Beating the Odds with Jon Kilik

Shortly before the winter commencement on January 18, 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jon Kilik, the producer of The Hunger Games as well as 40 other major motion pictures, including The Limits of Control, Babel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Miracle at St. Anna.

Kilik is known for producing films that focus on giving voice to groups or people that otherwise have none. As such, his work tends to have passionate social or political themes. He had come to campus to deliver the Winter Commencement address as well as to receive an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts.

When asked what inspired him to produce The Hunger Games, Kilik said that one of his friends, the director Gary Ross, had children who read the books. Ross recommended Kilik read them, and Kilik found them to be very enjoyable. Ross was looking to direct another film, and since he’d worked with Kilik on Pleasantville, they decided to team up once again. 

When asked what inspired his political and social motives, Kilik said, “These were the kinds of stories that moved me emotionally, inspired me. […] There were things I didn’t know about and wanted to learn about. [Film] can take you to another time, another place.” He also noted that he wanted to give something back to the world around him through his passion.

While The Hunger Games was a serious movie, Kilik said that filming it was anything but. “We have a lot of fun, everyone knows each other. There is an immediate comfort, a relaxed atmosphere [on set],” he said. “It is the very opposite of what is happening on camera. There is a lot of kidding, games, gags, practical jokes.”

“But as soon as we say action the cast is so professional and prepared,” he added.

Kilik also confirmed that shooting for Catching Fire, the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, is well underway. “We are almost finished shooting,” he said, noting, “There are a couple of new characters who we were very excited to cast.”

The cast includes major figures from the first film, such as Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Woody Harrelson as well as new faces like Oscar nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Some other new actors to this movie franchise include Sam Claflim as Finnick Odair and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, among others.

Fans of the franchise may be interested in knowing that Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, is being split into two films, with part one slated for release in 2014 and part two in 2015.

Kilik has received two Golden Globe awards for previous films, which were Babel and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. These awards are given to recognize excellence in movie and television, and receiving one is an extremely prestigious honor. “That was so exciting, [2006] was the year of The Departed. We didn’t expect to win… I had never won a big prize like that before,” Kilik said, smiling.

In choosing what films to produce, Kilik says he is always on the lookout for something that catches his attention. “I’d like to try to keep reaching forward for another moment that inspires me. It’s gotta be pretty interesting,” he commented. “Whatever I’m working on now is what I care most about.”

Kilik also had a few words for any aspiring producers out there. “Be patient, but be persistent. Keep going at it every day, but no it doesn’t happen in a day,” he said.

He would later note in his commencement address that when he was getting his start, he slept on a friend’s couch (after helping his friend get a couch) in New York City and worked as a production assistant, where part of his job entailed standing on a street corner at three in the morning to direct pedestrians away from the set.

He also pointed out that his first film, Beat, was met with reviews so harsh that describing it as “preposterous” was one of the nicest things that some critics had to say. Despite this, he went on to become one of the most prominent and successful film producers of our time.

The rationale for awarding Kilik an honorary doctorate in fine arts is clear.

Not only has he made strides in the film industry, he is the perfect example of the reward one reaps for being dedicated to making their dreams into reality.