Crafting an Origin Story For A Prosperous Film Franchise & Publishing Phenomenon

The blockbuster Hunger Games saga has thrilled and captured the imaginations of audiences around the world for over 15 years. Its enthralling story and captivating mythology speak to all ages, and have turned the film series into a global phenomenon. The franchise is approaching a global box office of $3 billion. Of course, it was born from a publishing phenomenon, with over 100 million copies of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy books sold. Now, audiences will finally see how this world came to be, through the origin story of Coriolanus Snow.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes offers an original landscape that takes the series into uncharted territory while remaining thematically connected to the other films in the franchise. The prequel examines Panem’s past and unearths all the rich history referenced in the previous films through the eyes of a young Coriolanus Snow, whose story becomes the throughline across all previous Hunger Games films.

Everything fans know and love about The Hunger Games begins with The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes. Within an expansive canvas, the film explores the duality of spirit — songbird and snake — within us all. We are light and dark, good, and evil, joy and sorrow — a fusion of feathers and scales. Every decision we make propels us down a path that reveals our true selves.

It’s the fifth installment in the franchise. It is directed by Francis Lawrence, who returns to, and expands upon, this incredible world after directing The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 and 2. The film is shepherded by franchise producer Nina Jacobson, who produces for Color Force along with Brad Simpson. Screenwriters Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt crafted the sprawling adaptation of Collins’s tome

Upon its publication, Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes became an instant best-seller, embraced by the legions of fans who had read her three wildly successful Hunger Games novels: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Collins’s new story expands upon the Hunger Games timeline, visiting the rocky beginnings of the sensationalist broadcast of the Games.

Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

The new big-screen adventure follows a young Coriolanus (Tom Blyth), the last hope for the once-proud Snow family, whose failing lineage has spelled a fall from grace in a postwar Capitol. With his livelihood threatened, Snow reluctantly accepts the assignment to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) — a Tribute from the impoverished District 12 — in the 10th Hunger Games. But after Lucy Gray’s charm captivates the audience of Panem, Snow sees an opportunity to shift both their fates. With everything he has worked for hanging in the balance, Snow unites with Lucy Gray to turn the odds in their favor. Battling his instincts for both good and evil, Snow sets out on a race against time to survive and reveal whether he will ultimately become a songbird…or a snake.

Collins was still writing the novel when she reached out to director Francis Lawrence

As the filmmaker remembers, “Suzanne began by telling me, simply, ‘I’ve been writing a book.’ I was thrilled to hear this because I, along with countless Hunger Games fans, thought it would be fantastic to make another installment exploring the world of The Hunger Games — and we always felt that it would have to come from Suzanne. The fact that she called me up and to have her be reinspired and bring us back into the fold with rich thematic materials was exciting.”

Indeed, The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes offers the same thought-provoking richness as the books that preceded it, and takes the series into fresh, unknown territory. Collins’s novel examines the early days of the Games, the origins of Panem’s authoritarianism, and the invention of rituals that create an obedient society.

The novel looks back at a young Coriolanus Snow and his days as a student, as he begins his journey that will ultimately take him to the presidency of Panem. Producer Nina Jacobson comments: “I was very taken with trying to understand the allure of why a person, like the young Snow, might choose authoritarianism. You’re not born the person you become; you’re shaped into the person you become. I could see how a country can turn towards authoritarianism when people decide that they feel safer when the state is in control.”

Jacobson and Lawrence were eager to unearth Panem’s rich history that Collins referenced in the previous novels. Lawrence notes, “When we were making the original movies, Nina and I would often talk about the dark days and wars that led to the Hunger Games, and to their very creation. Suzanne had built such an incredible mythology and history to that world. The stories in The Hunger Games films are all about the consequences of war. They investigate its different aspects, and as you go through the series, you get further and further into concepts like PTSD, propaganda, the loss of people you love, and the disappearance of a way of life.”

Despite its close thematic connection to the other films in the series, The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakesoffers an original storytelling landscape. “The blood that runs through the first four movies runs through the veins of this one,” Jacobson says. “To show a different side at a different time has been really exciting, especially because it fills in the stories you know as it sweeps you up into its own narrative.”

The film’s timeline offered the filmmakers a different perspective on Panem.  “Seeing Panem through a young Snow’s eyes has been a complete paradigm shift for us,” Jacobson states. “The Capitol, though still in power, is recovering from the effects of a war that is a distant memory in Katniss’s stories, but a recent one for Snow.  To see the formative influences, and to see how Snow is shaped by those people, and by his unexpected relationship with Lucy Gray Baird, casts a new light on his relationship with Katniss and on the future of Panem.”

Collins’s book and the new film also explore the genesis of the showmanship and nascent spectacle of the Games, and how tradition can have surprising origins. Lawrence says, “We enjoyed building this world. The story takes place so early in the history of the Hunger Games that there are many things that audiences experienced in the original movies that don’t yet exist. We deconstruct the Games and go back in time to see how they evolved. We depict how the landscape of the arena has changed, how the Capitol starts to influence the games, and how the Panem audiences begin to participate in the Games, instead of just watching them. It was creatively satisfying to scale back on the technology and drill down to these raw fundamentals.”

Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow and Viola Davis as Dr Volumnia Gaul in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Bringing the Story to Life

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes unites franchise stalwarts Lawrence and Jacobson, along with executive producer Mika Saito, co-producer Cameron MacConomy, associate producer Greg Capoccia, director of photography Jo Willems, visual effects supervisor Adrian De Wet, and costume designer Trish Summerville. 

Production began in the picturesque city of Wroclaw, Poland. The epic scale of the book, coupled with Lawrence’s affinity for filming in practical locations, set the production on a 17-week journey across Poland and Germany, utilizing breathtaking and imposing locations to build Panem.  When it wrapped in Poland, the team moved to Landschaftspark, a public park located in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany. Germany’s famed Babelsberg Studio hosted the stage for Snow’s apartment, one of the production’s only builds

A thrilling train sequence, where Snow first meets Lucy Gray, took place in a train museum in Cologne. It was a challenge for the production to find a train shed that was long enough to enable an actual train to pull into the station and then have passengers disembark.

Later at the train station, Coriolanus finds himself in the back of a truck with a group of Tributes. The truck drops the Tributes in a zoo enclosure, located in the production’s principal and final destination, Berlin. “We found one of the most picturesque parks in Berlin, with an artificial lake and unusual turtle shell construction, and created our own zoo enclosure right in the middle of it,” Hanisch says.

“The idea of making a period piece in the world of Panem was really intriguing for all of us,” says Nina Jacobson. “Part of what was so inspired was Uli Hanisch’s vision on this as our production designer. He had a deep knowledge of the architecture that emerges in the wake of a war, as a country or capital is trying to rebuild itself. And then to have the architecture and its history resonate so deeply with the ideas of the movie was very thrilling.”

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

FRANCIS LAWRENCE – Director, Producer

Over the past two decades, Francis Lawrence has captivated audiences around the world in films, television, music videos and commercials. And he continues to prove himself as a visionary director and producer with creative storytelling that transcends traditional demographics — conveying the artistry on par with some of the world’s most influential artists. 

In film, Lawrence has helmed the Hunger Games franchise as director of three of the four films — Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1 and Mockingjay – Part 2. His work on the series has grossed over $2.2 billion worldwide. 

Additionally, Lawrence directed Netflix’s adventure comedy Slumberland, starring Jason Momoa, which was released in November of 2022, and the Russian spy thriller Red Sparrow starring Academy Award®-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence. Based on the novel of the same name, the film grossed over $151 million at the box office and was released by 20th Century Fox in 2018. 

In 2005, Lawrence made his feature film debut with Constantine, based on the Hellblazer comic book. This project was followed by the 2007 post-apocalyptic horror film, I Am Legend, adapted from the Richard Matheson novel of the same name.

On the television side, Lawrence executive produced and directed select episodes of Apple TV series See that is based on Steven Knight’s book. He served as executive producer of the Starz miniseries The Serpent Queen based on Leonie Frieda’s book “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, ” and served as director and executive producer on the pilot and several episodes of the acclaimed series Kings. In 2011, he directed the pilot episode of FOX’s Touch.

MICHAEL LESSLIE – Screenwriter

Michael is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and producer. He has previously written scripts for Macbeth and Assasin’s Creed, both directed by Justin Kurzel, and served as lead writer and showrunner for the legendary director Park Chan-Wook’s television debut The Little Drummer Girl. Macbeth premiered in competition in Cannes to five-star reviews. The Little Drummer Girl also launched to five-star reviews, along with top ratings for the BBC. Both were nominated for several major international awards. Lesslie is also currently working with such acclaimed practitioners as Johan Renck, Riz Ahmed and Margaret Atwood, developing large-scale projects with global reach. He balances this with original work for the screen and the stage. His plays have been performed at the Royal National Theatre and beyond, and in 2007 he became the youngest person ever to open a new play straight in the West End. Lesslie co-founded Storyteller Productions with PJ van Sandwijk in order to bring bold new stories to life and to encourage emerging voices. They have a powerful slate, producing drama and documentary projects with Ron Howard, Doug Liman, Polly Stenham, Chiwetel Ejiofor, William Nicholson, Guy Ritchie, Errol Morris, Steven Knight and Alex Gibney, to name a few.

MICHAEL ARNDT – Screenwriter

Michael Arndt wrote the screenplays for Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Toy Story 3 (2010). He also shared screenplay credit on Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Oblivion (2013), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). He lives in New York City.

SUZANNE COLLINS – Novelist, Executive Producer

Bestselling author Suzanne Collins first made her mark in children’s literature with the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles fantasy series for middle grade readers. She continued to explore the effects of war and violence on those coming of age with The Hunger Games Series. The Hunger Games (2008) was an instant bestseller, appealing to both teen readers and adults. It was called “addictive” by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly, and “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced” by John Green in the New York Times Book Review. The book appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 260 consecutive weeks (more than five consecutive years), and there are more than 100 million copies of all four books in the series—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire (2009), Mockingjay (2010), and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2020)—in print and digital formats worldwide. Foreign publishing rights for The Hunger Games Series have been sold in 54 languages to 52 territories to date. In 2012 Lionsgate launched the first of four films based on the novels, starring Jennifer Lawrence. To date, the franchise has earned nearly $3 billion at the worldwide box office, and the much-anticipated feature film The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes will arrive in theaters nationwide on November 17, 2023.

In 2010 Suzanne Collins was named to the TIME 100 list as well as the Entertainment Weekly Entertainers of the Year list; in 2011 Fast Company named her to their 100 Most Creative People in Business; and in 2016 she was presented the 2016 Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community for exemplifying the unique power of young people’s literature to change lives and to create lifelong book lovers. It was the first time the Guild presented its annual award to a YA author. The Atlantic called Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, “the most important female character in recent pop culture history,” and TIME Magazine named Katniss to its list of “The 100 Most influential People Who Never Lived.” On The Hunger Games trilogy, The New York Times Book Review wrote, “At its best the trilogy channels the political passion of 1984, the memorable violence of A Clockwork Orange, the imaginative ambience of The Chronicles of Narnia and the detailed inventiveness of Harry Potter.” For more information about The Hunger Games, visit