The High Stakes Behind 'Hunger Games'

10:03 AM PST 02/01/2012 by Stephen Galloway
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Joe Pugliese

Director Gary Ross and the cast on the behind-the-scenes drama of the $90 million Lionsgate epic that should bring young people back to the movies, propel Jennifer Lawrence into the stratosphere and launch another (fingers crossed) "Twilight"-sized franchise.

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Sitting with lawrence and ross on jan. 17 as they loop dialogue at the Todd-AO sound studios in Hollywood, there's an ease and comfort that's hard to miss. Lawrence jokes that she directed all the good parts, and "Gary did everything else." Seriously, she says later: "He pushed me and challenged me as an actor. He's brilliant."

On March 23, the world will discover if she's right when Games opens. Lionsgate is mimicking Summit's strategy, splitting the last of Collins' trilogy into two films, and even borrowing from its fan-centric marketing plans (the casting of "tributes," for instance, was revealed on a Games Facebook page). "We started this District 12 site, where each district voted a mayor," says Drake. "People are creating their own trailers, their own art. And we've launched this Capitol couture site and are treating it as a fashion [hub]. It's just blown out across the board."

But in a post-Twilight world, expectations are high and there is no guarantee Games will come close to Twilight's global take of $2.2 billion.

Investors have pushed Lionsgate stock up in the weeks since the Summit deal, partly because they think combining Twilight's executives with the Games fan base will work magic for this new franchise. But few people -- and none of the cast -- have seen the finished film, despite a worldwide marketing campaign that ranges from action figures to nail polish. Everyone, everywhere, is waiting to see if the movie delivers.

"The pop-culture buzz around the film virtually ensures that it will gross at least $150 million domestically, with good prospects overseas as well," wrote Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan in a Jan. 17 report.

Ross is hoping he's right.

In the darkness, he shows me the almost-finished scene where Katniss attempts to climb that tree with the tracker-jacker nest. The lush setting, with the sound of nature pulsating around her, makes it riveting.

Ross already is committed to the first sequel, Catching Fire, which he hopes to start shooting in September from a script by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and the three young stars are signed for the full franchise.

The director remains as mesmerized by the material as when he first read it: "It's so cinematic and has such a human directorial canvas -- the relationships, the depth, the intimate moments," he says. "You rarely find all that in a single movie, along with this kind of Roman spectacle, what entertainment as a political device can devolve to. That's a really interesting idea. It's Survivor at large."

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BOOKS SHOWDOWN: HUNGER GAMES VS. TWILIGHT: The Hunger Games trilogy is the first real challenger to the young-adult romance thriller crown since the first of four Twilight books debuted in October 2005. How does the challenger stack up to the champ?

First Printing

  • The Hunger Games: 200,000 (2008)
  • Twilight: 75,000 (2005)

First Printing for Book Three in the Series

  • The Hunger Games: 1.2 million (Mockingjay)
  • Twilight: 1 million (Eclipse)

Weeks on New York Times Children's Series Best-Seller List

  • The Hunger Games: 74
  • Twilight: 203

Copeis of Series in Print on the Eve of the First Movie's Release

  • The Hunger Games: 23.5 million (2012)
  • Twilight: 30 million (2008)

Months to Go From Book to Screen

  • The Hunger Games: 42
  • Twilight: 37

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GARY ROSS' FAVORITE FILMS: The filmmaker has learned from the masters and compares the tobacco factory where his own film was shot to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

  • Modern Times (1936)
  • The Bicycle Thief (1949)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  • The Godfather, Parts I and 2 (1972, 1974)
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
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