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Interview with Nina Jacobson: Producer of the Hunger Games

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by Melissa Silverstein
March 22, 2012 11:37 AM
5 Comments
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Nina Jacobson

Nina Jacobson is poised to have a really great weekend.  She's about to open The Hunger Games which if tracking and advance sales hold will be one of the best opening weekends ever.  She answered some questions by phone as the film gets ready to roll out

Women and Hollywood: One of the things that is unclear to people is exactly what the producer's role is especially on a huge film like this.

Nina Jacobson: It can really vary from movie to movie what the producer's role is and there are all kinds of producers.  There are line producers who do a lot of the nuts and bolts work on the set.  In my role I originally secured the rights to the book from Suzanne Collins and talked to her about what kind of movie The Hunger Games should or shouldn't be.  I then tried to protect the book throughout the process of development and production and create an adaptation that honored the book.  That meant collaborating with the right director (Gary Ross) and choosing the right home in Lionsgate a studio that really loved the book as much as we did.  I was also part of the casting process to make sure that each character is fully realized in the actor that we chose and then I was on set and worked through the post production process.  You are there to support the vision of the people who you choose to excute the movie. 

WaH: This is one of the largest budget films with a female at the center of the story.  Do you think this is the beginning of a trend or an anomaly?

NJ: I think this book has captivated the imagination of so many people it's hard to draw a line from it because it's a phenomenon.  I hope it's a trend.  It deserves to be a trend because it lets people will stand behind a great character in a great story -- boy or girl -- as long as they find the story, character and ideas to be compelling.

WaH: What's was the biggest challenge in marketing this film which has such a loyal following?

NJ: Lionsgate has done great job of speaking to the fans of the book and letting them know that the movie is on the one hand faithful, but on the other hand going to try new things.  In the first book Madge is the one to give Katniss the Mockingjay pin.  And Lionsgate released from the very beginning that we made that change.  We made that change consciously because we needed to put more time into the sister relationship.  So that's  great example of deciding to show your cards early on to the fans saying there will be a couple of new things too.  There has been a balancing act.  You also have to introduce the movie to all of the people who haven't read the book to get their attention.

WaH: I read several articles on how you sought out Suzanne Collins and won her over with your vision and have had a great partnership.  Why do you feel you got this film?

NJ: I think that I was able to convince Suzanne of my passion which was very heartfelt and genuine.  The fact that the experience of working at Disney gave me the experience of managing and protecting a brand and maintaining the trust of people who love the brand but also expand the ideas and reach of the brand.  I think that what really sealed the deal was that I had worked with Peter Hedges when I was at Disney and Suzanne was friends with him.  They had gone to a creative writing program in North Caroline together and so he was able to vouch for me to the effect that when I said I wanted to collaborate closely with her that it wasn't just lip service.  And also that I also had that relationship with Jeff Kinney (the author of the Whimpy Kids books) as well and our collaboration was very close.

WaH: You've been a studio exec as well as an independent producer.  Can you talk a bit about how far women have come and how we can get more women in leadership positions?

NJ: Women are making strides in many areas and women have mentored and supported me along the way.  I think that women are underrepresented behind the camera as directors.  There are still so few female directors.  There are far fewer writers than we'd like to see.  Particularly directors, cinematographers and camera operators.  One of our editors Juliet Welfling was really influential but there is still a lot of male dominated areas in the business and women might be making more strides on the executive side and the producing side than they have as directors and as cinematographers.

WaH: How did you know that Jennifer Lawrence was the one?

NJ: She really stole the part in her audition.  She made us all cry.  The casting director has to read opposite you so the casting director was reading the role of Prim and Jen made her tear up and cry and that was pretty intense.  She's an extraordinary actress.  She has extraordinary range and complexity and depth and once she auditioned it was impossible to imagine anybody else as Katniss.

WaH: She comes across on screen as a real human being which is a delight to see.

NJ: Yes, she looks like one and she is one.  She is a great girl.

WaH: What's the best advice someone has given you about making films and in turn what advice would you like to offer others?

NJ: When I worked at Dreamworks I worked on this film called Antz and I said to Jeffrey Katenberg I don't know how to make a family film, I don't know how to make an animated movie.  And he said don't think about the kids just think about what you want to see in the movie.  Make it for yourself.  What you think is funny.  What you think is witty and engaging. Make it for yourself.  We'll animate it.  Kids will go.  And that I have always found to be very valuable and tried to keep that with me.  When you get tempted to make decision from the outside in -- there are always these pressures to try and back in to what a movie should be.  But if you keep your head down and make the movie that you want to see, that you think is the best version of the movie you can make and try to stay true to your taste and instincts as well as the taste and instincts of the people you trust.  The most important part of filmmaking is the collaboration and the ensemble element of it.  If you just all focus on the task and the work and try and make the best film that you can then people will come.  The "If you build it, they will come" approach to filmmaking has always been helpful to me.

WaH: The estimations for the weekend keep growing because awareness keeps growing.  Can you live up to expectations?  Is it helpful that the anticipation is so great?  What kind of feelings do you have on that?

NJ: Honestly, I wish people would really just focus on the movie.  My hope is that the movie will deliver on people's expectations creatively.  We set out to make a version of the movie that would honor the book and that would speak to audiences who have and haven't read it.  I wish that people would focus more on the movie than on the performance element, the financial performance side of it. Focus on the movie and hope for the best.

WaH: What do you say to moms and dads about the violence?

NJ: I'm a mom.  I have a 14 year old and 11 year old and a 5 year old.  I'm very mindful about what they see and read.  I didn't let my 11 year old read the book until this past summer.  The book is recommended by Scholastic for ages 12 and up and we wanted to make a movie that could be seen by the kids that first discovered the book and made it what it is today.  I think the book and the movie take on very sophisticated themes that kids are savvy about.  They are very much aware of a lot of what they watch in terms of reality TV is more TV than reality.  We made the movie as both film lovers and parents to be responsible and to be ethical.  The book is responsible and ethical and has been embraced by parents and librarians.

WaH: What was your favorite part of the movie?

NJ: I love our cast.  I can't say enough about them.  Each and every one of them has done an extraordinary job.

The Hunger Games opens everywhere tomorrow.

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5 Comments

  • cc | March 30, 2012 1:20 PMReply

    Great interview

  • Therese Shechter | March 23, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    I love this interview as well. Not just because I'm an obsessive fan of The Hunger Games, but I think she has some incredible information and insight into the producing process. Thanks for this.

  • @agirlandapistol | March 22, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Awesome interview! So many little nuggets to take away. Ms. Jacobson is yet another talented woman to look up to in the industry. Thanks!

  • Denise David Williams | March 22, 2012 4:32 PMReply

    Nina Jacobson is an inspiration...not just for her business savy and creativity, but also her values and integrity.
    Thank you for sharing her words.

  • Linn | March 22, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    Melissa, Thank You for providing this. Great interview.

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