Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend and Constantine) has chosen to direct Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Reportedly, the competition came down to Lawrence and Moneyball’s Bennett Miller, but Miller didn’t like the rushed production schedule needed to meet the studio’s already-announced release date of Nov. 22, 2013. (Let’s hope that’s not wishful thinking.)
Lawrence is an interesting choice. I think of him more as a visual stylist coming off Constantine, but he did handle a pretty sprawling story in Will Smith’s I Am Legend. Both of those films were fantasy/sci-fi projects, and both were adaptations of existing material – Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novel, and Constantine is the star of the comic book series Hellblazer – so he has experience translating stories. (For what it’s worth, Moneyball was a book, too, so that’s probably why Miller was a front-runner.) Also, Lawrence built a compelling and complicated world overrun by mutations for I Am Legend, and world-building was Hunger Games helmer Gary Ross’ Achilles’ heel.
I’ve written about this already, but now it’s official: Both Gary Ross and Lionsgate have confirmed that the Hunger Games director will not be returning to helm the first sequel, Catching Fire. You can jump here to see how I feel about his work on The Hunger Games.
Ross’ full statement was released by the studio:
“Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire. 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.
I loved making The Hunger Games – it was the happiest experience of my professional life. Lionsgate was supportive of me in a manner that few directors ever experience in a franchise: they empowered me to make the film I wanted to make and backed the movie in a way that requires no explanation beyond the remarkable results. And contrary to what has been reported, negotiations with Lionsgate have not been problematic. They have also been very understanding of me through this difficult decision.
I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends.
To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
Hmmm, Ross makes it sound like the real reason he left is because he didn’t want production to be rushed to meet the studio’s previously announced release date, Nov. 22, 2013.
Well, I was hoping this would happen, and it has. Lionsgate could not come to a deal with Hunger Games director Gary Ross to helm the first sequel, Catching Fire, so Ross has walked away.
Supposedly, Ross wasn’t all that interested in the job anyway, and the salary Lionsgate dangled wasn’t enough to change his mind and compel him to film another blockbuster. Sigh.
Isn’t that Aesop’s definition of sour grapes?
While I really enjoyed The Hunger Games movie adaptation, I was not enamored of the film’s direction, and despaired at the thought of Gary Ross helming the next three sequels. (Yes, the cynical and truly bad idea of splitting the last book, Mockingjay, into two movies in order to cash in one more time is still alive.)
In Hollywood, money is the only language anyone understands, and with HG raked in so much at the box office, I figured there odds would ever be not in my favor, because it looked like there was no way to get Ross off the franchise.
But yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter brought this happy news, like a parachute from a wealthy Hunger Games sponsor: Ross is apparently holding out for more money to direct the first sequel, Catching Fire. And I couldn’t be happier about his disenchantment!