Interview: Catching Fire Director Francis Lawrence On Taking Over The Hunger Games And Seeing The Series Out

hunger games catching fire full size posterToday's the day that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is in UK cinemas – if you're in the US, I believe you have to wait until midnight. Sorry about that, America.

I've now seen the first film in the series a few times over, and enjoyed and appreciated it more on each occasion. I know I've already been pretty vocal about my love of the first film, and it's also no secret that I was feeling a little apprehensive about Catching Fire.

But I really shouldn't have been.

This film can not only stand alongside the first chapter, it feels like the next, vital, essential instalment in a series. It's almost like we're getting episodes of a great TV show… just really very, very spaced out.

And on the big screen, of course, with all the bonuses and boons that brings with it.

Much like Firefly or Breaking Bad or The Wire maintained their personality and value as different directors came in to handle each instalment, so it is with the transition from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence. Ross set the bar, Lawrence stepped up to it and, in some respects, pushed it.

When I met up with Lawrence last week, half of our conversation was about this film being transitional, in a sense; about Lawrence picking up the reigns and moving the series along, and also about him being set to continue, seeing the series out with the two Mockingjay movies that he currently has in production.

Here's that portion of our conversation. It started with me asking Lawrence what he considered to be the greatest gift handed down from Gary Ross and the first film.

I definitely think it's the cast. Jen and Josh and Elizabeth and Stanley, Donald Sutherland, they were amazing. But I also think there were some aesthetic choices made that were very nice. I really liked the way District 12 looks and feels, this 1930s Appalachia feeling, and we definitely used that aesthetic to carry through the various districts. And then some of the choices in The Capitol were pretty great in terms of the fascist, brutalist architecture. There was a lot for me to grab on to and to run with in this one.

I didn't really look at it like there were gaps or blanks to still be filled in. The process I went through when I got the call, and I debated whether or not to do the movie, was that I wanted to re-read the book, Catching Fire, and I wanted to see how much room there was for me to be creative. I knew that I was inheriting this cast and I knew there were going to be some aesthetic parameters but I needed to see how much freedom I was going to have. Working inside someone else's world entirely just wouldn't have worked for me. But I quickly saw that the stories are very different stories and so the character are going on a completely different trajectory, the themes that are sold in the series of books start to emerge and blossom in this story -which is really exciting – and the world does open up, and the stakes open up.

I thought "I like these aesthetic choices that [Gary Ross] made and I like this cast but now I can run with it. I can see more of District 12 and explore it in the winter to help sell emotion and theme. I can create the other Districts and I'll have a brand new arena. It's an anniversary year so I can create new things in The Capitol." I discovered there was loads for me to do and build and to work with that would be entirely different. It's a growth and a continuation from that first film.

I signed on originally for one movie. As I started I didn't think at all about who would have to take care of the subsequent films but it might have been, I think, when they made the announcement that the Mockingjay films were going to be coming out on the next two Thanksgivings that I realised they were going to have to be starting the first one while I was still finishing Catching Fire. I started thinking to myself "Well, that will be interesting. There's going to be some other guy around, some other girl around, directing Mockingjay while I'm finishing this?" But I wouldn't hire me for the next one without seeing this one so I didn't know how it was going to play out. Within maybe eight or ten weeks of prep on Catching Fire, though, it was obvious that the collaboration was working really well and I was approached to do Mockingjay too.

I can only guess why. Things were going well and we all liked each other and the collaboration was feeling fruitful, healthy and fun. The group was working really well together. You'd have to ask Nina [Jacobson, producer] or Lionsgate why they asked me to continue.

The only thing that was a little intimidating about taking on the Mockingjays, and I'm in the middle of it now, was accepting the lengthy shoot. It's a long time away from home and that was a tricky thing to work out in terms of family, but to know that I'm seeing these stories out, that I'm going to get to do the book that I think, personally, gives the whole meaning to the series, is very exciting.

Thanks again to Francis for taking the time to talk to me.

Catching Fire is in UK cinemas now and is one of the most compelling and urgent blockbusters we've seen in a long while.