Things the Cameraman of the Hunger Games Might Have Been Thinking

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Braak, crotchety ranting, movies
Tags: ,

“I just think the lower back is the most revealing part of any character.”

“Fuck the fight director, no one wants to see what that fight looks like.”

“God damn, Elizabeth Banks has got a hot god damn earlobe.  Look at that earlobe!”

“We’re gonna shoot the other side of this guy’s head eventually, right?”

“Where’s…did I finish all the bourbon?”

“We can focus this in post, right?”

“There’s no way they’re going to use this take.”

“Fuck the costume designer, no one wants to see their clothes.”

“Whoooop!  Haha, almost dropped it!”

“Hey, I think if I zoom out, I can get everyone’s head in frame…aaah, fuck it.”

  1. John Jackson says:

    Everything was handheld, nearly everything was in close, and a fair bit of it was telephoto. The most violent shots were re-framed in post or simply cut due to the worship of the PG-13. That’s understandable in a mainstream film with a teenage pre-existing audience. As for the rest, the story is extremely first person narration–and a self-obsessed bloggy first person narrator for the majority of the first book. Taking that into consideration, it was a great method to tell the story with semi-arbitrary storytelling limitations. I have heard that there are more than a few shots where the ‘noise’ goes beyond the limits of professional studio film quality, but I didn’t notice any of those myself when I saw it. Granted, if digital video/film capturing is going to fall apart, it will fall apart in fast motion, constantly changing frames, especially in a forest. Most codecs will simply fall apart in that set up. They did go out of their way to use shallow focus in the handheld closeups, so if there was background noise amongst the leaves, it would be less likely to notice if it’s out of focus.

    I’d have to watch it again to comment more thoroughly on the camerawork and post production changes, but I was incredibly happy with the film. I have about three nitpicks that annoyed me, but they didn’t severely detract from the story or the tone.

  2. braak says:

    Yeah, dude, I KNOW that it used shallow focus, that everything was in close, that most of the shots were handheld. I saw the movie.

    “Taking that into consideration, it was a great method to tell the story with semi-arbitrary storytelling limitations. ”

    Here is my argument to that: “no, it wasn’t.”

    I would even go so far as to say that it was a dumb way, because unlike in a novel, where we’re privileged with a constant window into the main character’s psyche — and to the main character’s interpretations of the character around her — in a movie the only way we can ascertain anything about the characters is if we can see what the fuck they’re doing.

    The stuttering, blurry, shaky hand-held camera doesn’t help us understand anything about the main character’s perspective except that she can’t see everything that’s happening and doesn’t know what’s going on, and if I, too, wanted to be able to not understand what was happening in The Hunger Games, I could have just not watched it.

  3. John Jackson says:

    I understand the shaky argument, as I’ve hated a few films that I felt I couldn’t follow due to jittery handheld camera movement. I just don’t think it applies here. Maybe my eyes have been too well conditioned…

    “in a movie the only way we can ascertain anything about the characters is if we can see what the fuck they’re doing” Yes and no, is about all I can say to that. There is a lot to be said for the juxtaposition of montage/editing in telling you what a character may be thinking. It’s not a technique that has been used much since Eisenstein, but it is still a valid way to convey an inner monologue. If you couldn’t actually tell what the images were, that’s another matter, but I felt the film did a good job of using subtle and brutal visual cues to expound upon the world building, exposition, and backstory.

    And yes, without clear action and motivation, the secondary characters were just nameless faces and plot points, but I don’t think the lead suffered from lack of characterization. Also, I think only three secondary characters even mattered to this specific story they were telling. Probably its biggest flaw. Giant ensemble cast, grand ‘epic’ scope, but only three people matter to the story. Though I’m not sure that in itself is a bad thing.

  4. Dominic Tuk says:

    I must say i agree with this blog. It is to my eternal misfortune that i share this planet with the cameraman and film maker.

    Some of the other things the cameraman must have been thinking.

    1) what does this button do…damn the lens is jammed on close up
    2) How do i magnify this image
    3) Is there a way to blur everything that is in front of me
    4) The futuristic sets are rubbish. Let me show it for just a micro second and then blur it.
    5) Blur blur blur blur blur
    6) If anything my creation will end up in text books. How not to film a film.

  5. […] are bagging in force on The Hunger Games’ directorial choices, specifically the drunken cameraman style of filming. Director Gary Ross has his public rationalizations, but there’s something […]

  6. Justin Leone says:

    You can have a handheld, shaky camera that actually allows you to be able to see what’s going on. Children of Men is a fantastic example of great camerawork. The camera in Hunger Games frequently made me wonder why I was bothering to look at the screen in the first place.

    I suspect they simply needed to go out of their way to NOT show what was happening, or else sacrifice their PG13 rating, but it seems like there might have been other ways of doing it beyond shaking the damned thing so much that you literally couldn’t tell if it was being held or kicked around.

    But ultimately, there was so much else that was so much more wrong with the movie besides the camera work that it’s not high on my list of complaints.

  7. Justin Leone says:


    My biggest problem with the movie (and seeing as the author of the books helped write the screenplay, I assume I’d have the same problem with the book) was that the chief source of tension in the story, and the very root of the horror of the entire situation, is the anguish that comes from being forced to do something terrible. During the set up, I kept thinking “will she kill innocents in order to survive?”, “how will she react to that moment when she is forced to kill in cold blood?”.

    By about 20 minutes into the Games, I realized that the movie was avoiding her having to make any difficult choices. And not only her, but everyone! When several other kids form an alliance, it NEVER seems to cross any of their minds that there can be only 1 survivor… They all FALL ASLEEP next to each other, for fuck’s sake! The fact that every one of them SHOULD be thinking “should I kill them all while they’re sleeping? Are they all thinking of killing me while I sleep” is never once acknowledged. What should be a situation rife with paranoia, psychology, and shifting motives becomes a trite “us vs. them” combat movie.

    And what was probably supposed to be the most tragic moment, when the little girl who’s teamed up with Katniss is killed, had the opposite effect on me. Instead of being devastated by her death, all I could think of was “well, that saves us the inevitable pain of watching the chief protagonist have to wrestle with the impossible moral dilemma of having to do it herself”. When you KNOW that a character must die, the only source of tension left is in how it happens.

    That is, of course, unless they abandon their initial premise and change the rules mid-movie by saying “on second thought, we’ll let the 2 lead characters both survive, because otherwise our hero may face a moral dilemma”. After they managed to kill off Rue in a way that completely avoided a truly uncomfortable situation, I wondered how they would avoid having Katniss have to kill Peeta. I can think of no better example of a lazy Deus Ex Machina story twist than a literal voice from the sky announcing that he would be allowed to survive.

    Sure, they briefly rescind this offer for about 30 seconds at the end of the movie, but by then it’s so obvious to us that the all-powerful voice in the sky is in such a tenuous political position that it can be defeated by simply calling it’s bluff.

    Some people fault this movie for being almost a remake of Battle Royale, but I fault it for refusing to tread the same emotional ground and for being so protective of it’s protagonist’s image that it refused to ever put her in a position where a difficult choice must be made.

  8. braak says:

    Those are all valid criticisms. I think it’s a little different in the book (but I haven’t read it, so I don’t know), in that, because the book is written entirely from Katniss’s perspective, there’s a lot more of the psychology of being put into an overwhelming and untenable situation (and when we’re inside a person’s head, a situation doesn’t really have to actually be untenable for it to be psychologically strong, the character just have to think it is). But, I also know that my brother’s chief criticism of it was how it isn’t really about anything except how Katniss doesn’t know if that boy really likes her or whatever, so who can say.

    In any case, yes, I completely agree that I was disappointed, especially considering a run-up to the movie that doesn’t do anything but talk about how badass Katniss is, to see that she was not required to make any difficult choices. And also that she only shoots two people (both of which are permissible because the person she shoots is either trying to or has just killed one of Katniss’s friends). This is not as impressive if she had killed someone that she didn’t necessarily HAVE to kill, and then just felt really bad about it.

  9. John Jackson says:

    I know this conversation has pretty much died, but I finally got around to watching this again, and I have something more to say. Yeah, there was not a lot of the coldness about Katniss in the film; hell, even the justifiable killing of Marvel is handeled more ‘heroically’ in the film. She shoots him at the same time as he kills her friend, in fact her moving to shoot him is implied as being why her friend dies, rather than the friend dying before she can do anything about it and her shooting an effectively unarmed kid out of vengeance. And I think a lot is lost simply because they didn’t show her looting the corpses for goods. But again, she isn’t really a badass in this film, she’s just a good shot. When it comes down to it, this entire story is an Act I of the full heroic journey, she hasn’t even started fucking up yet.

    Now, for my ‘something to say’. It’s mostly in relation to the decidedly odd and changing camerawork.

    I did notice how intermittently shaky and stable the camera movement was, and I’m not sure I figured out any rhyme or reason for it, which was disappointing. The closest I came to reading a reason into the camera differences was when they first arrive on the train, and Peeta tries talking to a drunk Haymitch. Each of the three characters has their own handheld over the shoulder close up: Peeta’s is so smooth and stable it almost feels locked off (non-handheld); Katniss’s can’t stop shaking, which stands out, as all of the shots of her are simple reaction shots that are held remarkably long; and Haymitch’s isn’t stable, but it mostly moves from side to side in a bit of a sway, with minimal shaking. And in that scene, Peeta is trying to be calm, reasonable and in control; Katniss can barely think straight from nerves; and Haymitch is enjoyably drunk. After noticing that, I thought I might have figured out why the camera had to be so shaky in certain places, because it was made part of the characterization. I was about to champion the theory behind it, if I saw it again and realized I wasn’t just reading too much into it and making it up.

    Only I never noticed it again. No idea how that makes me feel about the technical aspects of the film, but it didn’t seem like a solid example of poor planning. The only place where I’d fault the production and planning is in the make up. When the two of them are in the cave, they still look pampered and cared for.

    Overall, I still quite like Hunger Games for a mainstream high intake film, as at least there is a plot to follow that doesn’t feel like a computer game ‘quest’ like most young adult novel storylines. Even more importantly, I love how they went with the depictions of American history and American feeling throughout the world building. I haven’t seen the poor and destitute portrayed in such a good light since the Lange and Taylor portraits from the great depression. I’ve never seen anything that feels like the 60s race riots portrayed with such empathetic violence in anything outside of newsreel footage. And once she starts looking for Peeta along the river, I just know the composer was calling back to the score for Last of the Mohicans. You can’t really find a better example of hopeful Americana than those, or at least I can’t.

  10. Dominic Tuk says:

    Do you know you are talking absolute rubbish??

  11. braak says:

    I didn’t, but thanks for saying it.

  12. Dominic Tuk says:

    i was talking about John Jackson’s entry

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