Monday, April 2, 2012

Gary Ross Answers NYTimes Reader Questions

Check out this article from the New York Times. Readers submitted questions to Gary Ross, and he chose a few to answer!
Gary, what was the biggest challenge that you encountered in the editing room? Also — just because I love my state — how did you like North Carolina? Would you be wanting to come back for future projects? — Savanah, North Carolina 
I think the biggest challenge was keeping the feeling of dread and tension alive in the first part of the film. It would have been easy for these “games” to feel like an abstract concept (the first part of the movie has no real IMMEDIATE threat to the tributes) and yet the characters are facing near certain death. The tone that was established in the reaping was essential in doing that. Steven Mirrione and I did quite a bit of restructuring in the first half to make sure the tension did not abate. As for your state, I LOVED it. And I miss Asheville very very much and I cant wait to go back. 
Given the tremendous pressure to make this movie a blockbuster, there must have been even more of a tension than usual between your artistic vision and the commercial one. How did you have to modify that artistic vision to arrive at the movie as released? — Ken N., San Francisco 
Actually, I felt the only way to make the film really successful was to be totally subjective (Suzanne wrote in the first person present). So I tried to put “commercial” considerations out of my mind. You can’t really make a movie by worrying about the marketplace and I always felt the only way to realize this story was to make it as personal as I could. I also felt this couldn’t feel or look like other “franchises” without sacrificing the naturalism the story needed. It helped being in the woods a long way from Hollywood. 
After watching the film, I felt you choose some specific spots for the pacing of the film. How did you decide on what you felt were important moments to emphasize and moments to move forward on? — Marcelo, Orlando, Fla.
Some of this is done in the screenplay and some of it is done editorially. After you’re finished shooting, the areas that the movie needs to accelerate or slow down become apparent. For instance we take a long time with the reaping, but the last third of the film is accelerated more than it was written in the screenplay. These things only become evident once the cut is complete. There are always surprises but that’s a good thing. It keeps you engaged in a process of invention even after you are done shooting. 
Was a lot of thought put into how far you could push the satirical element inherent in the story without undermining the emotional reality of Katniss’s journey? I was really impressed by the balance. — Adam L., Albany, N.Y. 
Yes, I think “tone” is the main challenge in adapting the novel to the screen. Some things that read fine on the page (especially in terms of the Capitol’s excess) might have broken the tension of the film if pushed too far. A novel (because it is left to the readers imagination) has more latitude tonally than a film does. I had to be careful that in depicting the excesses of the capitol it never felt too broad or as you say “satirical” on screen. It is a question of maintaining the tension and dread that the book did so well. 
How did your team develop the idea to create a NASA type control room for the arena? It is not in the book, but I think it was an important and clever addition to the movie. — Jalling, Groton, Mass. 
In the book, Katniss speculates about the game-makers manipulations while the games are going on. Of course, in the film, we can’t get inside Katniss’s head, but we do have the ability to cut away and actually show the machinations of the Capitol behind the scenes. I created the game center and also expanded the role of Seneca Crane for those reasons. I thought it was tonally important. So much of the film happens in the woods that it’s easy to forget this is a futuristic society, manipulating these events for the sake of an audience. The look of the control center, the antiseptic feeling of it and the use of holograms were all intended to make the arena feel “constructed” even when you weren’t seeing the control room. 
Can you talk about the use of CGI in the film as it relates to Katniss’s experience and human scale? I was struck by the grandeur of the Capitol in comparison with the intimate focus on Katniss in the woods outside 12 and in the arena. I have seen “zones” of a film differentiated by color or tint before (as in “Traffic” and “The Matrix,” for instance), but rarely as effectively by scale of surroundings. Was that a conscious choice or a natural result of telling the story from Katniss’ perspective? — Mike Z., Los Angeles
The contrast from District 12 to the Capitol is vital to establishing Katniss’s sense of alienation when she first arrives. And you are right—a lot of that is done with scale. The Capitol needed to feel authoritarian, imposing, overwhelming. Obviously we wanted Katniss to feel dwarfed by her surroundings. Phil Messina (the production designer) and I looked at a lot of reference from various periods of architecture that were meant to establish might and authority. In terms of the differences in hue, none of that is actually done through the color “timing” — the film is “timed” the same throughout. But the palate of District 12 is much bleaker than the palette of the Capitol. That’s simply a matter of palette control through production and costume design. 
If you had another half hour of film run time to use — assuming no consequences or complaints for the purposes of this question — is there anything you’d add to this first film? A cutting room floor wish? — Jenny B., Harlem, N.Y.
Honestly no. The movie I put out is the movie that I want, and I wouldn’t add anything to the running time. Equally, I would never make a movie too short just for sake of running time. I think a director should stand behind the cut of their film. I won’t be putting “additional” scenes on the DVD for the same reason. That said, there are a few things that I didn’t have room for in the script just for reasons of a linear narrative. A good example of that is the Avox subplot in the novel. I loved what Suzanne did but couldn’t find a way to get it in the screenplay and it was never shot. 
With the ongoing transition from film to digital capture, the fundamental aesthetic of movies (and TV) is changing. Why did you decide to shoot “The Hunger Games” on film rather than in a digital format? — David, Los Angeles
Several reasons. I love the look of the film and, for the aesthetic of this movie, I wanted both the richness and the grain that film provides. We were also shooting in very remote (and occasionally hot) locations and I wanted the reliability of film. This movie was shot on a very tight schedule and it rained at least half the days. I didn’t want to run the risk of the technical issues that often come with shooting digitally — we simply couldn’t afford any delays. Most systems are very reliable but even if this was a remote possibility, we didn’t have the room in our schedule to run that risk.