Hunger Games Prequel Producer on Returning to the Franchise and Shooting Overseas
Nov 21, 2023
With so much anticipation building up to its Nov. 17 release, The Hunger Games’ prequel dominated the box office as expected. Helmed by returning director Francis Lawrence, with an epic runtime of over 150 minutes, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the latest installment that features an entirely new cast of characters. Why? Well, for starters, it’s set six decades before Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) stepped forward to represent her district in a deadly tournament that’s not for the faint of heart.
New to the franchise doesn’t mean talent is lacking, however. Rachel Zegler, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Jason Schwartzman round out a stellar ensemble for a story that takes place in the days when young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) starts his journey from student to infamous villain years later. We recently caught up with Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson about returning to the franchise and the thrills of shooting overseas to capture some of those breathtaking tournament sequences.
Reuniting with Suzanne Collins Was ‘A Gift’
Like the previous films, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes began as a hit novel by acclaimed author Suzanne Collins. “Honestly, it was a gift to get to come back, to have a book of Suzanne’s to work on,” producer Jacobson told MovieWeb, explaining:
“She writes books that have so much sort of substance, so much meat on the bone, so many ideas, so many opportunities. So that in and of itself, just to dive back into the world that she rendered, and to get to do it with her and with Francis, it’s a dream. I had an amazing experience making these movies, and I didn’t ever know that we would ever make another one.”
Related: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Review: Grim Prequel to an Already Dark Story
Given her extensive experience working with Collins, Jacobson drew an interesting parallel between the author and the strong lead women characters in the new book/film. “She’s like Lucy Gray,” said Jacobson. “Lucy Gray says, ‘I don’t sing when I’m told to. I sing when I have something to say.’ Suzanne had something to say, and I felt very lucky to get to be able to go back. And it was a gift.”
Shooting in Berlin and Watching ‘Pure as the Driven Snow’
For those who haven’t yet seen the new film, Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) plays Lucy Gray, who hails from a lowly district and is forced to compete to the death in the first-ever Hunger Games. If you didn’t fall in love with Zegler after seeing her in Steven Spielberg’s recent musical, you might just fall for her this time around. And she’s not the only highlight among the talented cast, as mentioned earlier. Says Jacobson:
“Lionsgate has always been very supportive of us being able to cast the right actor for the right role. And so being able to think about, ‘Well, who would be the perfect D. Gaul? Who would be the perfect Highbottom? Who would be the perfect Lucky Flickerman, who might ultimately make the original Caesar Flickerman feel like a nepo-baby of sorts?’ You had to feel like maybe there was some family connection.
“Getting the opportunity to work with, honestly, some of the actors that I admire most in the world, and to get to have material that they felt was worthy of them, was really exciting,” added Jacobson. “But also having to cast this young set of actors, knowing that somebody like Tom [Blyth] has to be able to hold his own in scenes with actors of this caliber, and that these two characters have to build, play off of each other in a way that keeps you guessing. Like, are they really falling for each other? Are they using each other? It takes a lot of complexity and skill in order to have this sort of shifting sands that are making up this relationship.”
Related: Hunter Schafer and Josh Andrés Rivera on The Hunger Games Prequel
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes stands at 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, but there’s no denying the production value is 100% first-rate, with Jacobson having taken her project to iconic locations in Europe. “There were some incredible moments on set,” she told us. “Certainly, there is a big climactic moment in the arena that was unbelievable to watch in-person, even with no visual effects. But also, the way that our production designer Uli Hanisch and his team, and our locations — we had unbelievable locations.”
To be able to shut down Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin, which was in the heart of East Berlin and points directly to Moscow, to be able to shoot right there on that street, and to see them make up the world of Panem out of these incredible locations, some of them would just take my breath away, just being there. But also, many of the songs and watching Rachel perform something like ‘Pure as the Driven Snow,’ those were incredible moments as well.
From Lionsgate, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now in theaters. You can watch the trailer below:
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