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The Indie Origins of ‘The Hunger Games’: How 10 Folks From the Insanely Anticipated Film Got Their Starts

The Indie Origins of 'The Hunger Games': How 10 Folks From the Insanely Anticipated Film Got Their Starts

While there’s nothing indie about its $85 million budget or 4,000-screen release, many of the principals behind the “Hunger Games” adaptation (out this Friday) found their way to the film via a very indie career. 

In fact, aside from the film’s director Gary Ross (who got his start writing studio comedies like “Big” and “Dave”), almost all the faces in front of and behind the “Hunger Games” camera have significantly indie resumes:

Elizabeth Banks, actress – Prior to landing the role of villainous Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games,” Elizabeth Banks was Betty Brant in “Spider-man” and Tobey Maguire’s love interest in another Gary Ross film, “Seabiscuit.” But she got her big break in 2001 when she was cast as part of the ensemble in David Wain’s cult indie comedy “Wet Hot American Summer.” 

T-Bone Burnett, composer – Burnett composed the score for “Games” with James Newton Howard. Though prominent as a songwriter and music producer for decades, his first film credits included writing a song for Victor Nunez’s 1993 indie “Ruby in Paradise,” and working on the soundtracks of the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “The Ladykillers.” And, of course, he won an Oscar a few years back for his songwriting contributions to indie hit “Crazy Heart.”

Josh Hutcherson, actor – The 19-year-old Hutcherson made his big-screen debut with a small role in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s acclaimed 2003 indie “American Splendor.” His big break, meanwhile, came seven years later where he played the teenage son of Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in the Oscar-nominated Sundance acquisition “The Kids Are All Right.”

Jon Kilik, producer – Perhaps the most indie-appropriate example of them all, Jon Kililik got his start as a line producer on Spike Lee joints like “Do The Right Thing and “Jungle Fever,” going on to full-on produce the likes of “Malcom X,” “Clockers” and “25th Hour.” Outside of Mr. Lee, Kilik has an extensive resume including “Dead Man Walking,” “Before Night Falls,” “Pollock,” “Broken Flowers,” “Babel” and “Biutiful.”

Jennifer Lawrence, actress – Portraying “Games” protagonist Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence beat out a who’s who of young Hollywood for the role. But it’s unlikely she would have even got a callback without her performance in Debra Granik’s 2010 little-indie-that-could, “Winter’s Bone.”  Essentially unknown prior to that film, it earned an Academy Award nomination for best actress and a ticket to the A list.

Philip Messina, production designer – The man behind the design of Panem made his official debut as a set designer on the 1990 Cher-Winona Ryder drama “Mermaids” and then as a production designer on the not-so-indie Disney film “Gordy” (assuming anyone remembers, it was the 1995 talking pig movie that wasn’t “Babe”). But soon after he became the go-to production designer for Steven Soderbergh, working on “Out of Sight,” “Traffic,” “Solaris” and “Che,” among others (notably, Soderbergh himself served as second-unit director on “Games”).

Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfling, editors – Stephen Mirrione started as the editor of Doug Liman’s little-seen 1994 debut “Getting In,” and then worked with him again on 1996’s indie hit “Swingers.” Then he — like Philip Messina — became a go-to-guy for Steven Soderbergh, editing the “Ocean’s” series, “The Informant!” and “Traffic,” the latter of which earned him an Oscar.

Juliette Welfling, meanwhile, got her start way back in 1975 with Jean-Charles Tacchella’s Oscar-nominated French import “Cousin, cousine,” and would go on to edit Jacques Audiard’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep” and Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

Billy Ray, screenwriter – It was 1994’s “Color of Night” (best remembered as the movie where Bruce Willis showed his penis) where “Hunger Games” co-screenwriter Billy Ray got his first screenwriting credit. But nearly a decade later he made his directorial debut with the acclaimed indie “Shattered Glass,” which starred Hayden Christensen as a fraudulent journalist.

Stanley Tucci, actor – Perhaps the most established actor among “The Hunger Games” cast, character actor Stanley Tucci made his first on-screen appearance as “Soldier” in John Huston’s acclaimed 1985 black comedy “Prizzi’s Honor.” Since, he’s had dozens of dozens of roles, a good half of which are of the indie variety: “The Daytrippers,” “Big Night” (which he also co-wrote and co-directed), “Sidewalks of New York,” “Blind Date” and “Margin Call” are just some of the many examples.

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