Trevor Hogg chats with Phil Messina about the world building involved with The Hunger Games franchise....
|Gary Ross on-set with Jennifer Lawrence|
“I had a relationship with Gary Ross [Seabiscuit]; he had visit the set a number of times when I was working with Steven Soderbergh [Traffic] and we struck up a friendship,” recalls Phil Messina (8 Mile) as to how he became the production designer responsible for The Hunger Games franchise. “We always talked about working together. I had prepped a war film with him which I hope will some day happen. I was in South Africa working on a film. Gary called me which was in the middle of night my time and said that he was going on this film called Hunger Games . I had never heard of it. Gary was probably the most excited about it than I had heard of any one director and he had the script emailed to me. I had to go work in the morning but I read it all night.” The author of the source material co-wrote the adapted screenplay with the director. “Suzanne [Collins] was part of the process the entire time so there wasn’t a dichotomy between script and book. When questions came up in our work about how things were organized or what things should look it we often went back to the book. In fact we still do. I’m working on Mockingjay 1  and 2 right now so at the end of this I’ve would have done all four Hunger Games films. I have dog-eared pages of all three books in my office that we’re constantly referring back to try to keep it straight.”
|France Lawrence shooting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire|
“When I found out about the second film Gary was going to direct it and he was the one who asked me back,” recalls Phil Messina. “When he decided not to do the film it was an odd couple of weeks where Producer Nina Jacobson [Diary of a Wimpy Kid] was persuasive in saying, ‘We want the continuity since we’re bringing in an unknown entity at this point.’ They hadn’t hired a director yet. I was caught by surprised and they were all reacting in real time. I was literary reading the movie headlines a couple times a day to see who was in the lead to do our film. I had not worked with Francis [Lawrence] before nor had any contact with him. I took our first meeting as if I was interviewing for the job. If Francis wanted to go in a different direction or it wasn’t going to work out personality wise I would have bowed out. We had a wonderful connection and he has become a dear friend of mine.” In comparing the approaches of the two directors, Messina notes, “It will be interesting to see people’s reactions to Catching Fire  because none of us have the benefit of knowing of how Gary would do Catching Fire nor do we know how Francis would do The Hunger Games. They are chapters of a trilogy that graphically change scope and direction so there is continuity from one to another but each one keeps on opening up a new set of circumstances. On Mockingjay we’re starting District 13 which did not exist except for two shots in Catching Fire. There are still ripples of the work I did in the first film with Gary and certainly with Catching Fire but now we’re on the streets of the capital where we’ve never been before. We have this civil war happening in the capital. It has natural breaks. It’s not like doing the same material with a different person.”
“By the time you done with jungle you feel like you don’t want to shoot in the jungle again,” notes Phil Messina. “It’s physically and logistically difficult. That’s the fun part of the job. Every film will be hopefully as hard and challenging as the one before. Fortunately with this series every book has allowed me to do something fairly different with the same material which has been great.” The tribute parade involving chariots was a pleasant surprise. “The last one we opted to have at night and this one we had it during the day so it was interesting because it was on paper felt like a similar scene but the way we realized it was different. Francis wanted to make it his own so the shots were different. It looks beautiful and the world looks real. The shot selections were great and it tells a story.” Messina adds, “I’m proud about the work I did with Gary on the first one and I’m proud of the working I’ve done on Catching Fire with Francis. I’ve seen Catching Fire several times already and it’s fantastic. I’m glad to continue to be part of this franchise.”
Production stills and videos courtesy of Lionsgate.
Many thanks to Phil Messina for taking the time for this interview.
Make sure to visit the official website for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.