Welcome to Cast Countdown with Hamilton. As we get the casting announcements, I will be regularly introducing the members of the Catching Fire cast and discussing what it is that they will be bringing to the film. Fair warning, just in case you have not yet read the book, there may be Hunger Games spoilers here.
This is a special edition of Cast Countdown, and one I had not originally anticipated writing: Director of Catching Fire. With Gary Ross out of the picture, supposedly due to scheduling issues, the job has officially been taken over by Francis Lawrence. Who? With names like Alfonso Cuarón being thrown out there, Lawrence is certainly a less familiar director – and his name is bound to make for some confusion / punny headlines as everyone will undoubtedly point out that he and Jennifer Lawrence are not related. Despite his appearance, he is not related to Bradley Cooper either.
Francis Lawrence – Catching Fire Director
About Francis Lawrence: Like fellow film director, Michael Bay, Lawrence got his start in directing music videos – with many big names to his credit including The Backstreet Boys, Avril Lavigne, P.O.D, Aerosmith, and Janet Jackson, along with a slew of others, recently directing the video for Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. (Which means he has experience filming outlandish styles at least!) He only got started with film directing relatively recently with 2005′s Constantine. He followed that up with I am Legend and then Water for Elephants, all of which are also film adaptations of written work. He also has some television experience, directing three episodes of Kings, and is producing the Kiefer Sutherland sci-fi drama Touch. His made-for-TV movie, Gotham, that takes place in a magical New York City, is currently being wrapped up. That’s Lawrence’s career in a nutshell.
While there were plenty of other interesting names on Lionsgate’s and fans’ wish lists, many of them were obviously not going to happen either because the director’s were too busy, too expensive, or just not interested. Lawrence has a clean plate in front of him and as a “smaller” name, should not cost Lionsgate a huge amount. He’s also not someone who probably has the clout to insist things be done his way and with taking over a franchise that will make things easier for the studio.
Gary Ross did a fantastic job of making a film that was both faithful to the source as well as something that most non-fans and critics enjoyed as well. That said, there is always room for improvement and we can only hope that fresh blood and a new perspective can bring that extra factor to the world Ross built already and take it to the next level in Catching Fire. Is Lawrence the person to do that?
Of his three feature films, I have seen two of them and I am split 50/50 on them. Constantine I barely remember other than I thought it was very poorly done. Casting, however, was a big part of that. I personally think Keannu Reeves is overrated, but was still very much the wrong choice for the role. I do remember that visually, at least, the film was pretty interesting, so there is that. I am Legend, however, is one of my favorites – a fantastic film and one of Will Smith’s best.
Though I have not read the original source material of any his films, a little searching reveals that the movies are all very different than the books on which they were based. However, Lawrence has zero writing credits to his name, so likely did not have much to do with those changes. Again, though, he has zero writing credits to his name. Gary Ross was very involved in the script for The Hunger Games and Simon Beaufoy‘s Catching Fire script still needs work – the fact that Ross didn’t have the time he wanted (two months) to work on the script and not feel rushed was one of the reasons given for his departure after all. Will Lawrence take a first time stab at screenwriting with this one or will it be sourced out to someone else to polish? Too many hands in the script is notorious for creating disasters in Hollywood so hopefully this doesn’t turn into one of those where the script is handed off from one person to another multiple times, losing cohesion. It may mean that Suzanne Collins ends up with a more prominent roll in the script process and that can’t be a bad thing.
Lawrence has some television experience which could be helpful in dealing with the compressed time frame Catching Fire is on now, so that’s a positive. He also has experience with filming action sequences with lots of special effects – s0mething which some people were critical of in Ross’s direction of The Hunger Games, specifically in regards to the close-up “shakycam” action. Lawrence may bring a more refined and experienced action hand to the table.
Looking at my favorite of his films, I am Legend, it is another post apocalyptic story focusing on a central character. In fact, it is when only Smith is on screen that the movie really excels. The introduction of other characters later on makes the film feel a little disjointed. If Lawrence can capture that same thing and transfer it to Jennifer (see, this is where names get confusing) it could work. Even though there is a large assortment of people around her, Katniss increasingly feels like one of the only people left on earth and starts to go a bit crazy, especially moving onto Mockingjay.
Overall, Lawrence is probably a safe bet, though perhaps not an especially inspired choice. Then again, I thought the same about Gary Ross. He seems excited, but then again, who wouldn’t be? I’ll reserve judgement until I see some footage, and that’s still a long way off, but I can’t imagine Lionsgate made this choice lightly so there must be something about Lawrence (besides his name) that said “Hunger Games” to them.