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Well, it's official: The Hunger Games director Gary Ross won't be Catching Fire. Following reports that he might not helm the upcoming Hunger Games sequel, Ross and Lionsgate have issued statements confirming the filmmaker's exit from the franchise. But both sides insist that it wasn't salary negotiations that put the nail in the coffin; instead, they're blaming a disagreement over the film's production schedule.
"Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire," Ross said in a statement. "As a writer and a director, I simply don't have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule."
That schedule would have called for Ross to begin production on the film early this fall to make a Nov. 22, 2013, release date. And while Lionsgate wouldn't budge on it, the studio says they're sad to see Ross go.
"We're very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire. We were really looking forward to making the movie with him," the studio said in a statement. "He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work."
As a fan of the book and an even bigger fan of Ross' work adapting it into a movie, it's hard not to be disappointed by this news. Ross was obviously a big fan of the source material and worked tirelessly with author Suzanne Collins to try to make sure The Hunger Games film captured the essence of the novel. And as box office numbers ($306 million and still counting!) and the critical response can tell you, Ross succeeded. Regardless, the sequel now needs a new director, so the $300 million question is: Who should it be?
While this isn't the first time a film series has turned to several directors to spearhead different installments (just look at Harry Potter or The Twilight Saga), what will be most important for The Hunger Games franchise is making sure the various movies match up tonally. Because of that, we'd lile to see Lionsgate woo Steven Soderbergh to direct Catching Fire.
That might seem like a strange pairing at first, but Soderbergh actually is good friends with Ross and acted as second unit director on The Hunger Games -- he directed the District 11 riot scene. Since he is familiar with Ross' take on the series, it seems like he would be the natural choice to helm the follow-up.
Another good option would be Sam Mendes, who will likely be wrapping up shooting on his James Bond film, Skyfall, by the time Catching Fire is ready to shoot later this year. He doesn't have any other projects on the horizon, so this could be perfect timing for getting him behind the camera on The Hunger Games. He was one of the original directors Lionsgate considered for the first movie -- along with Ross and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse's David Slade -- and he would likely still be a good fit for Catching Fire.
But Lionsgate could also go for the non-traditional choice. Many have thrown Quentin Tarantino's name around as someone who might make their own mark on the franchise, but somehow I can't picture the director of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill being interested in adapting a young adult novel, even one about children fighting one another to the death.
An offbeat choice that we could get behind would be Rian Johnson, director of Brick, The Brothers Bloom and the forthcoming Looper. He has a flair for film noir and incorporating elements of the slightly fantastical, but he's also very capable of telling a large story in an intimate way. Lionsgate likely won't want to break the bank with Catching Fire even though The Hunger Games is performing so well, and Johnson's price tag would be a modest one.