My name is Perri Nemiroff and I am addicted to the Internet. Apologies for the generalization, but I’d like to think the majority of you are, too. The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to movie marketing. We get tons of new trailers, posters, photos and news stories a week, but it’s a wonder why more studios aren’t putting more of an effort into website viral marketing.
Just last week, Lionsgate unveiled a viral website connected to The Hunger Games, thecapitol.pn. Over at the URL, you’re prompted to sign in via your Facebook or Twitter account and then you’re automatically assigned a district. So far, so good. It’s exciting to be placed in a district and formulate some sort of identity in this fictional world so many of us have grown to love. Then, by dragging the screen, we reveal some data – the district processing queue, the Capitol announcements ticker, a countdown to The Hunger Games, the gross district product pie chart and the amount of tesserae claimed by each district. I’m curious to know about how long a user signs onto that site and stays on it because from what I can tell, it’s got the power to hold someone’s attention for about two minutes and no more.
Sure, the site has potential to grow and hopefully we weren’t all just assigned a district for no reason, but based on past website-based marketing efforts, growth could be limited. The large majority of movie websites merely show off a trailer, cast list and brief synopsis. However, then we get things like W.A.T.C.H., which was attached to Battle Los: Angeles and tried to authenticate the film through videos of folks recalling their first encounters. Cool, but are you really going to sit there and sort through all of that footage? Or how about the site for Repo Men, TheUnionCares.com? Again, it’s attempting to make you feel part of the film, but as a website, there just isn’t much to do other than scroll through the Artiforg catalog and watch that homepage video over and over.
Then there are the sites like the ones designed for Super 8, where fans are basically taunted with incredibly vague hints at the film’s plot that perhaps ultimately build intrigue for some, but for me, only frustration. The most time I’ve ever spent on a viral marketing website is the one for Inception and that’s because it involved a videogame. Of course the trailer that the game was concealing eventually leaked and my Mind Crime playing days were over.
Now the question is, which path will thecapitol.pn take? It’s certainly shaping up to be some sort of Online Role Playing Game, but I’m hesitant to go that far. Based on the minimal effort put into past websites, I’m going to guess thecapitol.pn will develop, but only in terms of delivering more information on Panem. This likely will not be a site for hardcore fans looking to further immerse themselves in the books, rather something for newcomers to get a taste of what this whole world is really about. Panem October, on the other hand, could be the ARG (alternate reality game) many are hoping for. A site that brings you into the world of The Hunger Games, letting you interact not only with the elements of Panem, but with the other people participating.
Ultimately, what do I know? For now, this is just mere speculation, but in two weeks it won’t be. Be sure to catch the next Hunger Games Countdown set to go live on Wednesday, September 21st because we’ve got a special treat for you that might elucidate on this topic.
Interview: FAME: Suzanne Collins Author Sara Gundell
In the meantime, how about something a bit more tangible? Since early 2010, Bluewater Production’s FAME series has offered readers an inside look at how their favorite actor, author, musician or athlete rose to fame. The story is presented in comicbook-form, with the text telling of their experience paired with impressively realistic renderings.
Just about a year ago, the writer behind Novel Novice and The Hunger Games Examiner, Sara Gundell, touched base with Darren Davis at Bluewater, and the two discussed what could be “the next big thing” in young adult literature. Guess what was #1 on Gundell’s list? She explained, “I pretty much told him right off the bat, ‘Hunger Games is going to be the next big thing. Harry Potter’s winding down, Twilight’s winding down and with this series, they’re making a movie; it’s gonna be big.’” Sure enough, in January of 2011, Davis gave Gundell the thumbs up and she was in business to pen FAME: Suzanne Collins.
Movies.com What’s step one in this process?
Sara Gundell: First I had to learn how to write a comic book. I’d never written one before, so that was a learning experience. I talked to one of [Darren’s] other writers, Kimberly Sherman. She and I had a long e-mail exchange and phone conversations in which she walked me through the process. She sent me some of her, what is called a script basically, which is the text of the comic book. As a writer of a comic book, you’re not just writing the captions, you’re also describing every page of the comic book – how many panels, what the illustrations should be included and that kind of a thing. I knew how many pages I had and I knew there should be no more than six panels per page and three of them needed to be flash pages, which is a full-page illustration. So I had that as a rough outline and then it was just a matter of doing a lot of research.
Suzanne Collins is a very private person; she doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so it was a little tricky, but there were a lot of interviews that I was able to dig up fortunately from when Mockingjay was released. She was in the press a lot and so I dug up a lot of those and I dug up old interviews she’d done and I found every version of her biography from various websites, from Scholastic to her website that I could find, and then I just took all the research and I read it all multiples times and made notes in the columns and did highlighters and then I just started writing a rough story outline. I just wrote it by hand because that was easiest for me. I just started writing a rough story of her life and then once I had that down, I went on the computer and wrote it out in a nicer fashion so that it sounded good and then went back in after that and started brainstorming ways to tell the story visually with panels and illustrations and whatnot. It went through several drafts, but it came together pretty organically after that, once I got the hang of it. For me, my day job, so to speak, is as a producer in television news, so I’m used to telling stories visually because we use video so much. Once I got to that aspect of writing a comic book, of trying to describe the panels, it seemed strange at first, but once I started thinking of it in terms of telling the story visually, it came to me pretty easily.
Movies.com: Did you ever get to talk to Suzanne Collins during this process?
Gundell: I reached out to Suzanne Collins through her agent and I told them all about the project and what we were doing and I told them, ‘You know, Bluewater’s worked with authors before,’ like Charlaine Harris and Stephen King, they’ve all been involved and doing interviews to write the comic books. I talked to her agent and her publicist to see if they were interested and they went to her and she pretty much wanted nothing to do with it. So I was like, ‘Okay,’ it was back to just pure research.
Movies.com That’s pretty impressive because even when I just do quick interviews with filmmakers, I’m always so nervous about paraphrasing and possibly getting something the slightest bit wrong.
Gundell: Yeah. [Laughs] It does make me nervous, but there were enough interviews with her out there that I could pretty much compare what she said in one interview with what she said in another and all of the facts lined up. And in some cases, I quoted what she had said exactly, so I think it all came together pretty nicely. Obviously there’s less information about her childhood. I couldn’t make anything up so the comic book says pretty much what we do know and it says she keeps quiet about it, but later in life, here’s what she did. You have to work with what you have. [Laughs]
Movies.com How’d you approach this as a story, in terms of having a beginning, middle, end and a solid pace?
Gundell: You have to frame the story. You can’t just start, ‘Once upon a time, Suzanne Collins was born,’ because that’s really boring. The framework for this story is the explosive popularity of The Hunger Games. It starts by talking about how much people are into reality television and that as a form of entertainment and then I kind of use it as a segue into Hunger Games and how it was so popular. Then I go back and explore her life and pull out the moments of her life that became influences on the book. For example, when she was a child, her dad went away and served in Vietnam and when he came back, he was very frank with her and told stories about what war was like and that’s something that she had talked about very openly about being one of the inspirations for writing The Hunger Games. That’s kind of how everything’s framed in the story and in the end, it comes back to the fact that her notoriety is probably only going to increase at this point with the movies coming out.
Movies.com: Was there anything you learned about her that really surprised you?
Gundell: I was fascinated by the fact that she had worked in children’s television, which I’d heard briefly. Like the fact that she wrote for Clarissa Explains It All, which I remember being so obsessed with when I was a kid, that was really cool. I enjoyed seeing how she transitioned from a career in television into becoming an author and what pushed her in that direction.
Movies.com: So how about the book-to-film adaptation process? Is there anything particular you hope they keep intact?
Gundell: I think when it comes to turning a book into a movie, the thing that I look for the most is that I feel the same way watching a movie that I felt reading the book. I know they have to change the way the story unfolds and they have to cut certain parts and combine parts to make it work and I totally understand that and I’m okay with that. I don’t feel the movie has to be exactly page-for-page just like the book. I know it has to be adapted for the screen, that’s why it’s called adaptation. But, for me, what I’m looking for is is the story pretty much the same and do I feel the same way watching it as I did when I read it. That’s why I think the movie has a good chance of being really great is because Suzanne Collins is so heavily involved in the film. I have a feeling that those emotions that I had when I read the book will carry through to the movie.
Movies.com: What’s the future for The Hunger Games in terms of the FAME series? Twilight’s got one for the cast, could we see one like that for this?
Gundell: I’ve actually pitched that to Darren saying, ‘You know, if this movie’s big, here’s the three names that we want to do comic books for.’ It’s ultimately up to him, but he’s definitely open to the idea and we have actually talked about it. When I wrote the first draft of the comic book and sent it to Darren, they hadn’t cast the movie at all yet and so I actually had to go back and revise it twice after they cast Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.
Movies.com: At what point in the filmmaking process does your story end?
Gundell: It pretty much ends with they’re making the movie, here’s who’s working on it, only time will tell if the fans will accept it or not. I finished writing the comic book obviously before they had started filming, but the main arc of the story isn’t about the movie, it’s about Suzanne Collins, so it’s definitely looking at she’s involved in the movie, she’s working on the movie and it’s gonna come out next year.
Movies.com: Overall, what do you think fans will get out of this? Do you think it’s important to have this insight into the life of the author of one of your favorite books?
Gundell: Absolutely! Especially in this case because it does offer so much insight into her writing of the book, the different various influences that she pulled from when writing the story and the characters. There’s a two-page spread that I’m really excited to see the illustrations for that I’m particularly tickled with that recounts this ancient myth that she pulled from when she was creating the idea of the tributes and sending them to fight to the death for TV. I kind of recreated the story of that myth in the comic book and I’m really excited to see that one come to life with the illustrations. I think readers not only will learn more about her, but they’ll see how all of these different elements influenced The Hunger Games and I think it’ll give them new insight into the books themselves.
FAME: Suzanne Collins is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be released the last week of October.
The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. There are 197 days until release.