Friday, January 7, 2011

Gary Ross, Director of 'The Hunger Games' Gives My Students a SHOUT OUT!

If you are a Hunger Games fan, then you know who Gary Ross is, right? The guy who has the future of the franchise in his hands is sorta well-known around this blog . He has the power to take this book to premiere status, and everyone in Hunger Games Land has an opinion of what the movie should and should NOT contain.

My students LOVE & ADORE this novel, and also have very strong opinions about the movie. Never mind the fact that they are 13 and 14 years of age, they have specific and ENLIGHTENING expectations of what they want this movie to look like and contain. Many people believe 8th graders do not have coherent thoughts, but I'll be the first to go to bat for them - they are INTELLIGENT little humans!

Before our Thanksgiving break, I decided to mirror something that I had witnessed in the "Making of The Outsiders" documentary I viewed two years ago. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a gritty story of teens and their "real" problems - a story that had nothing to do with "Sally Sue's First Spring Dance". It was nothing like the adolescent literature that was on bookshelves in the late 60's. Word of mouth from teen readers fueled the sales of Hinton's groundbreaking work. A group of middle school students in Fresno, California were so passionate about the novel, their librarian encouraged them to write a famous director and beg him or her to make this novel into a movie. The students chose to send their letters to Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the Godfather films. Coppola states in the documentary that he was impressed with the students opinions and heart-felt pleas to turn this book they loved into a movie. Simply put, the cult-classic film, The Outsiders was created because STUDENTS put pen to paper and voiced their opinions.
Hell hath no fury like an 8th grader scorned! Don't let us down, Gary!

I hoped my opinionated students could repeat history, and write letters that would influence the director of THEIR beloved novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Ross having recently been named the film's director, it was the perfect time for student to send voice their opinions to the man in charge of it all. Taking the opportunity to teach proper letter format, I had my students HAND WRITE their letters on our school letterhead. They could say whatever they felt in the letter (and trust me, they didn't hold back), but they couldn't be insulting or stupid (even though I'm afraid several of those letters leaned toward the latter:).

Before writing, we created a "non-negotiables" list of book components that HAD to be in the film, and also discussed faux pas we didn't want repeated in HG, that we'd noticed in other films based on books. From there, they crafted their letters with much thought and calculation. Then came my contribution to the assignment: finding a DAD-GUM MAILING ADDRESS FOR GARY ROSS. I Googled my little heart out, and nearly gave up on finding a legitimate address to mail our package of letters. I finally found the main headquarters of Lionsgate Entertainment in California, and the address seemed to be my best bet. Skeptical that THE Gary Ross would ever get his hands on my students' meticulously crafted letters, I dropped the package in the mail, and hoped for the best.

Upon returning from Christmas break this week, my students had asked a few times if I'd heard anything about our letters, but I think they all thought I was a dork for even mailing them...Gary
Ross couldn't possibly receive OUR letters out of tons of fan mail he must receive on a daily basis, could he? The IMPOSSIBLE seemingly happened when I was given a phone message from Entertainment Weekly reporter, Karen Valby. She left the inquiry with our school secretary, who delivered the message to our assistant principal, who then finally gave it to me Thursday morning. After reading the message that stated "reporter for Entertainment Weekly who wants to talk to teacher about student letters to Hunger Games director", I nearly stroked out in the main hallway of our school. Have you ever had a moment in which you want to scream, "No bleepin' WAY!". Well, it's really hard to have that "moment" when in front of your boss! I was so excited, I was sweating like a truck driver and trembling like a 6th grader on their first day of junior high!
Look for the interview (mentioning my FRENSHIP MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS) in the January 14th issue of Entertainment Weekly!

I took a moment to collect myself so this Entertainment Weekly reporter wouldn't think I was a nut job, and give her call. After sweating through a greeting with Karen Valby, and hoping to goodness this wasn't a sick joke orchestrated by one of my ornery students, I was pleased to hear the good news. According to Valby, she had recently interviewed Gary Ross, and he had told her about letters he'd received from a group of 8th graders at Frenship Middle School near Lubbock. (Thank the Lord for campus letterhead, or she wouldn't of had a contact number for our school!) Ross went on to share his opinions of the students passionate responses, and even said he was "dying to go to this school"! I'm sure I said something during our phone conversation, but all I remember doing was sweating...PROFUSELY, and possibly SQUEEEEEEing in my pants a little. Valby also graciously offered to send me copies of the January 14th edition of the mag.

After hanging up with her, I proceeded to run around the school (in heels, mind you) and blubber my crazy news to students, fellow teachers, custodian, random-parent-in-the-hallway, librarian, and some little 6th grade kid I didn't even know. I wouldn't have students for another half hour, and I had to tell SOMEBODY! (I think I even called every member of my immediate family, since they are privy to my Hunger Games addiction.) It was one of the most exciting moments of my life (minus the birth of my daughters, and marrying my husband...blah, blah, know what I'm talking about!). Knowing that something GREAT was happening to my students filled me with an indescribable JOY. A memory was being made for these kiddos, and perhaps trust in the world being built in them - maybe knowing Gary Ross read their letters would teach them that they ARE NOT insignificant in the world. On a grander scale, perhaps they will realize after this cool occurrence that writing a letter or voicing an opinion is worth the effort. I'm cheesy, I know, but it was a very AWESOME moment in the life of this teacher! Very Hallmark/Lifetime movie-esque, and something I had to share!

Here is a snippet of the article from the Entertainment Weekly website:

“I’m so touched by the humanity of Katniss,” Ross tells EW. “As much as the firestorm or the final action sequences are incredibly riveting and enormous, it’s the relationships in the books that are the most moving to me.” That’s good news for fans of the book from Lubbock, Texas. Upon news that Ross had taken the helm, an 8th grade reading teacher from Lubbock’s Frenship Middle School instructed her 134 students to each pen letters to the director with advice on how to best nail the film. “So many of them wrote ‘Listen, I know this is an action movie and I can’t wait to see the action but please don’t lose the heart of the story,’” relays Ross. CAUTION! STOP! FAT SPOILER ALERT! “The death of Rue is mentioned by every kid who reads the book.”

One Frenship boy pleaded for Megan Fox in the role of Katniss, a perhaps misguided request at least partially driven by hormones. Ross and Jacobson will soon be heading into casting meetings, and they understand the growing clamoring for a relative unknown in the main role. “I don’t think she should be famous,” says Jacobson. “I think that fans want Katniss to belong to them and I understand that. And I think that sometimes with people who have a strong other identity — as a celebrity or as a well known other character — you feel like that person doesn’t belong to you and I think that’s what fans are looking for.” Ross promises that casting announcements will come soon, as the film hopes to go into production in the late spring.

Please, no ridiculous comments about how "Megan Fox is all wrong for Katniss"...WE KNOW THAT! The reference to that particular 8th grade letter was meant as a joke. That student is a silly, witty, goofball and mentioned to Ross that imagining Katniss as Megan Fox made the book all the more interesting. (Ahhhhhhh...8th grade boys and their awkward hormones.) To say my students were excited about Gary Ross reading their letters would be a gross understatement! They were floored, over-the-moon, giddy as school girls (well, half of them ARE school girls), and were pretty much planning their trip to Hollywood to meet the cast, crew, and Gary Ross. (And that one young man was still holding out hope of meeting Megan Fox.) I had to remind them that Ross said he WANTED to meet them, but we would never know if that statement would actually come to fruition. Either way, we are BEYOND EXCITED about THE Gary Ross reading our "helpful" and opinionated Hunger Games movie letters! For more scoop from Gary and a few more references to my students letters, purchase your copy of the January 14th edition of Entertainment Weekly PRONTO, amigo!


  1. Wow...This is momentous! What a great idea. Your students will remember this forever. Can't wait to see the film with my kiddos, who are slightly older (juniors + seniors) but super excited nonetheless!

  2. My students actually read this article!

    Even in England we are Hunger Games fanatics! Where did you find this address?
    I have to say you have started a trend, with the whole of English Classes (60+ students) stating that we should do something like this too, haha!

  3. Did your kids ever get to meet him?

    And what a wonderful blog. It near brought me to tears at the way you inspire your kids. The world needs more teachers like you.

  4. OMS, I'm 10 years old and I'm obsessed with The Hunger Games. Team Peeta! I love your blog.

  5. Hi Lenzi,
    I am a movie producer from Germany ( I have worked as line producer for a couple of Eurooean productions) and also google my fingers out- for one hour now. to get a hold on any email of Gary Ross, his asssitant or assisstant of an assistant. I have friends who do great clothes, I really would like to introduce to be big tycoons of Hollywood because I like the book and see they need great creative stuff. Here you can watch the stuff, made by the way in Moscow , Russia as it was shown last autumn in London. Here is my mail- and here the dresses:
    Thanks a lot