After a full day of on-camera interviews about “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” there was a small reception at a nearby restaurant where I was invited so that I could spend a little more time talking to director Francis Lawrence.
When “Constantine” came out, I moderated a screening of the film at the Egyptian Theater, and I remember it being a particularly spirited Q&A afterwards. I liked Lawrence, and while I didn’t think “Constantine” was a home run, there were plenty of things about it that I liked. I thought “I Am Legend” started strong but then deflated at a certain point. “Water For Elephants” was a low-key surprise, a film that felt genuinely meant even if it also was firmly entrenched in melodrama.
By far, the best thing he’s directed so far is “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” simply because it works as a whole film in a way that none of the others have so far, and Lawrence’s visual acumen is just the icing on the cake this time. The video you see embedded above was our first conversation about this movie, but at the reception, we had time to speak a little longer, and one of the first things he said was how happy he was to hear that I’d liked the film. He said that the feeling of the positive reviews starting to roll in was a enormous relief, because he felt like this was the best thing he’d done, and so far, his career has not been about critical acclaim.
He was hired late in the game on “Catching Fire,” and I asked him if it helped that he had to just sort of hit the ground running when he signed on to make the film. He said that the main difference simply came down to having a piece of material that worked and having the trust of the people paying for things. Instead of having to fight to try to make his film resemble “Catching Fire,” everyone onboard had the same idea about film they were trying to make. He mentioned “I Am Legend” as a case where that wasn’t true, and he said he wished he had fought harder to try to sustain the tone of the film’s first act throughout. “Everyone liked the last man on Earth stuff, and I feel like if we’d kept it focused on that, it might have worked better.”
The truth is that he’s never had any real power or clout, and he’s had to compromise on everything he’s made. That should change for him after he’s done with “The Hunger Games” films because it feels like he’s finally found a story worth telling, something where he can graft his style onto a strong piece of writing and his passion will make it clear that this isn’t just Blockbuster 101 filmmaking phoned in by someone.
The real test is going to be what he does with that clout. And I’m excited to see whatever that is to see who Lawrence really is as a director.
In the meantime, “The Hunger Games: Catching FIre” is in theaters everywhere tomorrow.