Thursday, December 23, 2010

‘Hunger Games’: How director Gary Ross got the gig

When vying for a coveted film project, directors pull out all the stops — they draft concept art, cut fake trailers and deliver vivid verbal pitches to studio execs. But it was an especially unorthodox strategy that helped earn Gary Ross the plum assignment to direct Lionsgate’s adaptation of “The Hunger Games.”

Ross wasn’t an obvious choice to helm the dystopian fantasy, the first from a series of bestselling books about a 16-year-old girl forced to compete to the death in a cruel arena game. His prior films as director are the 2003 horse-racing drama “Seabiscuit” and the arch 1998 comedy “Pleasantville.” But when Ross met with Lionsgate for the first time, he brought a persuasive piece of video — interviews he’d shot of his kids’ friends explaining why the books mattered to them, and what they loved about the series’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen.

“What was amazing was how insightful these kids were about this book and about Katniss as a character,” says producer Nina Jacobson. “It was so clear that Gary was interested in what the fans cared about.”

Ross brought another unique virtue to the race, which at one point also included “Revolutionary Road’sSam Mendes and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” director David Slade. “In terms of his understanding of Katniss, he has twin teenage children who are a boy and girl,” says Jacobson. “I felt he understood the duality of her character. She’s not a traditional heroine in that frequently heroines are interested in love first and foremost and other things are secondary. That’s the least of her concerns. And yet, she is a girl. She’s not a boy in a dress. He seemed to understand her impulse toward self-preservation and the preservation of her family.”

The series’ author, Suzanne Collins, also had input into Ross’ selection, according to Jacobson. “Although Suzanne doesn’t have contractual approval, we’ve worked closely together on this and it was really important to me that she be a part of every big decision. She was thrilled about the idea of Gary because he’s a fundamentally character-driven storyteller.”

Ross, who is also writing the “Hunger Games” script, will begin casting the role of Katniss in the new year, and is scheduled to start production on the film in the spring.


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