The Hunger Games Filmmakers’ Real Life Inspiration for the Prequel’s Setting

Eric Goldman

The first trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has been released, giving fans their first look at what to expect from the prequel to the popular series.

Set 64 years before the time of Katniss Everdeen, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, based on Hunger Games creator Suzanne Collins‘s novel, tells the story of a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) — Donald Sutherland’s villainous character from the first four films — who is tasked with mentoring Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) after she is selected as a tribute from District 12 who must fight to the death in the Hunger Games.

Much of the same team who was behind the first four films returns for Ballad, including producer Nina Jacobson and director Francis Lawrence (who helmed the second, third and fourth installments) and Jacobson and Lawrence spoke about bringing the series into the past after an early look at the trailer Fandom attended – conducted for a small group in the midst of CinemaCon in Las Vegas at The Hunger Games Exhibition attraction at the MGM Grand.


The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future, and it can sometimes be tricky for sci-fi or fantasy franchises to successfully depict notably different eras within its own history – House of the Dragon is a good show but it’s hard not to point out that the Seven Kingdoms really don’t seem all that different from how they looked in Game of Thrones, despite the two shows being set a couple of hundred years apart.

For The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Lawrence said they wanted to make it clear this was quite a bit earlier, in a world still recovering from a massive war that brought about the collapse of their civilization and led to this unsettling new world order where adolescents are made to fight to the death. Beyond making the technology look like it’s not as high tech as in the first four films — note those tube televisions Jason Schwartzman, playing Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, is speaking from — by looking into the past century for inspiration, and a situation where there’s a lot of imagery available, Lawrence revealed they used post-World War II reconstruction-era Berlin as a big point of reference for the overall look, giving a lot of credit to the work of production designer Uli Hanisch. Lawrence noted they were “looking at a lot of this footage, following the end of the war in ’45 and seeing how Berlin was sort of rebuilt.”

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Photo Credit: Murray Close

On top of that, he added, “We shot most of the capital stuff in Berlin, so we had this weird sort of combination of using real architecture that inspired us and starting to lean from the old idea of what Panem might’ve been into what Panem is going to grow to in the previous films… There’s a lot of construction happening. There’s cranes and construction, unfinished buildings.”

Plus, there’s there actual place the Hunger Games are fought, as Lawrence said, “A huge part of it too is the beginning of the Arena. In the previous movies, there are these really elaborate [arenas]. In Catching Fire, a tropical arena and these huge domes and water and spinning cornucopias. When the Games began, they were just in a sort of enclosed arena with a wall. There was really nothing there except weapons. That was really kind of fun to just kind of go back and think about what the origins of all this would be and what that could look like and how it could be in the middle of the transition from old to new.”

As Lawrence put it, “It’s an origin story, not just of a character that we all know from the other series but the origin of Panem and the origin of the Games… to be able to go back 64 years and revisit what the Capital might look like not long after a war in this reconstruction era. When we started, I think I was just really pleased because, almost instantly on set, I felt like, ‘Oh, wow, I feel like we’re back in the Hunger Games! We’re really making a Hunger Games movie again.” But it felt fresh, and it felt new, and the tone is a little different. I think the tone is a little grittier and I would even say a little more somehow authentic.”

Said Jacobson, “Lucy Gray is the polar opposite of Katniss Everdeen. It doesn’t feel like [the movie] is trying to duplicate. It’s sort of striking out on really new ground and a completely different visual language, because it’s a period movie.”


Music is an important element to the story, given Lucy is quite a singer – which of course makes Zegler perfect for the role, after she made her motion picture debut showing off her own terrific singing talent in West Side Story.

When it came to the songs she’d actually sing, the filmmakers once more looked to a specific era from our own past, going back about 100 years, with Lawrence noting, “A lot of the songs in the movie are sort of based in the style of 1920s and 30s appellation music.”

When Zegler and Blyth did a chemistry read together – over Zoom, thanks to the pandemic – Lawrence recalled “I wanted her to do first in the Zoom was to sing to him acapella.” Lawrence chose a favorite song of his from that era, “Wildwood Flower,” explaining, “We got some sort of small talk out of the way, and then she just sang this song. And you could just see it just with the way he was watching her and the way she was singing to him, even though she was in London and I think he was in New York and I think I was in France. We were all in different places when this happened. We knew the chemistry was gonna be great just from that.”


Lawrence and Jacobson had high praise for their leads, with Lawrence saying, of Zegler, “she’s one of the most talented young actresses out there right now. The character of Lucy Gray is a really tricky one, because she’s a mercurial character. She’s emotional, but she’s also damaged, and she’s lived quite a lot more honestly than the character of Snow has. But she also has to be a fantastic singer. And you know, Rachel’s a phenomenal singer…”

As for, Blyth, Lawrence remarked, “He came in, and we saw a reading of his with our casting director that was just great. He was magnetic, and he’s so good at his craft. He’s an English actor, he’s a Juilliard graduate. He really loves acting and really studies acting and really cares and really works. But also, there’s the resemblance to Donald Sutherland. All those factors combined made him the guy.”

The Hunger Games films have always had notably impressive supporting cast members, including the likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and, of course, Donald Sutherland as President Snow (whose voice can be heard at the end of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes‘ trailer). This high caliber casting continues with the prequel, which boasts the aforementioned Schwartzman alongside Peter Dinklage as Hunger Games creator Casca Highbottom and Academy Award winner Viola Davis as Head Gamemaker Volumnia Gaul.

Lawrence noted, “Nina and I wanted Viola from the very, very beginning and just tried to do everything to make it work,” explaining, “I went to her, and this has happened before where there’s certain actors you go to… It happened with Phil Hoffman in the other movies, where you approach them about something and they’ve heard of it, but they don’t really know it. They haven’t seen the movies. They haven’t read the books. So she just had to sort of educate herself in the movies and the books a little bit and talk to her teenage daughter about it some and then she agreed to do it. But the great thing is, is because Suzanne just writes really thematic material, it ends up drawing fantastic talent, and that’s how we get people like Viola and Peter and Jason.”

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes opens November 17, 2023.

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.