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Francis Lawrence, Nina Jacobson, and Peter Craig Break Down Adapting ‘Mockingjay’

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Warning:  Extremely detailed Mockingjay film and book spoilers ahead!

Mockingjay: Part 2 director Francis Lawrence, producer Nina Jacobson, and screenwriter Peter Craig sat down with Buzzfeed following the film’s release to break down the process, thoughts, and challenges of bringing Mockingjay from page to screen.  Bringing a book to life is always a difficult process due to the change in medium, but there are several other factors that came into play when adapting Mockingjay.  Francis, Nina, and Peter offered a very lengthy account of the decisions that they made, what worked and didn’t work, staying true to the story.  Check out some excerpts below.

Johanna

A big change in character involvement readers saw in Mockingjay: Part 2 is Johanna staying in District 13 by choice while Katniss sneaks off to go to the The Capitol.  In the book, Johanna and Katniss train in order to be cleared to join the other soldiers.  But the team says that incorporating this to the film just wouldn’t make sense.

“We were all very wary of training,” said Lawrence. “Training sequences quite often get montage-y, and I’m not a huge fan of that. To spend the time to do it right so it doesn’t feel like a montage would be also eating up a lot of time.”

Added Jacobson, “I think nobody looks at Katniss Everdeen and thinks she needs training on how to be a soldier.”

The problem, however, was that everyone loved Johanna as a character, and Malone’s portrayal of her. “So, the trick was in trying to maintain Johanna’s presence without the training,” said Lawrence.

And that unenviable task fell to Craig, who had to figure out how to make Johanna come to life in just two scenes with Katniss, and one group scene at the end. “I just tried to get at that she was the last shove that Katniss needed [to get to the Capitol],” Craig said. “That was somebody who could really look her in the eye and say, ‘Go do this.’ Johanna had kind of given the most.” Craig said that there was even discussion about letting Johanna accompany Katniss to the Capitol, but Collins vetoed that quickly. “Suzanne felt very strongly that they wouldn’t let her go,” he said with a laugh. “Morphling is not heroin, but, you know, she’s a morphling addict at that point. … There was just no way.”

Francis also stressed that by Johanna staying behind, it allowed Katniss to make a move and be motivated to get to Snow.

Peeta’s Recovery

It’s not easy to show recovery for a character that undergoes something as invasive as what Peeta goes through, which made the split more appealing.

“To be hijacked and then recover in one movie, I don’t even know how we would have done that,” she said. “You would have had to get him back so soon, and then he’d be a mess, and then he’d have to get better really quickly. So we needed the time, to give him all of the second movie to recover.”

And yet again, Collins provided a key insight that helped Craig unlock what keeps drawing Katniss back to Peeta. “I remember a conversation with Suzanne, [about how] towards the end, when they’re ready to make their final push towards [Snow’s] mansion, Peeta’s the one who has to really convince her that all of this is worth it, and he has to be the one who really speaks to her,” Craig recalled. “Because over the course of all four of the movies, he’s really the only one who’s been through everything she’s been through, and he’s really the only one who understands the completely unique position she’s in.”

Keeping the PG-13 Rating

Like the fans, the team was concerned about meeting the rating for their target audience without getting an R rating because of the violence described in the book.

“We always knew this was going to be the difficult one to tackle in terms of violence, because this is where the real themes of the consequence of war and violence come into play for the entire series,” said Lawrence. “There are a lot of hard things to watch that happen in this movie, and part of the success of the book was Suzanne didn’t flinch when she told these stories for teenagers. So you want to make it as intense as possible, but you also don’t want to cross over into that R rating where you’re alienating kids. So my goal was always to try to focus as much as possible on the emotional intensity and impact of the violence rather than the gore.”

One complicating factor, said Lawrence, is that the MPAA can give a film an R rating for “intensity” alone. “Even if it’s not bloody, [if] something just has enough impact and is intense enough, you can get an R rating for it,” he said. “That’s the thing that we were trying to find the right line for. … You’ll notice when you see the movie there’s very little blood. I was not interested in the glorification of violence or fetishizing the actual gore and carnage or seeing a lot of aftermath or blood hits and all of that. It was really about the consequence of it.”

More Scenes of Snow’s Decline

Once again, book fans were treated to parts of other characters’ stories by getting us out of Katniss’ point of view.  We got extra scenes of Snow in his rose garden in The Hunger Games and dialogue between Snow and Plutarch in Catching Fire.  In Mockingjay: Part 2, we got to see more of Snow in his mansion and how he’s desperately trying to hold onto his power.

“I was always really fascinated with trying to find the real life of Snow,” said Lawrence. “And, of course, there are a lot of choices one can make. He can think he’s going to win until the end. [But] I decided that I liked the route of Hitler in the film Downfall, where you witness it all crumble around you.”

For Craig, it was also a chance to show one of Snow’s key tactics that you only hear about in Collins’s book. “I love that he was a poisoner,” Craig said. “So I thought, let’s have him poison one of his advisers. We had a really distinct purpose that we wanted to accomplish with that scene too: that Snow really wanted this to be like another arena, and he wanted everybody to see it. It was part of his madness.”

To read more, head over to Buzzfeed for the full article.  It is an amazing article with a lot of great insight into the decisions the team made in adapting the book.

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