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Persistence paid off for Gary Ross

'Hunger Games' helmer lobbied hard to land pic

Gary Ross knew “The Hunger Games” would make a mega splash at the box office. But like everyone else in the biz, even the pic’s helmer was pleasantly surprised by the film’s record-breaking $155 million domestic debut.

“I imagined that it could do very, very well, but certainly not this much,” Ross told Variety.

That’s because the helmer said the film’s production — shot mostly in the mountains of North Carolina — didn’t exactly feel like the start of a Hollywood franchise phenomenon.

“It was a very lean shoot,” Ross said. “There’s something kind of humbling about hiking in the woods to make a movie every day. We didn’t feel like we were part of a large Hollywood system.”

Ross credits his children for spurring him to read the books in author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy. He was immediately intrigued and began lobbying hard for the movie.

“Instantly, it was clear to me what the movie should be. It was never something that I had to grope for from the moment I shut the back cover. So I think the next morning I bought a plane ticket to England and flew to see (producer) Nina Jacobson, saying I wanted to do it,” he said.

The task of adapting the first book — Ross shares screen writing credits with Collins and Billy Ray — would seem to be a daunting mission, especially given its rabid supporters. But Ross said he felt confident in his vision for translating the story to the screen.

“Honestly, it was no more pressure than I put on myself normally,” Ross said. “I connected with the book so much that I felt if I followed my own vision it would work.

This film is probably the closest I’ve come to what was in my head,” he added.

The next installment in the franchise, “Catching Fire,” is set to bow Thanksgiving weekend 2013. For now, Ross is keeping his focus on enjoying this moment of B.O. triumph with a movie that is clearly resonating with auds worldwide.

“This is really a story about someone finding and struggling to preserve their humanity,” Ross said. “That was inherent in the book, and I don’t think I would have been interested had it not been. And that’s what the fanbase also loves about it. They don’t want empty calories.”

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