"The Hunger Games" movie has done more than just give us the braided badass Katniss Everdeen on-screen: it's also served up a useful "How To" guide for future book-to-film adaptations on a Panem-sized platter.
We've come up with 12 basic lessons to be drawn from "The Hunger Games" by anyone looking to create the next book-based blockbuster, and following these closely might just mean the difference between hitting the mark dead center and, well, being laughed at after a shoot and a miss.
Lesson #1 - Go For a Property With Real Movie Potential
Just because a book is popular doesn't always mean it's movie material. "The Hunger Games" boasted a plethora of desirable traits for a good movie — action, romance, suspense, drama, twists, turns, you name it — and that came through on-screen. If the book's not edge-of-your-seat or otherwise all-consuming, a movie based upon it will probably fall flat.
Lesson #2 - Involve the Author, Maybe
Director Gary Ross and author Suzanne Collins teamed up to put the trimmings on the working draft of "The Hunger Games" script. It's a rarity, of course, that an author has a history of screenwriting (Collins had a heavy dose of TV scripting experience before writing books) but if and when that is the case, whip out the spire because it's a must-tap resource.
Lesson #3 - Initial Casting Reactions Can Be Misleading
Collins told Entertainment Weekly Josh Hutcherson would've been the prime selection for Peeta even if he "had been bright purple and had six foot wings," but some "Hunger Games" fans were skeptical about the choice at first. In fact, a lot of the biggest casting decisions for the film weren't met with praise at the outset, but now that the film's out, the attitude has shifted quite a bit. So, when casting a favorite book-based character, there may be some grumbling at first, no matter how right the choice. Stick to talent, and they'll do all the convincing themselves.
Lesson #4 - If You Must Stray From the Source Material, Make It Count
It's important to book (read: built-in) fans that a resulting movie stick pretty closely to the source material. If you're going to make some changes, though, make 'em count. Consider the Seneca berries scene or Cato's altered final monologue. These weren't terribly drastic story alterations, but they sure were effective at amping up the tension.
Lesson #5 - Choose Wisely When to Make the Movie
"The Hunger Games" is something of a lodestar on precision of timing. The final book, "Mockingjay," came out in fall 2010, and once the dust settled on that jacket, the film started coming together and was delivered to theaters roughly a year and a half later. That gave people time to consume the entire series, once and again, and for the full scope of the story to come into view for the screenwriter(s). Move too quickly on things and you could wind up with an "I Am Number Four" situation.
Lesson #6 - Get a Director With Some Vision
Plain and simple, when it comes to choosing a director for a major book property translation, you need someone with talent and vision ... not just a technician. Ross proved that pretty well with "The Hunger Games" because he was able to command an impressive cast eager to work with him and to add a wealth of signature touches.
Lesson #7 - It's Good to Have Some Fans on Staff
Having a few castmates or crewmembers who fancy the book in question can't hurt. Elizabeth Banks, for instance, was such a huge fan of "The Hunger Games" that she admitted to calling in every connection she had in Hollywood to get an in (lucky for her, she'd already worked with Gary Ross on "Seabiscuit"). It's easy for fans to root for someone when they share their enthusiasm for a series, and this proved quite clear with Banks as Effie Trinket.
Lesson #8 - Don't Dial Down the Drama
Rue's death in "The Hunger Games," which was lengthy and totally owned its dramatic nature, proving there's no need to dial down potential tear-jerker moments, even if they're smack dab in the middle of a fast-paced action fest.
Lesson #9 - Engage the Book Fan Community Creatively
If there's one thing "The Hunger Games" studio Lionsgate was effective at, it was marketing to the existent fanbase. Using countdown events and working directly with fansites and sites (like ours!) that had openly declared their love of the source material, they created an impressive and thoughtful digital presence to bring the web community together and nimbly direct fans to the ticket booth.
Lesson #10 - Commit to the Costumes
"The Hunger Games" had a lot of talented weapons both in front of and behind the camera, not the least of which were heavily respected costume and make-up designers Judianna Makovsky and Ve Neill. They took the mandate of crazy Capitol looks to the next level, and it paid off. Having the vision to put a crazy swirl beard on Wes Bentley alone is example enough of how inventive costuming can make moments that much more memorable.
Lesson #11 - Spend Some Money on the Darn Thing
"The Hunger Games" broke the record for biggest non-sequel openings, but there was a time when its viability at the box office was still uncertain. Still, it was given a healthy, workable budget of $80 million or so and has since paid for itself half a dozen times over. Lesson? If the book is worth making into a movie (see our very first point above), spend some money on it to make sure it'll be a good movie.
Lesson #12 - Go Girls! Strong Female Leads Rock!
Bottom line: Cool girls kicking butt on-screen is a good thing. Do not dismiss it.
Amanda Bell is a young adult book-to-film enthusiast and has made a name for herself as a fan-friendly, informative and dependable source. In addition to being the District 14 columnist for NextMovie, she runs the popular Twilight Examiner column. Keep tabs on her on Twitter.