Catching Fire – District 12 Set Diary – Part I

As Mockingjay Part 2 premieres in theaters, it brings an end to the era of The Hunger Games films. I had the great privilege of being able to work on Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part I, and Part II as a core background extra (meaning that I was there for many months of filming. Some crew joked that we were there more than the actors!). While most behind-the-scenes videos and commentary are understandably focused on the main cast and heads of crew departments, I thought I’d lend my voice to the little people – the professional blurs in the background. So without further adieu, here’s a background extra’s look at the behind-the-scenes of Catching Fire. Enjoy!

It was a brisk Saturday morning in October 2012. At 3:30am, I rolled off the air mattress on my friend’s floor to pack my bag and head out for my first day ever as an extra on a film set. (What a set to start on, right? I couldn’t start on a small film to get my feet wet. Oh no, as per usual, I had to go for the gusto!) I had no idea what to expect, but I packed my little bag with a book and some light snacks and headed off to set.

Upon arrival, I got my first lesson in the game that extras know how to play best – waiting in line. Waiting in line to check in. Waiting in line to drop off cellphones. Waiting in line for wardrobe. Waiting in line for hair and makeup. (Though I’ve now come to enjoy waiting in line at extra gigs as there usually at one engrossing conversation going on Or the amusing antics of punch-drunk-sleepy extras at the bum-crack of dawn).

Briana Lamb District 12

Photo courtesy of Continuity

I was cast as one of the many thin, plain looking District 12 extras (between this and The Walking Dead, I fear I’m getting typecast. Hehe). I changed into my costume and shuffled into the back of the makeup line. After an hour of doing my best not to complain about the nippy cold outside (a stamping of feet still happened despite best efforts), I was ushered inside the (slightly) warmer tent. I found that I was one of the last of a few hundred extras to plop down in the makeup chair. I had just settled in when an exasperated Production Assistant came running in, “The extras aren’t dirty enough! They’re getting to set and the director says they’re just not dirty enough. This is a coal mining town. Get that dirt in their pores!”  And get the dirt in my pores they did…

Only about 7 shades darker than my usual pale as snow.

Only about 7 shades darker than my usual pale as snow.

By the end of the three days of filming of those scenes, I garnered the reputation for being the dirtiest extra on set (that stuff was fun to wash off, lemme tell ya. Took almost a week to get the dirt out from under my fingernails). This ended up working in my favour though as because I was so dirty, the Assistant Director wanted me up front to better represent the look of the district. Funny how that works, eh?

After makeup came hair. One of my favourite parts of the daily lineup. (I’m the gal that’ll sometimes fall asleep in the chair because getting my hair and face fussed with can be rather relaxing.) The look for District 12 was based on Depression Era Appalachia, so the wardrobe and hairstyles were simple. Some had their hair down, some had braids, but nothing too intricate. I overheard the hair stylists double-checking their lookbook notes, “No down braids of any kind on any of the female District 12 extras. That is reserved for Katniss only.” Fair enough.

As the stylist started doing my hair, I felt a familiar shape taking hold….She was doing the iconic Katniss braid on me. I remarked on that as I didn’t want her to inadvertently get in trouble for giving me a braid (silly me thought she might be a day-player. Oh no, she had done the Katniss braid on Jennifer Lawrence before, so she knew exactly what she was doing). “Oh don’t worry, hun. I’m doing this as an updo, so you won’t have a down braid.” Good! Because my hair looks like a rat’s tail when it’s braided….but then she secured the braid with only two small bobby pins. I politely let her know that my hair is a thin, slippery son-of-a-gun, so more bobby pins would be a good idea. She waved me off, “nah, you’ll be fine!

The extras piled into a pair of coach buses that drove us over to a holding tent just outside of set (which happened to be the Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta). The sun broke over the horizon as we filed in to claim a spot at the tables laid out inside. Then began the long wait….

Photo courtesy of paparazzi who thought they were going to get pictures of the cast. Hah!

Photo courtesy of paparazzi who thought they were going to get pictures of the cast. Hah!

A small handful of extras were called in for the first two scenes. I, however, was not called in until many hours later for the last scene of the day. But time is rarely ever wasted among extras who are friendly and a wee bit creative. I had the fortune of sitting at a table of fun, chatty folks. As I was a complete newbie at the time to being an extra, I was full of questions and bright-eyed cheeriness. I made some fast friends.

Now, remember the two small bobby pins I mentioned holding my hair up earlier? Surprise, surprise, they fell down. So there I sat with my Katniss braid laid over my shoulder. Of course I couldn’t find where the bobby pins had launched off to in order to resecure my hair. “Don’t worry, the hair stylists will see you on set and immediately stick your hair up. No Katniss braids for anyone in District 12!” the other extras said playfully. Well, the hair stylists did come around to check the extras before a group went on to set and not a single comment was made about my hair. This got the wheels turning at our table.

One of the things we did to pass the time was create characters for ourselves. Who were we? What roles did we play in District 12? One of the odd things that happened earlier on in the day was folks telling me I looked like Katniss. Not the Jennifer Lawrence version, but that I reminded them more of book Katniss (sans colouring). So I rolled that into the creation of my character, Ora; a factory worker who separated the coal and the ore (hence the name and an explanation as to why I was SO covered in soot!). She idolizes Katniss Everdeen, but alas, is not the brightest bulb in the box. Whatever Ora see Katniss do, she tries to replicate, only fails miserable. For instance, she tries to be the ‘girl on fire’, but doesn’t understand the stunt in the arena was synthetic fire. So she runs through town with a torch, but ends up singeing off half of own hair (explanation of why my hair is so thin).

And thus ‘Reverse Katniss’ was born.

Reverse Katniss

Another extra made this shirt for me for the Mockingjay Part I premiere.

The other extras at my table came up with equally interesting characters as well. One guy was Pumpernickel, rival baker to Peeta (as the extra looked alot like Josh Hutcherson). He thought he was a better baker, but in fact was much worse, not being able to quite tell the difference between rocks and bread. (On set he’d try to pass off rocks as food.)  There was Buttons, seamstress, babysitter, and tutor to Prim. Then Star, the town prostitute who didn’t actually sleep with anybody, just stole their supplies (and had a chastity belt ala Robin Hood: Men in Tights hidden under her way-too-large costume). My personal favourite was Hingle McCringleberry, mechanic and general fixer-upper who purposely didn’t fix things completely so he could get more work. Only spoke in the 3rd person. (I’m still friends with that lovely extra to this day. He looks like a mini-Cinna.)

It finally came time where we were all called to set. The scene set was where Katniss returns to District 12 via train to greet her family and the adoring throngs of District 12 to welcome her home. But all is not well as you can see in the deleted scene below.

Can you spot me? 🙂

Catching Fire Train SceneCatching Fire Train Scene

While filming this scene we discovered that Jennifer Lawrence and I are the same height. (There was some talk of me coming back to be cast as her stand-in for Mockingjay, but only if her current stand-in didn’t return. While that would’ve been fun, I’m glad the original stand-in returned. She was lovely, professional, and super funny.)

One thing that was not so pleasant was getting my foot crunched by Josh Hutcherson who was hugging his ‘family’ too fast. There wasn’t an easy opening for me to slip into due to extras who were bent on being camera hogs (there were SO MANY). He moved too fast and I didn’t move fast enough. I think one of the family extras mentioned something to him because the subsequent takes were slower. But such things happen on film sets. No harm was done and it was an honest accident. Nothing to get upset over. So I kept quiet and happily went on filming the rest of the scene.

That’s a wrap on Day One of my first ever extra gig! Stay tuned for Part II!

Katniss’ Hunting Outfit – Part I

Katniss_hunting12I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag.

First costume on the list for The Katniss Project is Katniss’ Hunting Outfit! From the description given in the book this outfit consists of…

– Long dark braid tucked up into a cap
– Shirt
– Trousers
– Supple leather hunting boots
– Forage bag
– Hand-crafted bow, sheath of arrows all in waterproof covers

(Extra bonus prop: “…a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prim’s gift to me on reaping day.“)No other descriptions are given than that, so this is where the fun comes in. I get to create it! So let’s start from the top, shall we?

While The Hunger Games is set in the future, it is a dystopian one that regresses the fashions of the districts. They aren’t wearing the latest in textile technology, but harken back to simpler times. I imagine the style of each district would be tied to its particular overall vocational trade. District 12 is the mining district. Then, looking at Panem basically being the USA, District 12 is roughly Appalachia. So in that regard, I completely agree with the first movie’s decision to go with a Depression-era Southern mining town look.

Throughout the books Katniss is described as having a regular braid down her back, not a side braid as made iconic by the film. While I do so love the look of the side braid, I find the back braid to be more practical. (For Shannan’s costume from the book series, Allon, I designed her with a side braid (yes, I did that before the Hunger Games films came out, so the look was a coincidence). I instantly regretted that decision when I took an archery lesson and found the side braid got in the way. So for that reason, and because Suzanne Collins wrote it as such, I will be sticking with the back braid.

Now comes the trickier part….the cap. What sort of hat would Katniss wear? Although District 12 is a mining district, Katniss herself is not a miner, so no hard hats. I’m learning towards the softer worker type hats as pictured below. Though I’m not sure if the bill would get in the way of her archery at all (I’ve only done archery once. I’m more of a swordswoman) So I’ll going to have to do more research.
Types of mens hatsShirt
There is no description for this item other than the noun for what it is. What kind of shirt? What season is it? Is it long-sleeve, short sleeved? Fitted? Loose? The first few lines of the first chapter mention Katniss feeling the cold of the bed or looking for her little sister’s body warmth. Considering that Catching Fire is set during the winter time, it’s likely the first book is set in autumn. My mind wanders to henleys, waffle knit tops, more thermal type base layers. Not anything light to let the wind go through and keep her shielded with some warmth outdoors. Definitely strongly sewn together, though perhaps a bit of wearing out at the most rubbed against seams (like shoulders). I wonder what a good shirt for hunting would be. Hmm….

In terms of fit, the shirt would most likely be an average to loose fit as the districts aren’t known for their tailoring. Being fitted is usually a sign of something being either too small or richly made (oh yes, even the tight tank top you get from Forever 21 would be extravagant for District 12 as mass-produced clothing was doubtfully made. More likely clothing was made on a much smaller scale or individual basis with trade between the districts).

No mention of Katniss’ father’s hunting jacket is mentioned in the first chapter, so I’m going to assume she’s not wearing it. Though I find it odd as it seems to be cool in this part of the book so I would assume she would have that extra layer of protection. Mm….now I’m debating whether to include it or not. Decisions, decisions.

I’m going to have to do some research into this one as to what sort of pants hunters would’ve worn in time before mass-produced polyester activewear. I originally thought corduroys might be a good choice due to their rugged look, but a friend nixed that idea as the activity of going through the brush or chasing down game would wear out the fabric quickly. Not being familiar with wearing corduroy myself, I’m not sure how accurate that is. But I think once I settle on the type of material the pants will be made out of, it’ll be quite easy to find at a local Goodwill or eBay. Though I do see a lot of denim or similar material in various Appalachian photographs. So I may go along that route (but not blue jeans, something more in the brown family).
Appalachian Hunters(from

A belt will most likely be in order as I’ve seen many workers of ages past using belts to hold their pants up. Katniss is supposed to be small so clothes would hang on her a bit, thus a belt would be appropriate. Now, to pockets or not to pockets. That is the question…

Although for sheer lack of proper funds and laziness, I’ll most likely reuse my Tomb Raider boots for the final costume (unless I just happen across a cheap pair of supple brown leather boots). The only difference between my Tomb Raider boots (a lovely pair of Timberland Dusseldorfs – picture right) and Katniss’ boots (picture left) is that they are a hard leather instead of supple. But other than that, they would be perfectly suited to running around chasing game (I know this for a fact as I spent 15 hours doing a photoshoot in those boots while scurrying down ravines, over rocks, and up mountains).

Bow, Quiver, and Arrows
For the bow, I’d love to do a handcrafted wooden bow. I could buy one, but I’d sure love to make one myself. One of my roommates has a wooden lathe and likes archery, so it may be a fun project to do at home sometime.

For the quiver, I’m not sure what kind of quiver she would’ve had access to (i.e. what her dad made). So I’ll do more research into that.

For the arrows, I might reuse the ones I made for my Tomb Raider costume (wooden shafts with turkey feathers) as I think those would be adequate. Katniss’ arrows would also likely be handmade as her bow.
Tomb Raider
*** Gloves? (For archery and for picking up freshly killed game)
*** Knife? (For killing/cleaning game and general hunting. Though that may be in her bag and not on her belt)

If you happen to have any suggestions, knowledge, or opinions that might help, feel free to leave a comment! 🙂

The Katniss Project

mockingjay pinI’ve recently come to the decision that I’m going to be backing off doing traditional cosplay (i.e. exact character reproductions) for a few reasons. One, there are a bazillion other cosplayers out there, including tall, thin brunettes, who have many more resources to pop out multiple costumes a year. In addition to drama, I don’t like the unspoken competition that’s arisen due to online comparisons and follower favourites. When you’re doing exact costume reproductions, it’s very easy to fall prey to that unfortunate trap. I’d rather steer clear of it as best as I reasonably can.

Two, I want to add a unique voice to the community. There are any costumers out there, including ones who do amazing original designs. But none of them have my voice. Only I do. And with that I want to challenge myself to new heights and bring along my followers in the process (even better yet if I can help inspire or practically others along the way). Oh I’ll still do regular cosplays when the mood strikes (like I’m going to pass up doing Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. HAH!), but from now on I’m going to focus more on geek fashion, geek couture, and original takes on existing characters. Which brings me to my first concentrated foray into said direction.

Welcome to The Katniss Project.

It’s not secret that I have a special fondness for The Hunger Games series from having worked on 3 out of the 4 films (more on that in upcoming posts). While re-reading the books on set one day, the thought struck me….why not try designing Katniss’ costumes for myself? Read through and act as if I was creating all of her mentioned outfits for a film. The more I rolled the idea around in my head, the more it grew on me. Soon, I couldn’t contain my excitement and had to tell others about it. My fellow District 12 extras snickered that, “well…you ARE Reverse Katniss. You have that nickname for a reason. Go for it!”

The Hunger GamesI’m extremely excited about this project. Some costumes will be easy, some will be hard, and well…some might need some crowd-funding to actually come to fruition (the infamous fire dress, anyone?). But it will be a fun challenge to design each costume from scratch, paying close attention to the exact words Suzanne Collins wrote in the books. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned with working with authour, Shawn Lamb on art for her Allon book series, is to pay attention to how the authour describes the costumes in his or her book. It’s a respect issue.)

The next challenge will be one of my favourite parts of the design process – the research. The thinking through of why would the character be wearing this particular outfit and how? What sort of fabrics would he or she have access to? What colours? What sizes? How long would the material last based on their state of wealth or poverty? How does their personality factor into their clothes? With Katniss, there’s a huge range in her outfits due to going from the poorest of the Districts to the highest riches of the Capitol. That will be quite fun to experiment with.

Since this is a project, there will be ongoing progress posts. So it won’t just be my normal finished photoshoot with behind the scenes notes in the same post. I want to bring the community in on this one (kind of like a design team). Someone out there may have better knowledge of Appalachian fabrics of the Depression era while another may have a tip or tick to sew a stubborn part of one of the costumes. I came from a professional costuming background (as pre-car accident, I was professional film costumer), so the cosplay community’s penchant for working solo on an entire project is a bit foreign to me. Obviously, some people are just that insanely talented. But most of us aren’t (and that’s okay!). Teamwork makes us richer. The combined experiences makes the project better. So I’ll be opening up the floor with this project both in blog posts, but especially on my Facebook page. (So follow there for a lot more updates and interactive statuses!)

The List 
For now, I will only be doing Book One (which is going to be challenging enough!)
1) District 12 Hunting Outfit
2) Blue Reaping Dress
3) Tribute Apartment Casual Outfit (dark green shirt and pants)
4) Capitol Grooming Robe
5) Tribute Parade Suit
6) Arena Training Uniform
7) Practice Gown
8) Girl on Fire Interview Gown
9) Nightgown
10) Pre-Arena shift
11) Arena Uniform
12) Hospital
13) Award Ceremony dress
14) Post-arena Interview Dress
15) Post-interview Outfit