In an extensive chat with Vulture, director Francis Lawrence talks many things The Hunger Games – from working with late Philip Seymour Hoffman to the similarities between Mockingjay: Part 1 promotion and propos used within the movie.
Aren’t movie marketing campaigns a bit like propaganda campaigns?
Sure! One of the things that I had fun with was the idea that Katniss goes out into this real situation, and it’s a really horrific event, and she gives this really emotional speech, but then you take that footage and you take it back to the edit room and you splice it up in a very certain way. You add your music, your titles, and you turn it into something meant to inspire, and then you’re sort of adding things that are actually part of the marketing campaign for The Hunger Games movies themselves. We used the same font, the same logo. And so it was fun to actually use some of the advertising in the propaganda film itself.
And vice versa. Your teaser trailers for the film were propo spots.
Yeah! It’s interesting, when we started working on the propaganda films within the movie, and the approach to them, you start looking at the idea of propaganda. There was an Austrian guy [Edward Bernays] around the era of WWI who wrote the book on propaganda, and he came up with the five approaches to it, and a lot of it is actually used in advertising. It was all the different ways of connecting to people, getting people to do something, or want something, or want to join something. And those five principles are still being used all the time. Like Michael Jordan selling shoes, right? By associating somebody very well respected with a product, it makes people want to get that product. We think of that as “Yeah, no-brainer,” but that was one of the original approaches to propaganda.
Jennifer Lawrence and Katniss are both in a position where they have to sell something — a movie, a movement — and both work a little better unscripted.
Yes. I think she definitely does. She’s good at both, but what’s kind of fun about her is that she’s an amazing actress. You give her a script, and she’s really incredible and amazing to watch. I learn something new from her every day. But what’s really interesting to see is when she’s unscripted. There’s a blunt, almost awkward honesty that comes from her that is really charming.
Jen’s the one joking until the second you start shooting. But Woody Harrelson’s the one who keeps joking, even after you’ve started?
Especially if he’s off-camera. But Jen can really, on the spot, just sort of switch from telling a joke and then turning into Katniss. I say, “Cut!” and she goes right back. She can’t help herself. She’s talking all the time, and usually saying really silly things and joking around all the time. She wanted a blooper reel, and so the editors put one together for her, but what they did, they just strung together all the moments where we called, “Action!” and you can actually see the moment where she changes from joking Jen into Katniss. [Laughs.]
When she had to sing a song in the movie, “The Hanging Tree,” was she able to switch the same way?
She could. There are very few times when Jen gets nervous about stuff she has to do on set, and the singing was that kind of a thing. I knew she didn’t love the idea of singing, but I didn’t realize how nervous she was until when we started the first take, and she was in tears. Not totally broken down, but she was unhappy. I didn’t have to talk her into it, she was going to do it, she knew it was her job, but she just wasn’t happy about it. “Oh man, I’ve got to actually sing! In front of 150 people!” She would have much rather we used somebody else’s voice. I think she said she wanted Lorde to do it! [Laughs.] But see, the thing on top of all of it is, it shouldn’t sound like a professional. It should sound like a real girl singing. So she did it. She did it all day. And she has a really cool sound to her voice. There’s kind of a raspy texture to it. So it was not terrible in the slightest. [Laughs.]
You lost Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, when he died during a weekend break from shooting. How did it affect the scenes he had left?
It was about as horrible a thing that can happen. It was just completely tragic. It threw us all. It was a really tough, emotional time, and tough getting back into work and trying to find a groove again. There were two substantial scenes that he had left, scenes with dialogue. All the other scenes he had were appearances in scenes where he had no dialogue. We knew there was no way we were going to attempt to re-create him digitally, so we decided to rewrite the scenes and give his dialogue to other [actors]. There’s a scene in Mockingjay – Part 1 that Elizabeth Banks took over for, and there’s a scene in Mockingjay Part 2 that Woody Harrelson took over for. I don’t want to say what it is in Mockingjay 2, but in Mockingjay 1 …
Read the full interview here.