The Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman will not delay the Hunger Games
When an actor dies, it is sometimes while they still have work to complete. Sometimes a project they had yet to begin goes unmade. Sometimes a film is unfinished because they cannot recover from the loss. Still, sometimes, an actor has completed just enough, or a director/studio is creative enough, to complete the film in the actor’s absence. There are many examples of this, which I will get into later, for now, I want to talk about Philip Seymour Hoffman and The Hunger Games.
Lionsgate has reported that the actor’s death will not delay the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 or 2, which Hoffman had nearly completed filming before his sudden death. Sources with the studio reported he had nearly completed filming on part one and had an estimated 7 days of filming to complete for part 2. Specifically, they say Hoffman had one crucial and emotional scene to film for the finale of the film series.
“We’re all extraordinarily sad,” a Lionsgate executive told The Hollywood Reporter. “But as it relates to production, it’s going to have no impact. Obviously, we’re going to have a couple of work-around issues but the movie will be creatively whole. His performances in both [remaining] movies will be up to the best of his craft. We feel it will be a good tribute to him.”
Hoffman’s character, who was introduced in last summer’s Catching Fire, becomes a key figure in the revolution, which is at the center of the story. This leaves the studio, and director with a difficult decision. They could recast a double to complete the role, but that somehow, to me anyway, feels wrong. They could attempt to write the character out, but I don’t see how that could be accomplished without altering the original story too much. Leaving the third option, which appears to be what Lionsgate will do. They will create, where needed, a digital Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
“These days the technology of using someone’s likeness is a whole lot easier to do, I won’t say you could generate a Philip Seymour Hoffman with all the acting ability, but you could certainly replicate him for a shot or two.” Rob Legato, a veteran effects supervisor, said.
To be honest, when this happens, there is no good answer, especially if a project needs to be completed. Using digital models, camera tricks, and many ingenious effects, audio work to mimic an actor’s performance is an impressive feat. As I said before, recasting and reshooting would be a tragic loss of a brilliant actor’s work, which should be seen. This is the last thing he ever committed to film; I would like to think he would want his work to be seen. It brings to mind another recent loss what required some creative recover.
When Heath Ledger died in the midst of filming Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus the film initially seemed doomed. There was far too much left to shoot to, and the actor’s role was far too large. However, several of his friends came together to save the film, as tribute to Ledger. Terry Gilliam was able to modify the script, and Heath Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in to fill in the gaps. Gilliam had to use a few tricks, and some doubles, but they pulled it off, and the world was able to share Heath Ledger’s final performance. It is an extraordinary film, if you have not had the opportunity to watch it.
Other famous examples include Bruce Lee and Game of Death, which was finished without the Lee, and used cardboard cutouts and other previously filmed footage of the actor.
Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon lee, tragically died while filming The Crow, requiring Director Alex Proyas to use doubles and effects and editing to complete and release the film.
John Candy died suddenly before filming could be completed on Wagons East. This required use of digital effects, doubles and a voice double to finish his final scenes.
When Oliver Reed died while filming Gladiator Ridley Scott had a digital model of Reed’s face crated to map onto a doubles head in post-production in order to complete the film.
Now, what may be the most tragic, each of the films I listed above, if you were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the films above, you will now look for the seams, and possibly have a few good illusions spoiled. I’m sorry for that. Personally, I’d rather a poor illusion that allows the work of a talented performer to be seen, than the alternative.
What do you think of the decision to use digital models to finish Hoffman’s scenes?