The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Catching the Fever: An Insider’s Look at One of the World’s Biggest Fan Experiences

Written by: Meredith Fahey, Special to CC2K

A die-hard Hunger Games fan reports from the front lines of the premiere for Catching Fire.  

On a late October day, I filled out a form online regarding something called “Catching Fire Fan Camp.” It was one of various forms I had filled out in order to win a chance to see Catching Fire early.  Immediately I forgot about it until I received an e-mail on November 1st (I was at dinner) that informed me I was selected to attend and was assigned to District 5. (Out of 5, not 12 as you would assume.) Sadly, I had not signed up my fiancé, so I realized would be going alone if I decided to attend/if I got time off.

With no more information forthcoming, and only armed with the hashtag #cffancamp I was left to ponder what this entailed, exchanging countless texts with other winners, until we received a second e-mail on November 8th which gave more information on the events for the weekend, bringing some answers to the big questions we all had.  A third on November 11th gave instructions on the appropriate tents but no more.

Feeling overwhelmed and slightly confused, I begged my boss for the day off, and after explaining what it was for, she agreed. Out of the chaos of twitter I was directed to join a Facebook group for the event, which luckily for my sake was filled with fan camp pros, many of whom had participated in similar events for the previous Hunger Games movie, as well as the Twilight films, of which I am less familiar. Armed with the knowledge the group dispensed, I began to anticipate what the three days would hold for us.

Finding parking was a daunting experience because we were given a map with vague instructions to find a lot with overnight parking. All the lots said no overnight parking but upon asking a security guard we found out that technically the garages by the Nokia Theater & Staples Center don’t ever close so technically you can. So I parked and dutifully unloaded my ridiculously large and comical amount of items. (I have camped exactly 0 times before.) I tottered the way the security guards pointed until I was admitted to a cordoned off area, situated in the closed off street between The Nokia Theater and The Staples Center.

I got checked in and told where to set up. Having practiced setting up my tent earlier that week (huzzah for Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping!) I was able to help others around me with their tents. As far as the eye could see there were tents. I ventured towards the Nokia plaza and found that Coke, Kiss FM and Amazon Kindle had set up some booths to give away freebies and do some fun green screen photos.

I got in line to do the Amazon green screen photo because I wanted a raffle ticket. (Yes thank you I would like to win a new Kindle) and since there was not much else going on at the moment. Soon it was announced that Willow Shields (who plays Primrose Everdeen) would be signing. I jogged back to my tent and retrieved the very large Quarter Quell poster I thought to buy earlier in the week. I found a place in line with some new friends I had met in the photo line and off we went.

They had free posters made up especially for the weekend for those who did not bring anything to sign, which was nice of them. When we got to front of the line after about 45 minutes, I talked briefly with her about her portrayal of Prim, and about my own little blonde sister, the Prim to my Katniss.

After an hour they escorted her out and brought in Stephanie Schlund, who is playing Cashmere in the new movie. She was exceedingly nice, staying until well after her hour was over to make sure she gave autographs to anyone who wanted one.

At this point we hung around the Kiis booth as they did various giveaways. It was an impressive amount of swag all told. Around 6 everyone broke for dinner and they began moving around the set up to prepare for the screening of the original Hunger Games.

At 8 we returned to the Nokia Plaza, armed with camping chairs and blankets as well as some Hunger Games candy bars that were given out earlier. (Seriously, the swag!) It is hard to describe watching the movie in such a bustling, well lit, part of down town. Or I could say it gave me a slightly guilty feeling of being in the movie and watching the actual Hunger Games in the Capitol, in comfort. C’est la vie.

It had been a long day and so we turned in early and tried to tune out the noise and lights of the Staples center. (Unfortunately a basketball game was just getting out and the bathroom situation got a little bit interesting with the blending of those in pajamas with those in heels and suits. Armed with earplugs and a facemask I did the best I could to get some sleep.

Sunday began with free bagels and muffins from Corner Bakery and then a giveaway from Time Warner of some very nice Catching Fire shirts, swag bags and posters. Then we were told that more signings would be happening and the whole tent city exploded with frantic people, rushing to line up.

I found my new friends towards the back of the line and joined them. Word spread that Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright and Jena Malone were signing. As a huge Jena fan I was extremely excited, but alas, the hour was up before we made it to the front. (Poor planning on the part of Lion’s Gate on the signings. We probably should have been given tickets, or lined up by district, but I can’t really complain because we got to meet the next guest who came out. Josh Hutcherson.


As had the other guests, I thanked him for coming out and he signed my poster. Immediately I got back line again, as other people had, because we were informed there would be another guest.  The next guest we had the pleasure of meeting was none other than the director, Francis Lawrence.

I gushed at him about my hopes for this movie, and heaped praise on his adaptation of Water for Elephants, to the point where he offered to take a photo with me which up until that point had been a no-no. (You could take pictures of, not with the guests.) So I got a special treat.  After that things wound up for the day because they needed the space to set up the premiere.

I spent the evening quietly, with some camp friends, playing board games and discussing the upcoming events as well as the previous.  It was surreal, surrounded by the bustle of the city, sitting there in pajamas and eating candy, acting like any youth would at sleep away camp in the summer. (Or so I imagine.)

We were told we be woken at 5 am and told to pack up to receive our tickets to return. Sure enough, 5 am arrived all too quickly, and hundreds of sleepy fans moving as slow as zombies pulled down tents and then huddled in their chairs until we were dismissed. I luckily had gotten a hotel room so I walked down the street, (yes in my pajamas!) and promptly went back to sleep until it was time to get ready and leave.  (Otherwise known as check out time.)

Wearing my own version of a premiere dress, and donning my slippers I walked back to the Nokia center to drop stuff in my car and have lunch. We didn’t have call backs until 4 pm< so I took another nap in my car.

When 3:30 rolled around we all met upstairs and were lined up by our numbers and sent inside to find a spot to defend. I found a good spot, center, second tier, but upon spying my friends over to the side on their third tier I decided to give it up and go over there. From our spot we had a great view of the whole red carpet area, especially the back of the big, flaming Mockingjay over the entrance.

It took some time for the celebrities to roll our way because we were the fans closest to the entrance to the theater but eventually many of them did, some rushing as it approached 8 pm. I decided to keep to my eagle’s perch up and in back, rather than descend into the chaos below as books, posters, and various other items were offered up to the stars for signing.

For the most part it was a slightly dull, but pleasant experience. I couldn’t fathom being one of the many reporters in the center pens, tottering on giant heels and in dresses almost as nice as the ones on the red carpet. I was cold enough in my dress, and my flats started to get wearisome as the hours wore on.

I snapped a collection of blurry photos as a result my phone’s camera being constantly trying to focus due to the press cameras and light directly opposite us. The one good photo I was able to snag was of Lenny Kravitz, looking like he is standing still as the world rushes by, the epitome of cool. I failed to get Suzanne Collins attention to show her my Mockingjay tattoo (hey, a girl can dream).  I got a good chuckle out of Liam Hemsworth’s reaction to some of the more exuberant of his fans and even got a very blurry, but somehow creepy photo of Donald Sutherland as he got out of his car.

Just about 8 they started letting our side of the fanstand in to the theater and there was a rush for bathrooms and free drinks. (They were out of popcorn by then, sadly. ) The theater holds 5000 and it was packed. I was at the back in the left hand corner. I was impressed with the great view of the screen even from so far back. After a few words from the Lion’s Gate CEO, the director and an appearance of the main cast the movie started.

For 146 minutes the theatergoers were held in Francis Lawrence’s spell. He completely nailed Catching Fire, in a way that I had only begun to hope when I heard he was replacing the director of Hunger Games. He guided Jennifer Lawrence in such a way that the first movie failed to capture; the emotions of Katniss, the desperation, the panic, and the damage that the whole experience did to her. I have to admit though, Jena Malone stole the show as Johanna Mason, and the clapping for her drowned out the movie a few times. A few of the more juvenile movie goers screamed banalities such “Team Peeta” but for the most part the majority of fans were respectful.

After the screening  we waited in the extensive line to get our phones back from security, eyed the after party upstairs on the roof of the parking garage with jealousy, and then headed home, with hugs and smiles dispensed out to new friends before parting.

All in all it was an amazing experience. Made more so by the fact it was a free event. I can definitely see why these fans return year after year. Yes, the whole star sighting and movie screenings are a blast, but the friends you make clearly seems to be the best kept secret of fan camp.