Recently, Mainstay Productions released on YouTube a fan-made short film entitled The Hanging Tree. Under twelve minutes long, it dramatizes a brief vignette from the childhood of the character Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.
The crew that shot the film is made up of several people with professional film credits, though mostly with independent films. The script was written by Shylah Addante, a staff member of one of the most popular Hunger Games online fan sites, Down With The Capitol.
The films by Mainstay are produced on an almost zero-dollar budget. According to interviews with director John Lyde, they are mostly a labor of love, but he has also used them as samples of his work and the work of the actors. One actress who appeared as Katniss in a previously-made Hunger Games short was able to parlay that into an audition for the Hollywood movie.
I was mostly very happy with the Hollywood adaptation of The Hunger Games, but inevitably, certain elements of the book had to be sacrificed. Telling a story cinematically is profoundly different from telling a story with prose. There are also time limitations. Characters have to be dropped, events truncated, details skimmed over.
One of the most important elements of the books that had to be dropped in the movie adaptation was the relationship between Katniss and her father, who is already dead when the story begins. His presence is strongly felt throughout all three books. A big part of who Katniss is comes from her father’s influence. Not surprisingly, this is only touched on briefly in the movie, because to dramatize it would have dragged down the pacing considerably.
This is where Shylah and Mainstay come in. In this short film, they dramatize the first time Katniss goes hunting with her father.
I’m not exaggerating when I say it blew me away.
Every beat of this short film is so perfect and true to the source material. The one and only way that Shylah expanded from the canon slightly is to show Katniss’ father explicitly sowing seeds of rebellion in Katniss, teaching her not only hunting and survival skills, but to question the society they live in. I think this is a wonderful expansion of what we know of Katniss’ relationship with her father, because although Katniss struggles with reluctance over her role as a rebel against the Capitol, it’s also clear that she has long been a rebel at heart. The actors, Darin Southam as the father, and Bailee Johnson as young Katniss, do a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the characters.
Generally, I’m not a fan of prequels, but I think this works so well because it’s not a full-length treatment of Katniss’ backstory. Dramatizing one critical moment from a character’s past is much more effective and impactful.
Another fan contribution to the film is the tune set to the words to The Hanging Tree. The song is an important motif in final book in the series, Mockingjay. The lyrics were written by author Suzanne Collins. The music used here was created by fan Adriana Figueroa. She originally posted her version of the song on YouTube about a year ago.
Mainstay has also done film shorts about other Hunger Games characters, including Haymitch and star-crossed lovers Finnick and Annie (the latter also written by Shylah), as well as shorts based on other popular YA books, such as Unwind by Neal Shusterman and Legend by Marie Lu.
Fan fiction and fan art have long been outlets for fans to pay tribute to and expand their enjoyment of their favorite books, movies and TV shows. Now with technology that makes it possible to make inexpensive films, fans can express themselves through this medium as well.
I love it, and hope Mainstay and other fan filmmakers give us more short films that illuminate the parts of our favorite books that get left out from the movie adaptations or end up on the cutting room floor.