How The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes Director Made A Vital Hunger Games Prequel [Exclusive Interview]

Jason Schwartzman’s Lucky Flickerman provides the movie with extreme gallows humor and even the bleakest moments have these big laughs. Were you concerned about that character being as funny as he is, when the movie is as dark as it is?

No, we were looking for it. Look, it’s something that you have to modulate. Because the truth is, part of the power of these movies, I believe, is the emotional impact of the brutality and the violence. It’s not the gore, it’s not the act itself, but it’s the consequence of it is important. You want levity, you need contrast in movies. You need some joy in movies, you want laughter in movies. And we had an opportunity for levity with him. We had opportunity for levity to shine a light on how callous the Capitol is while these horrible things are happening. But we also had to be careful, and we had plenty of material and a lot of stuff got cut out, because there’s also times you don’t want to take the air out. When you have something that’s really emotional or really impactful and you want to sit in that for a minute. You don’t always want to cut to Lucky cracking a joke about it. But other times, it worked. So it was something that we’d had to really work on in the edit to get the modulation correct.

I hadn’t read the book before I saw the movie, so when the film seems to reach a climax, and suddenly I realized that it hasn’t, it was jolting. Were you intimidated by the film structure, the surprise fourth act, that informs the last hour of the movie? How do you make sure the audience stays on board even though the film deliberately has to slow down in order to lure you into this epilogue?

I think the only thing that intimidated me is that I feel like people are conditioned to believe that a “Hunger Games” movie is over when the games are over. And so there’s just this feeling that people have. It’s like, “Oh, you build up to the games. You get to the games. The games are over. Movie done.” And the truth is here, all the questions that are set up at the beginning of the movie are not answered by the end of these games, and there’s still a fair amount of story to tell. I found that very exciting. I liked that there was a different structure, that it wasn’t just ending with the games, that the games are just part of a much larger story — especially for Snow. So that was exciting, but I knew that we were going to have and will always probably have a bit of a hump, just because people are conditioned to feel that.

There’s been a real resurgence with Gen Z of watching the “Hunger Games” movies. And as a millennial, those movies were really important to me when they first came out. But people who are much younger than me are watching them and saying, “Oh yeah, I feel this.” What do you hope that younger folks in Gen Z get from the “Hunger Games” movies?

I hope they get the same thing. I think part of the power of them is that Suzanne writes from a thematic place, so she did the original series about the consequence of war. I think this one’s about the state of nature debate, of who are we really as humans? Are we brutal and savage, or are we, by nature, good and deserving of rights and freedoms? And so A, are you entertained? Do you have a fulfilling, emotional ride watching these movies? But B, can you also talk and think about what these things are saying, and why they’re relevant? And I think the unfortunate thing with the world is these stories that Suzanne have written are always going to be relevant. I just think that she’s talking about things that unfortunately we as humans can never seem to get past. And that’s why I think that they will probably keep resonating.

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