The Set of 'The Hunger Games' Was Like Being in College, Says Director Francis Lawrence

"There were a lot of tears," the director tells PEOPLE of the day the film wrapped

Photo: Murray Close

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 hasn’t even hit theaters yet, but the cast and crew have already said their goodbyes.

Filming on the YA franchise wrapped in June with an “emotional” last day, director Francis Lawrence tells PEOPLE.

“You start counting down the days and then you can’t believe that it’s actually there,” he says. “There were a lot of tears. But there were a lot of hugs too.”

For the film’s leads, including Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, it felt like the last day of school.

“It’s like graduating from college and having to say goodbye to your buddies,” says the director.

But though everyone was sad to go, there was a certain relief once the last scene wrapped.

“It was a hard shoot for many reasons – the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the weather and all kinds of stuff, so everybody was eager to be done in a way.”

So what’s up next for the series’ star Jennifer Lawrence?

“I think that quite honestly she goes where the good material is,” says Francis Lawrence. “My guess is that she doesn’t really care so much about it being a small or big project, as long as it’s a really good part and smart and there’s good people involved.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 opens in theaters Nov. 21.

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