.

“That was the toughest stuff to track, I have to say. There are just so many things happening [in the scene where Plutarch dances with Katniss at a Capitol ball] and man, you know what? I actually felt bad for him, because that is a tricky, tricky thing to play. When you go back and really think about any one of those moments with Plutarch, it’s pretty remarkable and he did an amazing job. He’s manipulating on another level, whereas in the Arena it’s a little different. They’re all, in a way, still figuring it out too, whereas Plutarch is the mastermind.”


Now whereas Plutarch doesn’t really take to dressing up like he just stepped off a 1960’s sci-fi movie set, the rest of the cast – and indeed the world – are all decked out to the nines. Hell, maybe even the tens and a couple of elevens as well. And in a story where costumes plays such an important part to the characters – something, which admittedly comes across much clearer on the page than the screen, as the normally decrepit looking Katniss marvels at the presumptuous fashion – this was something that Lawrence (still Francis) and co just had to get right. And they did, all thanks to costume designer extraordinaire Trish Summerville, who was called on to do everything from bring to life Katniss’ impossible wedding dress to making octogenarians look good in swimming costumes.

“I have to say, we had this amazing costume designer, Trish Summerville, who I’d worked with before doing some of the music videos Jennifer [Lawrence] loves. We made our careers, early on, doing videos together. She came from a fashion background, an editorial background sort of, rather than movie costumes, and she did an incredible job. She had her work cut out for her because all within the first three or four weeks, she had to do 24 individual costumes for the Tributes in chariots, 24 individual costumes for the Tributes in the interviews, 24 individual training outfits, and the arena outfits that were going to get shot. All the Capitol party stuff, a whole bunch of Effie dresses… the number of very specific things. Sometimes you just think of crowds, but it’s more than that.

“We’re doing Dictrict 13 now for [the two-part final film] Mockingjay now and everyone dresses the same, so you can have 10,000 people and it’s not that hard. Here, she has all these super-specific things, and one of them is working really hard to get this arena costume right. The designs were great pretty much right away. There was a little trickiness in terms of the fit, especially in the crotch and being able to move without zippers tearing, and hiding zippers, all that kind of stuff.

“Also, what I found surprising is that they all looked good on everybody! Even Lynn Cohen, who plays Mags, looked great. You don’t know what an 80-year-old woman is going to look like in a wetsuit, but she looked good, she really carried it off! Or, rather, someone else carried her off. Or her stunt double did, who we called ‘Mini Mags’.”


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is out in theatres right now.


Last Updated: November 27, 2013


  1. Am I the only one who was a bit disappointed by this movie? The ending may have been picked straight out of the book; and maybe the book would also feel this way …

    I left the cinema with the unshakable feeling that they didn’t set out to film a movie – but just the first half of a longer film. Kinda how I felt with the Matrix 2 and 3. Matrix 1 was a movie and Matrix 2 and 3 were victims of that success, a massively long sequel split in two with neither standing as a movie in their own right and the whole failing as a too long, too drawn out mess. (Not that Catching Fire is a dire as Matrix 2 was …)

    Compare to Star Wars 4,5 and 6. Written episodically in a similar fashion; but each episode stands alone with an ending that leaves you satisfied.

    Or Tolkien’s work which was artificially split into 3 books but then modified slightly so that each book stands alone as a complete entity and still forms part of a larger whole.


    • Kervyn Cloete

      November 27, 2013 at 10:24

      That’s a fair criticism, and something I mentioned in my review as well. It’s tough though, as essentially Collins is more to blame for writing a middle book that is essentially all about setup.

      And she did this completely intentionally. It wasn’t like the first book hit big and then she decided to add the rest. She intended it to be a trilogy, but as is the case, you never know if your first story will be successful enough to justify more, so she wrote it less open ended so that it could standalone if needs be. But you can clearly see the seeds being planted for the other stories though.

      The only thing that Lawrence, Arndt and Beaufoy could have done to fix this in the movie, would be to start delving into the start of the story from Mockingjay. However, there’s no real, clear defined narrative moment that would act as a good closer there either.

      It’s a bit of a quandary alright.


      • Alex Hicks

        November 27, 2013 at 10:36

        I think something as simple as landing in district 13, stepping out of the transport and walking into a crowd with some cheesy triumphant music would have closed it better.

        I blame 80’s sitcom cliffhanger 2-part episodes for my feeling of disappointment … that “to be continued …” graphic at the end of certain episodes of the A-Team/Knight Rider/Airwolf/Magnum PI etc …


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