HG director Gary Ross may not have earned a degree from Penn state, but he earned the community that comes with it. The Daily Pennsylvanian talked with Gary Ross on how working on The Hunger Games with other Penn state alumni was a homecoming and how his time there cultivated his film career.
As Ross was filming “The Hunger Games” in North Carolina last year, he paused to take a moment to glance around the set.
Standing in front of him was 1996 College graduate Elizabeth Banks, who played the role of Effie Trinket in the film. Near Banks, he saw 1985 College graduate Allison Shearmur, who was then serving as president of production and development at Lionsgate — the company that put out the movie.
For Ross, working on “The Hunger Games” — one of the top-grossing films of 2012 — was largely a homecoming of sorts.
“I’d say that was the happiest I’ve ever been working on a project, and it was certainly nice to be able to share it with some Penn people,” he said.
Ross first learned of the story behind the movie after reading “The Hunger Games,” a 2008 science fiction novel by Suzanne Collins. His two children had shared the book with him, and he was immediately taken by some of its themes.
Although the screenplay Ross produced for the film was adapted from Collins’ writing, he felt from the beginning like the project was his own.
In particular, he developed a special relationship with the character of Katniss Everdeen, the film’s protagonist.
“I was really able to connect to someone who’d been raised in such a brutal world and had never been able to trust anybody,” he said. “Throughout the story, Katniss discovers her humanity in the face of an inhuman process, and that was a very clear arc and path for me to write.”
While Ross acknowledged that the task of adapting a popular novel for the screen was challenging, he was never shy about making on-the-go changes to the storyline.
He recalled one scene between the characters played by Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland that was initially slated to appear during the first half of the movie. During the editing process, Ross and his team decided that the film’s narrative would flow better if the scene were cut down slightly and moved to the end of the movie.
“You can’t be locked down in something that’s a preconception of how you initially saw the scene in your head,” he said. “Each step of the process has to have its own freedom and spontaneity, and that’s what I love about it.”