Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

The powerhouse behind The Hunger Games

March 23, 2012: 1:01 PM ET

Credit: Gregory Zabilski

Sometimes bad things happen for good reason. So it goes with Nina Jacobson, the producer of The Hunger Games.

Jacobson was in the hospital, with her partner in labor and her father in intensive care, six years ago when her boss at Disney (DIS) fired her over the phone. "Can you come in?" Dick Cook asked Jacobson, then president of the company's Buena Vista movie studio. "No, I really can't," Jacobson remembers telling Cook on that fateful day, July 17, 2006.

She had read the rumors in the trade press: Management changes at Disney are afoot, they said. "Am I getting fired?" Jacobson asked Cook, point-blank. Yes, he replied. She recalls telling herself: "Well, I'm just going to ignore that for the rest of the day and pretend it didn't happen."

A few hours later, her third child, William, was born.

William, now five, isn't quite old enough to appreciate that the The Hunger Games, opening today, is a very big deal. (He no doubt wishes his mom were still producing Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney.) But Jacobson's other two kids--daughter Josie, 11, and son Noah, 13—are among the youthful millions who are supposed to make The Hunger Games the next book-to-film phenom a la Harry Potter and Twilight.

Jacobson discovered The Hunger Games in 2009, a year after the first book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy was released. Brian Unkeless, a colleague at Color Force, Jacobson's production company that she set up post-Disney, read it and passed on high praise. "I couldn't put it down," Jacobson says. Negotiating with author Collins and her agent to make The Hunger Games into a movie, Jacobson convinced them that she would not just create something great for the screen but build and protect The Hunger Games "brand" as well.

So her brand-building background from Disney pays dividends today. No matter what the box office receipts turn out to be, Jacobson, 46, is happy in her new career. "As an executive," she says, about her eight years at Disney, "you can borrow somebody else's passion until you find your own. But as a producer, you can't borrow anyone's passion. You have to feel it. You have to care deeply enough to have the energy and inspiration to make the movie--and to make it worthwhile to be away from your family."

She has no regrets—except one about that day she was fired. "If I had it to do over again, I would definitely choose a different day. [Getting fired] certainly gives you perspective that a job is just a job. But on a day like that, the only story should be the birth of your child."

Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Video
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.