With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) continues his run on the smash-hit film series based on the bestselling YA books by author Suzanne Collins. Lawrence impressed moviegoers the world over when he stepped into the sequel film Hunger Games: Catching Fire and delivered a sci-fi dystopian vision that many felt outclassed director Gary Ross's original Hunger Games film in every way.
However, we've now come to a crucial junction in the film franchise, as even the most hardcore fans of Collins' books tend to agree that Mockingjay (the third and final book) is the weakest of the series - especially in its first half. Ergo, the decision made by Lionsgate to split Mockingjay into two movies (a trend started by YA movie predecessors Harry Potter and Twilight) has understandably caused worry that the weakest material in the books would become the weakest link in the chain of films.
While at the Mockingjay - Part 1 press day in NYC, we sat down with Francis Lawrence to discuss how he approached taking on a book that is essentially a war story, without being able to focus on the actual war. Answer: by focusing on the psychological aspects of revolution, as well as the role that propaganda plays in both manipulating and/or inspiring a revolutionary war effort.
Screen Rant: The first thing I wanted to talk about is I noticed you had the unique challenge on this film of kind of making a war film before the kind of major thrust of the actual war kind of kicks off. I was interested in just hearing about where you kind of found the thematic thread for this first chapter to kind of pull you through the film.
Francis Lawrence: For us, in the splitting of this book there were kind of two really distinct stories that we found. The first one is a story about Katniss sort of really discovering her relevance to the other people, because she didn’t really understand that she meant anything to anybody else, and also finally taking on the responsibility as the symbol of the revolution and joining the revolution.
One of the big thematic ideas in this one kind of the war of the airways and manipulating imagery and creating propaganda from both sides; using Katniss and manipulating her as propaganda pieces to sort of incite revolution and the capitol using Peeta as sort of a piece of propaganda to try and stop it, and sort of smashing these two things together.
The other big question in this one is: Will we get Peeta back? The next one is full on war. We’re now going to the capitol.
Screen Rant: That kind of leads into my next question. So I guess for you this was…you took this as two separate chapters…
Francis Lawrence: Correct. I mean splitting the book for me doesn’t work unless you can make sort of two really individual movies that sort of feel satisfying. This one obviously has the promise of more movie. People know there’s another chapter. We promise more move at the end of this one. But the sort of dramatic questions set up at the beginning of this one have been answered, so it feels like a fulfilling movie on its own.
Screen Rant: Of course this is the book, when everybody gets to it, that’s vastly different from the first two because the first two are about the games. How did that kind of change your approach to the visual shorthand, because you had already worked on the second chapter, kind of gotten your, for lack of a better word, your feet wet? Now you are coming back. You are more comfortable. What was it that made you really kind of take a second look at how you were going to make this and make the visual shorthand very different?
Francis Lawrence: I think this all comes really from the source material. This was exciting for me because it was very different. One of the challenges for the last movie for me was it was very similar to the first structurally. There was a reaping. You go to the capitol. You go to training. You’ve got the chariots. You’ve got all these things you saw in the first movie. And it was a challenge to make sure that it feels absolutely different than the first time around.
This time it’s brand new material. So we’re really moving forward. We’re going and living in a new place, District 13. She’s really discovering that she’s a part of this revolution. Really, she’s starting to join the revolution. We’re dealing with new thematic material. So I was coming from a very, very different place and that was really exciting for me.
Movie fans tend to recognize Francis Lawrence's name from another big genre film he directed: the 2005 version of Constantine starring Keanu Reeves in the eponymous role. At the time of its release, Constantine was looked at as something of a miss; however in the near decade since its release, the movie has held a solid cult following - and even carries evidence of many elements that have now been incorporated as staples of the genre.
A post-credits scene, higher cinematic values and imagery, and Oscar-caliber acting talent like Tilda Swinton and Rachel Weisz - Constantine was doing all of that years before Chris Nolan would accept the Batman mantle, or Robert Redford was starring in a Captain America movie. We had to ask Lawrence if - now that superheroes are the biggest thing at the box office and he's again headlining major genre films - he would step back into the world of comic book movies.
His answer was a bit surprising.
Screen Rant: I don’t think you get enough credit for how much you have affected the industry. Now we’re into this era where superhero movies are a huge thing. Of course you made Constantine almost 10 years ago now. I don’t think you get enough credit for how much that kind of influenced things - from the button scenes at the end, to kind of infusing more of a cinematic quality to telling these pulpy stories. Do you still have love for that genre after that experience? Would you ever return to it now that it’s kind of a very big thing?
Francis Lawrence: I don’t know. I have mixed feelings. There’s definitely some comic book movies that come out that I think are amazing. There’s definitely a lot of comic book movies that come out that are not. I do think that the world is a bit saturated. I saw some chart about the comic book movies that are sort of projected out to 2019 or 2020. It was like 50 of them or something like that.
Screen Rant: 40 in 6 years. We put that out.
Francis Lawrence: That was you guys? Okay. I mean that’s a little beyond saturation point for my taste. So that’s a tricky one for me. But the truth is I’m kind of all about stories. So if suddenly there is this amazing story and an amazing character and it was dealing with some relevant themes, sure I’d get involved again.
Screen Rant: Well your film is still there, and the TV show may not be too much longer.
Francis Lawrence: I haven’t seen the TV show.
Screen Rant: That's okay.
For more of what the Mockingjay - Part 1 cast had to say, check out our other interviews:
- Jennifer Lawrence & Josh Hutcherson talk sacrifices and fame
- Sam Caflin says Finnick is based on Marilyn Monroe
- Donald Sutherland talks Hunger Games Youth Revolution
- Natalie Dormer Talks Superhero Movies
- Why they Would NOT use a CGI Phillip Seymour Hoffman
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 will be in theaters everywhere on Friday November 21st.
Photo Credit: Mockingjay press day photo courtesy of Blackfilm.com