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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

About The Production
"This is the 75th year of the Hunger Games . . . The tributes are to be reaped from the existing pool of victors." -- President Snow of Panem

The stakes have never been higher for Katniss Everdeen. It seems it was only yesterday that Katniss was battling to outlast her tyrannized nation's infamous gladiatorial competition. But now, the time is nearing once again for the annual Hunger Games. And this year it is a very special Quarter Quell anniversary edition, one that will force together the most famed of the past Victors, including Katniss, who never imagined she'd be heading back into the arena as a person changed by her experiences.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows on the heels of 2012's blockbuster cinematic success, The Hunger Games - and takes the worldwide phenomenon sparked by Suzanne Collins' best-selling books into a new chapter that deepens the story and propels it forward. Critically acclaimed, the first film introduced audiences to the intriguing dystopian culture of Panem, where every year 12 oppressed districts send a teenage boy and girl to compete in a contest of sheer survival in the nation's glittering Capitol. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence brought to life the story's reluctant 16 year-old heroine, Katniss, as she persevered through impossible choices in the Hunger Games arena - revealing a passionate connection with her character.

Less than a year later, as the filmmakers returned to bring the second book of Collins' trilogy to life on screen, they had no intention of resting on those considerable laurels. They dove into a new phase of Panem's history and Katniss' ever more dizzying moral dilemmas with the same faithfulness to the narrative that has guided them from the start - and a desire to go the next step.

With a story that thrusts Katniss into a second Hunger Games she never saw coming, the film took cast and crew into previously unexplored emotional and technical territory. As Katniss and her fellow Tribute, Peeta, go on a Victors' Tour through Panem's districts, and then are reaped for games creatively designed to be their destruction, the filmmakers saw an exciting opportunity to push the storytelling, and the characters, while staying true to what Collins set off in the global imagination.

"We wanted to be every bit as ambitious with this movie as we had been with the first, and continue to take creative risks," says returning producer Nina Jacobson. "We have tried to honor the core essence of Catching Fire in the same way that we honored The Hunger Games."

Lionsgate's President of Production Erik Feig adds: "Catching Fire is a very different story from The Hunger Games. Katniss is thrust, literally, into a higher arena, and we see not only pressure mounting on her, but also the scope of her caring for others broadening. We saw it as a wonderful cinematic opportunity to bring her greater inner complexities and an even bigger visual scale to life."

As Panem is slowly revealed to be on a collision course with change in Catching Fire, so too does Katniss stand at the boundary of the hesitant girl she was and the young woman she will become.

"We're very excited in this film to advance Katniss's evolution as a character," Jacobson states. "We see her growing into somebody who is much more the master of her own destiny, as opposed to a pawn in the agendas of others. We see an ethical and social consciousness awakened in her, and yet at the same time, we also see the very human resistance that she feels to having to become a hero, when all she really wants to do in her heart is gohome."

KATNISS IN CHAOS

The events of The Hunger Games took Katniss Everdeen to what she thought were her ultimate physical and emotional limits, and all she wanted in the aftermath was to finally be home with her family and best friend, Gale Hawthorne. But there is to be no going home for Katniss, even if she beat all the odds. She is now a different person - a girl haunted by memories, by the continuing control of her life by the

Capitol, by the persistent threats that remain to her loved ones. More than that, she is now a public persona, whether or not she wants to be. Not only is she the Capitol's celebrated "Girl on Fire" but she is becoming an inspirational symbol to some and a dangerous enemy to others.

Now, when she is reaped a second time for the 75th Hunger Games, all of that takes Katniss to a new place in her mind and her soul. As defiant and fiercely independent as ever, her journey in Catching Fire becomes about grappling with the dual nature of heroism - its burdens and its power.

Returning in the role is Jennifer Lawrence, whose career has soared since The Hunger Games, and who recently won the Best Actress Oscar , among other awards, playing the complicated widow Tiffany Maxwell in David O. Russell's celebrated Silver Linings Playbook.

Lawrence loved creating the character for the first time on screen and in Catching Fire, she took the sometimes selfless, often cunning young woman she has embodied through dark, confusing times and evolved her to a new level of strength and maturity.

"Katniss remains a character I adore but the stakes are different for her this time," Lawrence notes. "In the first movie, she was a hesitant hero who really just wanted to save her family, but now she has a bigger weight on her shoulders. She feels a responsibility to all these people who are depending on her and yet, she is struggling with that, because it isn't at all what she signed up for."

As a victor, Katniss had been promised a lifetime free of being reaped for the games ever again. But the rules have changed. Each Quarter Quell - which every 25 years marks the Capitol's triumphant defeat over the rebelling Districts - the games get special instructions, and this year they say that the competition will take place between former victors, a move Katniss suspects is aimed at her. "I think Katniss was just starting to accept that she had post-traumatic stress and was trying to get over that, only now she has to face the unthinkable: going back to the Games," says Lawrence.

Diving back into the depths of the role, Lawrence was acutely aware that Katniss is trying to come to terms with all that she has experienced and achieved, and just as much with newfound fame and its seeming ability to wreak havoc. "In Catching Fire, Katniss becomes very aware of all the people who are watching her, who are depending on her and that all becomes very real to her," says the actress. "She feels that she has to decide between saving her family or fighting for her people."

Katniss is also faced with an increasingly complex relationship with her fellow Tribute, Peeta Mellark, with whom she is now pegged as an item, replete with lavish wedding plans, in the Capitol's PR blitz - despite her unrequited feelings for Gale back at home. Much as she wants to go back to a time when things were simpler with Gale, she cannot. "Everything feels different to Katniss now," Lawrence explains. "There are things about her life that Gale just doesn't understand anymore, whereas he used to understand everything. And now there are parts of her life that only Peeta understands."

These Games are also different for Katniss, in part because she is now a veteran who goes into them with her eyes wide open to the threats. She also goes into them in an unfamiliar position: as the frontrunner. "These games are definitely different because everybody has been here before. Everybody's experienced," Lawrence says.

This time the battle terrain is also new and unchartered - as well as mind-boggling to Katniss. "This arena is something that Katniss has never experienced before," Lawrence notes. "She grew up in the woods, so that was always her specialty. But this is all new to her -- a jungle and a very sinister jungle at that. The jungle becomes a deadly tribute in itself."

Like Katniss must, Lawrence threw herself right back into intensive training for these even more physically demanding games, spending hours on the archery range and honing an array of free-running skills to new levels. "The stunts in this movie are really fantastic, so it was worth doing the extra months of training to be able to do them," she comments.

The intense process of entering Katniss' weighted soul and ever-intensifying dilemmas was supported throughout by director Francis Lawrence (no relation). "He has such a huge imagination and he's so good at creating different worlds in a way that really resonates," the actress says. "I felt he fully understood the story and he was very freeing to work with."

Francis Lawrence was in turn enthralled with Jennifer's unwavering commitment to doing justice to Katniss in this new phase of her life. "Jennifer just owns this character," says the director. "And she brings out many new facets in this movie. You get a chance to really see Katniss grow as a human being. Throughout, it was fascinating to watch Jennifer, because playing Katniss is so natural for her. Her performance style is very instinctual - and when she turns it on, she really turns it on."

Adds producer Jon Kilik: "The most important thing to us was to maintain the truth and integrity of Katniss -- and Jennifer makes that possible. She's so deeply rooted in Katniss' head that her every move feels real and honest. Her technique is invisible, which is astonishing at such a young age. Every day on this film she was surprising us, every day she was able to go a little further or bring another dimension to Katniss. She was always finding new things and she never repeated herself."

PANEM, EXPANDED

The Hunger Games introduced moviegoers to the original yet hauntingly familiar world of Panem, with its gritty, enslaved Districts, eye-popping Capitol full of glitter and glam, and its reliance on televised spectacles to distract the people. Now, Catching Fire expands the scope of Panem, revealing far more of the oppressed nation just starting to simmer with rebellion than has yet been seen on screen. Given the care and creativity it would take to bring all that to life, the producers went in search of a director who would arrive on the scene with his own personal vision, as well an understanding of why people relate so strongly to Collins' characters and fictional realm.

They found that combo in Francis Lawrence, who made a different kind of apocalyptic world viscerally real in the stylish sci-fi epic I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. "We were looking for somebody who had a real passion for the books and for this book in particular," recalls Nina Jacobson. "From our first conversation, Francis had so much insight into the characters and into the dynamics between them, we were won over."

Adds Jon Kilik: "Francis not only deeply connected with the material, but he also saw how to build on the first movie. To have someone who had a vision for how the story could grow and expand was very impressive."

Lawrence approached the film as an opening for audiences to venture further and deeper into the heart of Panem - both of its Capitol and its people. "Catching Fire opens the world of Panem up and you start to learn more about the characters, as the story pushes them forward," he says. "It is the most technically complex film I have ever done, and yet I think the coolest thing about it is simply the strength of the story itself. I'm really proud of how emotional it is. Fans will enjoy seeing many new facets to Panem, but it's also a story that stands on its own."

To assure those relationships were as authentic as possible, he worked closely with Suzanne Collins herself, honing the edges of an already strong screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn. "There will never be anybody that knows these characters and the world of Panem as well as Suzanne, and I know people really love and trust what Suzanne has to say about them," Lawrence comments. "She became a vital part of finding the best ways to tell this part of the story."

The opportunity to take audiences on a visceral ride into an inventive new arena also excited Lawrence, and ignited his cinematic creativity. From lightning storms to blood rain to a madly spinning Cornucopia and a climactic sequence that changes everything, Lawrence relished the challenges. "This arena is like no other," he describes. "Special care went into creating it by the gamemaker and it plays a large role in our story. It's a very interactive arena, and its secrets make it far trickier."

But the biggest thrill of all for Lawrence was the chance to reveal the innermost hopes and anxieties of Collins' characters, and especially Katniss, as they never have been seen before. As the Quarter Quell kick off, Katniss and Peeta bring with them the wisdom, physical prowess and skepticism gained from their first Games - but must take each of those qualities to a whole new level if they hope to get out. "These tributes have all won the games before, and they are now smarter, more skilled and savvier about forming alliances," observes the director. "Alliances become a big theme in this story for Katniss and Peeta as they try to figure who they can and cannot trust."

Yet Katniss alone must navigate the pressures of turning into the nation's greatest symbol of hope. For Lawrence, Katniss' reluctance to be seen by anyone, let alone the millions searching for light in the rabble of Panem's districts, as a heroine is part of what makes her so beloved as a modern character. "It's one of the things that I think we all really relate to in Katniss -- that she has these very personal needs to protect her own family, which are not selfish needs but that conflict with some of the new things being asked of her. She doesn't want people looking up to her, because she has enough to worry about on her own, yet she is discovering that she can't escape that, either. It's really what makes her so believable as a character, that she never set out to be anyone's hero," he observes.

Since Catching Fire immerses itself deeper into Katniss' world and relationships, Lawrence chose to utilize the most immersive film technology in existence - IMAX cameras. He put the large-format cameras to work as the Games begin, making them feverishly immediate. "I wanted the arena to be the most visceral experience possible, all as seen from Katniss' inner POV," he explains. "Seeing her world through IMAX opens up the screen up and takes you inside the imagery. "

Along with the endless creative challenges of the film, a huge pleasure for Lawrence was simply working with such an accomplished and varied cast. "This was the most extraordinary cast, and it was really fun to watch them each bring their own mix of humor, humanity and emotion to such incredible characters," sums ups Lawrence. "They all have distinct, dynamic personalities."

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