Hunger Games by Director Gary Ross (Part One)

The process of safeguarding the story and the character of Katniss in “Hunger Games” began with choosing a director that would bring the story to life technically, but more importantly, emotionally.


The 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 look right


“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.” 


Allusions to Classic Youth Movies


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 “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.”


Impact on Children


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 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.