Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has captivated readers, telling the gripping story of a future North America where each year a group of children are selected to compete against each other in a televised battle to the death. The story was ripe for a Hollywood adaptation, and the first entry in the film series is set to hit theaters this Spring.
The ambitious project was filmed during the summer of 2011 in different locations across North Carolina. The state has become a growing market for feature film and television production, which has attracted a number of Full Sail Film graduates to the area, including Sarah Duryea, Chrys Blackstone, and Jeff Wallace, who worked together on The Hunger Games.
Sarah was a production assistant on the project, while Chrys and Jeff both served as set lighting technicians. We recently caught up with Chrys and Jeff to learn about their work in the state helping produce one of the year's most anticipcated releases.
“North Carolina is blowing up right now in terms of production,” Jeff says. “There’s a lot of great people here and many of them were involved with Hunger Games. I think the level of talent here really contributed to making the movie turn out as good as it has.”
A good portion of the movie takes place outside, and the filmmakers were able to take full advantage of the state’s lush scenery. Jeff was on board the project during the location shoots, which filmed in towns like Asheville, Hickory, and Shelby. They also spent a number of days shooting in the mountains, for scenes involving the ‘cornucopia,’ where the contestants first gather before heading off to fight.
“It was just beautiful land, but it was definitely tough from day to day,” he says. “We were up in these mountain forests in North Fork filming scenes where the actors all pop out from these tunnels and make a big break for their weapons. We’d have to use these four-wheel drive vehicles to haul the gear up and down, and we could only shoot up until about 5:30 p.m. because we were under the canopy of the trees and would lose light earlier. We really had to fight to get all our shots done, but it turned out great.”
The location scenes were shot over two months, after which Chrys joined the crew to help with filming on the interior sets. Their base of operations was an abandoned Phillip Morris cigarette factory, which they gutted and used to build massive sets for some of the biggest set pieces. Despite being a controlled environment, the structure offered its own set of challenges for him.
“They built entire compounds inside of the plant, and it was a lot of hard work for us because they were huge sets, so we had very big lights,” he says. “I had to do a lot of climbing up into the rafters and dropping cables down through the first floor into the basement so we could hook up to the generators. One of the massive sets we were using was the training ground where they had a lot of the stunts going on. You really had to mind where you put things and how you lit. It was mind blowing to be a part of something that size.”
Throughout the production, both grads were impressed by the quality of talent they were surrounded by, and the amount of effort that the different departments put into keeping faithful to the aesthetics outlined by the books. When you’re dealing with fans this loyal, each aspect from the dialog to the appearance of the characters is going to be heavily scrutinized, but Jeff isn’t too worried about the reception.
“It just looks great, and really lived up to my expectations that way,” he says. “The set design, costumes, and makeup are amazing. Everyone has their own vision when they read the book, and I think they took a good route with it, and people will be pretty impressed by the look of the film.”
“Having watched it on the monitors during filming, and now seeing the trailers on TV – it’s just a gorgeous looking movie,” Chrys adds. “Our director of photography Tom Stern did an amazing job of coloring it and giving it that dark, gritty feel that the book has. They really nailed that.”
Readers can judge for themselves when The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 23. The film is pegged as the first major blockbuster of the year, and Jeff and Chrys are proud to have their names attached to such a beloved property. They’re also already looking forward to news of the production of the remaining two films in the series, and the possibility of them returning to shoot in North Carolina.
“These books are on a different level than some people might think, they’ve got darker aspects to them, it’s good drama mixed with action, and then a little bit of romance too,” Jeff says. “After working on the movie, I really understand why it’s so popular, and I hope the sequels come back to the state so we can do it all over again. The production had a good time and I think they realized the crew based here is something that they can benefit from.”