When Francis Lawrence was chosen to replace Gary Ross as the director of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a monumental task was put in front of the filmmaker. Not only would he have to live up to and work from what was established in the first Hunger Games film, he had to find a way to also place his own personal spin on it and make it his own. Lawrence stepped up to the plate, however, and created a sequel that not only understands its predecessor, but builds on it in an important and meaningful way.

At a recent press event for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire I had the great opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Lawrence to talk all about how he constructed both the story and the aesthetics of the new blockbuster movie. Read on to discover what it was about his view that got him the job, how Gale and Peeta are used to show Katniss’ fractured mental state, and even a few details about what he has in store for both The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2.

Take me back to the beginning. Hunger Games Catching Fire doesn’t have a director. You get a call from Lionsgate. You go in. What was the pitch that you kind of first initially sold them on?

Well, the news had broke out that Gary wasn’t doing the movie. I was working on a pilot. I was cutting a pilot in LA. I didn’t think twice about it. It was like, "Oh, that’s interesting." A couple of days later I got a call from my agent saying that Nina [Jacobson] and Lionsgate wanted to know if I was interested.

Had you seen the first film by that point?

I did, because I shot the pilot in New York and me and my assistant went on my birthday, which was only like a week or two before this all happened. So, I had seen the movie. I had read the books before and I said, "That’s interesting. Let me reread Catching Fire." So, the call was on a Thursday. I read it over the weekend, decided to meet with Nina, met with Nina for breakfast on a Tuesday, met with some Lionsgate people on Wednesday, then had the big meeting with all the guys at Lionsgate, and Nina, and everybody on Thursday and that afternoon had the job. So, within a week.

What was your pitch?

I mean, the thing that I wanted to think about, and why I wanted to read the book was that I had never done episodic TV. I’ve only done pilots. I’ve never done a sequel to a movie before, and I wanted to make sure that there was going to be sort of enough for me to kind of bite into creatively, and I, quickly rereading the book, discovered that there weren’t many parameters, quite honestly, because there was so much new stuff in the book. The characters were all going to be going completely different directions with brand new sort of facets being revealed. There’s a whole bunch of new cast members that we could bring on. There’s a brand new arena. A ton of new districts to see, you know? There was loads and loads of stuff and then I’m thinking, "Okay, well, what am I going to be stuck with?" Well the look of District 12…. I like the look of District 12 and I can explore it even further! I like the architecture in the capitol and I can explore it even further. I loved the cast. So, okay!

Just kind of walking into a gold mine.

So, my pitch speed just kind of became a what my version of the movie was going to be, and I pitched that I wanted to make sure that there was a visual unity, aesthetic unity, that I’d like to work with the same production designer, keep the same look of District 12, work with the same architecture of the capitol. I talked a lot more about how we wanted more of a sense of place; that I wanted to see more of District 12; that I wanted to see more of the districts. I wanted to see more of the capitol. I talked about how the arena should look, which was brand new. I said that I wanted to stick with the kind of naturalist style that Gary had in terms of photography, but I kind of pitched my version of it. I tend to like slightly wider lenses up closer so you feel more intimate with characters, but it’s still got more of a sense of geography and you can keep a sense of place while being up and personal with people. I talked about my use of color and the opportunities we had because of the seasons and because of the districts.

That’s a lot to get in your mind immediately right off the bat.

Yeah, so I went on and on and on about that stuff in terms of visuals and I talked about visual effects and how I approach visual effects and I talked about some changes in wardrobe that I wanted to make in terms of the games and the training and some of the capitol stuff and Effie and again, it wasn’t really changing the aesthetics. It was just sort of shifting the kind of angle on it a little bit and taking advantage of opportunities that I saw that we could take advantage of this time around.

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