Some mild spoilers about the Hunger Games movie follow in this interview with director Gary Ross. We know… how can you spoil it when everyone’s already read the book? Well, we discuss the style of the movie with Ross. He shot the film in the handheld camera style made popular by the Bourne movies. In a roundtable for the film’s press junket, we got to ask Ross several questions about choosing this style and other technical questions about night shoots and world building.
Crave Online: The handheld-style of shooting is a relatively new style of shooting over the last 10 years. What were your views on using that and what were the advantages and disadvantages?
Gary Ross: Well, I felt that it was very important to stay urgent and in Katniss' point of view and that this had a slightly caught/captured verité quality in order to feel real, and that if I made a glossy, slick, kind of overproduced piece of entertainment that I become the Capitol. I'm basically staging the Hunger Games and I'm not doing a movie about the Hunger Games at that point, and that you had to feel the same. I thought a lot about what it meant to shoot in a character's point of view and how urgent and raw and immediate that had to be. I mean, I felt this thing needed to feel completely real because with this premise, if you try to create a slick, glossy piece of entertainment that indulges the premise or tries to goose the premise, you're going to end up really losing the point and the heart of the book. And the point and the heart of the book is Katniss' point of view, and to shoot it in a character's point of view, that's the first charge here.
Does it help with the MPAA when you're dealing with a subject that is kids killing kids that you can shoot it in a way that doesn't necessarily show all the violence?
I mean, you can show as much violence handheld.
But it also gives you a way to sort of jump around it.
Yeah. None of it was based on ratings issues. This was the style I chose to shoot the movie in. I think when I went to the MPAA I probably changed one or two shots. As you know if you're seen the movie, we really don't back off the violence in any way. I mean, the cornucopia melee is pretty intense and obviously pretty graphic.
Were you using digital cameras?
Was it hard to shoot so much of the movie at night with film?
Well, actually the photosensitivity of like the Alexa, which is sort of like the newest camera, is not that much greater than film. The dynamic range of a digital cameras is not that much greater than film, particularly if you push the ASA a little bit. No, I didn't find that to be particularly difficult. There is always going to be stuff that you do in the DI [digital intermediate], in terms of the way you [color] time in all the scenes. So we actually have the ability to light night shots now and sculpt the frame later in the DI. So, no, I didn't have any particular challenges that way. But, also, the new Alexa, which is the only camera I was really interested in - I hear the Red Epic is great, but I haven't tried that - the new Alexa was coming on line and I didn't want to beta test the camera on my movie when I had such a tight production schedule and I was getting buried by rainstorms and mudslides, and I had to drive an hour in and an hour out. I lost an hour and a half to lunch because we had to hike up and down mountains, and so the idea that I might run into digital snafus along the way was just too risky for me on the production schedule. Plus, I love shooting on film.
Is film the format you're sticking with?
We'll see what happens next time and I'll see where the technology is at that point, you know? I really like shooting on film because, as you mentioned, in terms of the kind of verité look of the film I thought that having the real frame in the original negative was sort of important and wonderful, but it was also just the logistics of doing it and not having digital technician running in every fourth take to try and fix the camera or tell us what that is, or the camera's overheating or the battery pack's overheating. Plus, the workflow was a big deal. It was a lot easier to deal with the workflow on film than it was to deal with it on a digital format. I like shooting on film. There was something that I just dug about the analog process.
As the director was the chance to build this world of the future a big part of the appeal?
Oh yeah, totally. I love design-based stuff. I dug it in Pleasantville and dug it in Seabiscuit. That was one of the more interesting things about it. I wanted to create a world that was set in the future but had a sense of its own past, and so that lead us into a lot of investigations of what that meant. I realized that the seats of power were all broad, wide, expansive: Tiananmen Square, Red Square. When you want to invoke might, you're not doing solely CG spires that get kind of fanciful. I didn't want you to feel this had been created on a computer. I wanted you to feel this was a place that had always been there which led to the use of concrete as the main building medium, and the solidity and the might of the place. That was stuff that led us into a period of mid-century architecture known as brutalism, which is actually what it's called now. It established a might and an authority for the Capitol and served as our main reference, and then we kind of riffed from there.
Photo Credit: Murray Close