Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson talked with Women in Hollywood about the creation of a strong female character in a movie, her favorite Catching Fire scenes and more!
For almost a decade, Jacobson was the president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures, a Disney subsidiary studio. In 2007, she created her own production house, Color Force, under which she’s produced the Hunger Games quadrilogy and another female-centric film, the Anne Hathaway vehicle One Day. Jacobson spoke with Women and Hollywood about her favorite scenes in Catching Fire, the similarities between Lawrence and Katniss, the controversies surrounding some questionable Hunger Games promotional tie-ins, and the ongoing difficulties of convincing men to make movies about women.
Congratulations on another awesome film.
I’ve seen it so many times, and if anything, [the more that I watch it, the more it] gets me. I get all weepy.
Why do you think you have such a strong reaction to it?
First of all, I just feel for these characters so much. There are a few moments that really get to me [mild spoilers]: when Katniss goes to District 11 and she speaks to Rue’s family; when the people of 11 acknowledge her and the way it all goes so bad; when Peeta says, “No one needs me,” and she says, “I need you,” and it’s her first real romantic kiss; and when she doesn’t get to say goodbye to her sister. And then the moment when she transforms into the Mockingjay, and she looks at Cinna, and you know that Cinna is being targeted and yet she’s owning that moment — that gets to me. Those things really stir me. You’re watching these characters carrying the pain and the weight with them — the burden of what they’ve been through. Also, I think a lot about our soldiers — what they carry with them after a decade of war, and that gets to me.
In the press notes, you said that you wanted this film to be every bit as ambitious as the first one. Was the budget of this film greater than the first one?
Yes, it was. It was greater largely because we went from three locations in the first movie to 33 in this one. We had a lot more ground to cover. They go to all the different districts. They spend a lot of time in The Capitol — the Capitol parties, which include the extravagance of The Capitol. Then we have the arena. The arena [in the first film] is man-made. It feels, and was, largely a naturalistic arena where the combat was between the participants, as opposed to the arena as their opponent in this film. Creating the visual effects that allowed the arena to be a character, and the opponent to these tributes, obviously required more visual effects. We also, of course, had to pay our actors more money this time around, deservedly. So yes, it was a more expensive movie, but by necessity.
It seems to me, and maybe I’m wrong, that this is probably the highest budget live-action movie with a female lead ever made.
That’s a good question. I guess you could look at Ripley and the Alien movies, and what those cost in their day, so I don’t know apples-to-apples how they would compare. But you might be right.
You watch this character of Katniss being a reluctant leader and yet people look to her, and she’s become a role model not only to people in the movie, but to people in real life, especially when we don’t see a lot of really strong women in film. I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence talk about her relationship with young people who see the movie. What’s that responsibility like, to portray a strong young woman onscreen?
I think it’s one of the things that I most respect about Jen. I do think that she understands the role that she has sort of been forced into, in the same way that Katniss has been. There are so many parallels. I particularly appreciate the fact that she takes a real point of view about women and girls and their bodies and won’t play the game of obsessing about weight. She’s just a normal, fun, goofy girl who eats what she wants. She sets an example in that way that I really appreciate — by just being candid, and honest.
My daughter is thirteen and really looks up to Jen. I feel like that’s a girl whose worthy of you looking up to her. My daughter also loves all the little the clips. Like, here’s Jen spilling her mints at a press conference, and look, here’s Jen falling down the stairs. They appreciate how human she is, and how okay she is with just being a regular girl. No exaggeration and no airbrushing — she’s quite a regular girl. So unfull of herself.
I’ve been reading about some of the controversy on the make-up merchandising, especially from young women, thinking that it contradicts the message of the movie. I’m wondering if you have any comments on the merchandising campaigns and the tie-ins.
We talked about this a lot from the beginning. Suzanne Collins and [Lionsgate's Chief Marketing Officer] Tim Palen have a very, very open relationship — communicative and candid. Tim has always said, Above all, do no harm. I think that what we found was that there was a way to have this sort of meta campaign: a campaign for the Capitol.
The way that I look at it is, we as filmmakers always try in our storytelling [to] identify with the districts. Katniss represents the districts, the poorest of the poor. As a nation, we have plenty of Capitol in us. That gap that exists between the districts and The Capitol — between the 99 % and the 1% — is so much a part of the way that we live. The Capitol Couture Campaign and the campaigns that sort of play on all the excess of The Capitol are, in their own way, reminders not to let ourselves off the hook. These books are dystopic fiction but we’re talking about us. I feel that the campaign [propels discussion about] Capitol values into the mainstream conversation. It’s also very worthwhile for us all to be reminded that we’re incriminated in that side of things too.
You and I can have that conversation because we’re adults, but girls respond to things differently. They don’t have the experience that we do. What I’m seeing are comments about targeting young women. That’s why I wanted to ask you that question. But on the other hand, this is a huge opportunity and you can’t not take it because this is really one of the first big girl-centric events.
We also have women who worked on this movie who helped create the aesthetic, between Ve Neill and Trish Somerville, who did the makeup and wardrobe respectively, two amazing women and incredible artists. Their work is extraordinary. Getting to see some of their work in the marketplace is another side of the equation. The readers of these books and the consumers — we never talk down to them. We give them the benefit of the doubt, that they get it. So I hope that they do get it.