Francis Lawrence has been working on ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise pretty much non-stop since signing up to direct ‘Catching Fire’ back in April 2012, so you’d think that after nearly 4 years he’d be glad to see the back of the YA juggernaut, but in fact, he’s feeling rather glum.
“It’s starting to get sad, because it’s nearing the end,” the filmmaker told Yahoo Movies. “We’ve got a couple more weeks of press as a group but then it’s over.”
Here’s everything Francis Lawrence told us about shooting the film’s emotional last scene, that gruelling sewer scene, and the future of the franchise.
Shooting and editing Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 back to back must have been an epic slog, would you do it again?
Yeah, absolutely I would do it again. It’s a lot of work, but I think the thing that I’d have to think twice about is that not only were we doing two back to back, but we’d started to prep the two movie shoot while I was finishing ‘Catching Fire’.
So there was a minute where while shooting ‘Catching Fire’ we were developing the scripts, posting [doing post-production] ‘Catching Fire’ , and prepping two movies that we even started to shoot before ‘Catching Fire’ came out.
Then you’re on a 155 day schedule in 3 countries and it needed more prep time and not to be prepped while posting. I think that was the hardest thing, but to do two movies, I would do it back to back. You get a great continuity, the cast is all in it, everybody’s just living it. I think it’s really good.
Did you mark the individual actors’ last days on set in any way?
Oh everybody knows, you don’t have to talk about it. Everybody knows it’s the end and it’s a weird thing, because after a long schedule after this many movies, and you know it’s the end, it’s an emotional day.
The last scene we shot was a scene with Woody [Harrelson - Haymitch] and Jen [Jennifer Lawrence - Katniss], and it was a scene that was supposed to be Phil [Philip Seymour Hoffman - Plutarch] and Jen, but obviously he died before he could shoot it. So it added another layer of emotion and poignancy on the day.
Josh [Hutcherson - Peeta] and Liam [Hemsworth - Gale] who had already wrapped came to be there for that scene and so the group was there together and then we had champagne and we were in a beautiful building in Berlin, so we had champagne and people made toasts. There was a lot of crying.
And we shot again, because a year later we shot a scene we were unable to shoot during principle photography for this movie but it was the end [in Berlin]. Part of it was because we shot for a really long time and it was a hard shoot, it was an emotional shoot, so it felt like the end then [in Berlin].
What sort of challenges did you face adapting the book into two films?
There’s always some in the adaptation process where the scenes change. There was definite world-expansion stuff, especially in [’Mockingjay’] Part 1, I think that was probably one of the trickier pieces to adapt.
There are two distinct stories and so there was a pretty clear dividing line of where those stories ended.— Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence
It was a very internal portion of the book because Katniss spent a bunch of time hanging around the tunnels of District 13 thinking about people, so to turn that into a story and see things happening, and especially get a sense of the revolution, we needed to do quite a bit of invention.
I’d probably say the biggest challenges were in ‘Mockingjay Part 1′.
How did you decide where to split the book?
That was always pretty clear. Suzanne had figured that there were two pretty distinct stories within the book; one was the propaganda movie with the dramatic question of whether we’d get Peeta back. The second one was the war movie with the dramatic question of will Katniss take down the Capitol?
There are two distinct stories and so there was a pretty clear dividing line of where those stories ended. There was always a little wiggle room, like between a few scenes, but never big choices.
The film’s big tunnel sequence is spectacular, but very reminiscent of ‘I Am Legend’, another film you directed, were you conscious of that at the time?
For parts of it. But only for parts of it. One of my favourite sequences in ‘I Am Legend’ was a bit where he chases his dog into a darkened building and I just thought there are moments of that that I found very effective.
So there was an opportunity to explore a little of that again here, in terms of suspense and the scariness of what’s around the corner, when are the creatures going to show up.
Are the creatures here CGI or practical effects? It’s quite difficult to tell.
Yeah, I know, and we worked really hard at that. They’re all digital but we had stunt doubles. Our stunt team acted as the creatures so our actors were always [there], versus like when we did in ‘Catching Fire’ with the monkeys, there was nothing ever there - they were all added later.
Here our actors were fighting the stunt people and so what you get is interaction with water, you get the splashes, and you get interaction with the bodies on hands and faces. So when they get replaced with the creatures you still have Jennifer shoving her fingers into the face of one of these things and that kind of physical contact and the splashing of the water and spray and all that, it just adds a sense of reality that I think really works.
The cast said it was one of the toughest scenes to shoot because of the conditions?
It absolutely was. The conditions were atrocious.
There was a story about a smoke machine causing problems on set. How true was that?
No, not really. The story with that would be from ‘Mockingjay 1′. There was a sequence if I’m getting it right, we were doing a sequence where District 8 was being bombed, right before Katniss shoots down the hovercraft.
It was around the time where the chimney falls through the building. When you’re doing a shot of the crowd running out of the building after the smokestack is supposed to fall, what you do is you get the effects guys who have these things called air mortars, which is compressed air with a big giant cone on it, and you fill it with a bunch of organic safe dust that’s safe to breathe, so you throw that in there and right on action you fire it.
And it blasts a big amount of this dust and on one of the takes the effects guys went a little overboard with the amount of dust they put in this thing and it smoked everybody out. At a certain point you can’t see anything and the actors didn’t know what to do, they’re just standing there trying to close their eyes, they were totally coated in the stuff.
The camera guys were totally coated in the stuff but it only happened once.
Are you conscious of the film’s rating while making it?
Absolutely. I’m very aware of it and it’s not necessarily about pulling back on it. These books and the majority of the fans are teenagers and if you suddenly make a movie like this and its rated R, then you’re alienating the target audience for the books.
The truth is, the books weren’t, because they don’t flinch. So you don’t want to flinch but you also want the kids that the stories are aimed at to be able to see it. So it was really finding the right way to explore those ideas and themes without getting - in America – the R rating.
If there are to be future Hunger Games movies, where do you think they would come from?
They’d have to come from Suzanne. I mean, I think they’d have to come from Suzanne. For me, to get enthused they’d have to come from Suzanne.
She’s the mother of these characters and of this world and if she had another story she wanted to tell about something, something she wanted to write about, then I’d be in in a second.
So maybe set before the events of Hunger Games might be a richer tapestry to work from?
Maybe. I dunno. The obvious choice would be to go back to someone else’s games, like the Haymitch games or something. The problem with that is that you know the outcome, so you’ve got to figure out what’s interesting, what characters do you want to see, what’s the new idea? We’ve just explored war and trauma; do we really need to see another set of games? I don’t know.
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2′ is in UK cinemas now. Watch a trailer below.
Image credits: Rex Features/Lionsgate