Producer Nina Jacobson talks The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, in theaters November 22
In this day and age where more and more actors are turning to directing, the same can be said for studio executives becoming producers, although names like Peter Chernin and Joe Roth don't generate as many headlines as George Clooney and Angelina Jolie. Nina Jacobson is another former executive-turned-producer, who has gone from overseeing The Sixth Sense and Remember the Titans at Disney to producing the massive box office hit The Hunger Games, and its highly-anticipated sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (CLICK HERE to read my full review).
I recently had the chance to sit down with this talented producer to chat about how her development background helped her Color Force Productions company land the Suzanne Collins novel trilogy in the first place, to the increasingly raised stakes in the sequel, and much more. Here's what she had to say.
I was curious if there is an advantage your studio background gives you on the producing side, and if that was a factor in you landing this franchise?
Nina Jacobson: I hope so. I hope that there is. I think that one of the greatest perspectives that I have, from being a buyer for my whole career until I became a producer, is that I have a pretty good understanding of the buyer's mentality. I've been fortunate enough to match up the material I'm producing with the right buyer, the company that will make it and that wants it, and that isn't saying yes to be nice, but is saying yes because they want and need that movie and it's going to be important on their slate. Getting movies developed, doesn't do me any good as a producer. It only does me good to get movies made. As a former buyer, I think I'm able to find the right home for each property, and that's part of why my company is independent. We don't have a first-look deal with anyone, so we can always choose the best home, based on the material. As far as landing the book, I do feel that my years at Disney gave me an experience with managing a brand, protecting a brand. When I talk to Suzanne (Collins), I say you clearly have to protect these books. There's a version of these books that just goes horribly wrong. It either goes too soft, and misses the point, or is exploitive and guilty of the sins of the Capitol. Either one of those places is the wrong place to be. I felt that my experience in being the guardian of the Disney brand for eight years, helped qualify me to protect this material.
It's funny because we have Saving Mr. Banks coming out, which is a very different version of an adaptation. Since Suzanne has been on board from Day One, does she have that ability where she can separate the book from the movie?
Nina Jacobson: She's very sophisticated. She worked in television before she was a novelist. She is remarkably willing to separate the two media. There are times when she was willing to cut things that (director) Francis (Lawrence) and I were like, 'No no no. You can't cut that!' It's not the other way around, where we're like, 'Oh, come on. We've got to lose this.'
Given the popularity of the franchise, even before the first movie came out, there are so many fan opinions, especially in regards to casting. I'm curious, with new characters like Beetee, Johanna or Finnick, do you even look at any of the suggestions that are out there, who the fans want to see as these characters?
Nina Jacobson: Honestly, when fans get passionate about a book, I think what they're really telling you is 'Don't screw it up.' I don't think it's about any one suggestion or another, it's about the passion to see the book that you love, honored and done justice to. No, we don't take the suggestions specifically, but as fans ourselves, we have that feeling ourselves. What is the essence of this character, and how do I find an actor who can capture the essence of that character?
I was really impressed with the massive scope of this, especially in the battle arena. Can you talk about capturing the essence of the battle arena, especially with all the practical work you did on it? I know there's a lot of CGI, but it seemed there is a lot that was practical.
Nina Jacobson: There is a lot that was practical. Francis always prefers to do it as real as he can. As much of it that can be real, will be real. What I loved about Francis' approach, from our very first meeting, was that he felt each set piece in the arena had to have its own emotional value. Something like the fog sequence, when we first met, he said, 'That's a sequence about loss.' Whereas, a sequence like the spinning cornucopia, which isn't as much of a set piece in the book but Francis turned into a set piece, that one is really about the alliances between them, looking out for your fellow soldier. Each one of those sequences was sort of organized by an emotional idea, and then Francis and Janek Sirrs, our visual effects supervisor and (cinematographer) Jo Willems all work together to create a fabric that conveys that emotional value.
When (The Hunger Games director) Gary Ross left, he talked about how accelerated the production schedule was. I was impressed too with how big this was and it didn't look rushed. You see so many movies that just look rushed, and I didn't see that at all. Was that one of the bigger challenges, trying to pull that off on that kind of schedule, and still have it look and feel like such a huge movie?
Nina Jacobson: Yes, that was absolutely a challenge. We had, basically, four months to the start of photography, from the time that Gary left. We had a lot of work to do, but fortunately we had a great book, and with Suzanne Collins, a great partner, and in Francis, a very calm captain, who always knew which places he could hurry, and which places we needed to take our time. Often times, when something is rushed, it's because you just don't have the screenplay. Yes, we didn't have a screenplay in our hands, four months out, but we had a great book that we knew how to adapt.
I was really intrigued by the Victor's Village in District 12. It's "luxurious" for that district, and we don't see the other districts, but I got the impression that each village matches their districts, like District 1's village would be very posh. Is that kind of the dynamic you were playing with?
Nina Jacobson: One of the things I think is most interesting about the choices that Francis and (production designer) Philip Messina made, that Victor's Village looks a lot like what could be a suburban home, in many cities in the United States. Timeless, in a way, like you can't quite put your finger on what period, but it's a lot like the way we live now.
Nina Jacobson: We haven't crossed that bridge (Laughs).
That's my time. Thank you so much, Nina, and congratulations on the film.
Nina Jacobson: Thank you. I'm so glad. You're obviously a real fan.