|Gary Ross on-set with Jennifer Lawrence|
|France Lawrence shooting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire|
As the man behind the camera changed so did the location of the principle photography. “The world we live in is based on tax incentives so here we find ourselves in Atlanta which is great,” remarks Phil Messina. “We recreated certain things that we did in North Carolina but also because we have a different director and material we able to reinterpret some pieces.” Messina observes, “Atlanta is a bigger city than Charlotte. It has a little bit more history to it. From the beginning I based a lot of the capital architecture on a 1960s and 1970s Brutalist style and there happens to be a fair amount of that in Atlanta buildings built during the 1970s. For the capital stuff we’re certainly in a much better place. Where we shot in Charlotte was appropriate for what we needed to do. I’m glad to be in Atlanta right now if I have to be anywhere right now besides Los Angeles because there is a fair amount of opportunity here architecturally that serves our story. The film business is nothing but adaptive. You don’t pine the loss of something. You look for a new solution.” European and Asian influences were modified. The Roman Empire to Nazi Germany to Socialist Russia to Communist China there is a through line of power based on architecture and symbolism. Suzanne went back to one of the original sources. I draw from all of that and try to make it our own. How would it be reinterpreted in an American fashion? That’s what is unique about our story.”
“There are a lot of different ways you can go,” explains Phil Messina. “There is the Star Trek, Star Wars and Oblivion  that is high tech futuristic which is an amazing look. But with ours it was important for it to be accessible and feel like a world that could easily develop in the not so distant future. Suzanne described this world as having no satellites or Internet. It’s not so futuristic but a parallel society that would have developed given a different set of circumstances. That’s what I found interesting in the world. How do things develop if XYZ? Those are some of the factors that we’re dealing with every day.” One of the creative challenges was the building the urban infrastructure. “I looked at everything from the Roman Empire to Germania which was Hitler’s architectural vision of what Germany would become to Stalin’s vision of what Russia would become. There’ve been a lot of dreamers and city planners. Everything from the industrial revolution to the reorganization of Paris to modern cities such as Beijing and Dubai; you take all of it in and try to distil it. Cities don’t grow from one place. What we tried to bring to it was a visual harmony of a singular idea but also things are built at different times. It doesn’t all go up in the same five or ten years. It had developed over a certain amount of time. In Catching Fire we have more of the capital shown than in Hunger Games but in Mockingjay especially in the second film it is like being on the streets of the capital. We’re using some locations in Europe, especially in Paris and Berlin. We tried to use places that felt architecturally relevant to our film and also felt real. One thing that Francis wanted was to be on real streets; he didn’t want to be on the back lot with fake buildings so we are in a lot of real locations and I find that exciting.”
“Every district has a specific purpose which has a specific resource that serves the capital,” states Phil Messina. “Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence] is from the mining district which Suzanne wrote as being in the Appalachian Mountains so we naturally drew from the coal mines from West Virginia. From the beginning we were looking at everything from the 1800s through the 1920s and Depression Era for District 12. Especially in Catching Fire you see a lot of that. We have shanty towns, and a black market. There are also more modern elements. We weren’t making a period movie. It’s an amalgam of different times. They had technology not introduced to them. It was more withheld from them by the capital. That’s a different set of circumstances from doing a period film. Obviously you’re going to look at period references to draw from.” The production designer drew upon his own childhood. “For the textile district I grew up in a mill town called Lawrence, Massachusetts which at the turn of the last century was the textile centre of the world. In Catching Fire when we had to create the textile district for a brief scene I knew exactly where to draw from. The transportation district we used a lot of trains. Transportation can be anything but we had already designed these cool hovercrafts so we turned it into an airplane hanger where they’re building hovercrafts in. A mining district was begging to be West Virginia mine. We were drawing from history where traditionally these materials have come from within the United States. We tried to stay mostly in the U.S. and not to draw from too many European influences. We tried to make it American feeling. Logging and lumber is from the Pacific Northwest. Suzanne had marked out a map of Panem where each of these resources came from and were based on American history. It became easy to think of the next step and start creating the visuals for them.”
“The weapons in the games are about show so you have more freedom to design them,” states Phil Messina. “The weapons in the capital are all business and look much like submachine guns and assault rifles from today with some minor touches. The weapons didn’t come from any particular reference. We drew from what their purpose was and they served different purposes. Katniss’ bow in the first one is something she made with her dad out of wood so it has a certain feeling and look to it. The weapons for the games are made to entertain so they add more flash. The weapons from the capital are more brute force and they work with the costumes of the peace keepers.” The control room received an upgrade. “The general shape and layout stayed similar but the control room has been remodelled because they have to create a different environment with it; that’s actually one of places that feels more like the first movie.” The arena environment for Catching Fire takes place in a tropical setting. “In the story they have created a large doomed environment and through a tremendous amount of technology have come to create a jungle that looks like a jungle. We shot in Hawaii. They take five to ten years to build every arena so they’re already building the next four or five arenas for the future down to every detail. But what it really comes down to is that we shot in the jungle. We dressed and tweaked it but it is using technology to create reality so we went directly to the reality part of it. The first one we shot near Asheville, North Carolina which has a beautiful forest. The second one Katniss is in a jungle. It was more complicated because we created the jungle from several different pieces. We built a large water tank for the centre part of the game. We shot various beaches in Oahu and for the jungle also in Oahu but four or five different places. Talk about world building; it is cobbling locations and sets together sometimes within a sequence of a couple of minutes.”
“Modern filmmaking on this kind of scale you’re going to have a lot of visual effects,” states Phil Messina. “When I start out I illustrate the major beats of the film with a team of illustrators. What you try to do in pre-production is to give everybody a roadmap as to what the film will look like. You then design sets based on the illustrations but the scale of what you’re building is based on discussions with the director, visual effects supervisor and DP. With the directors I have worked with they want to have as much real set in every shot as possible and you want to limit the amount of pure CG shots; in Catching Fire they’re done extremely well. The more real elements you have for the actors to act with the more real it is going to feel. You’re always trying to develop a ratio of real versus set extension versus green screen. For an actor to act in front of a green screen it is tough for them because there’s literally nothing for them to react to and sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s not. Most actors today are used to working with major green screen and CG elements on these kinds of films.”
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.