Proving the adage that there’s nothing as complicated in Hollywood as a hit, Gary Ross won’t direct “Catching Fire,” the second installment in Lionsgate's massively popular “The Hunger Games” franchise.
After several weeks of reports that the parties were haggling over money and deal points, both studio and director made statements in an email from Lionsgate that sought to dismiss those reports even as they confirmed that they were parting ways.
Ross led the statement, saying that “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."
The second installment of the Jennifer Lawrence-starring franchise based on Suzanne Collins' book series is scheduled to come out in November 2013. That’s about 19 months away — not a luxurious timetable, but hardly a bang-bang one either.
Ross went on to call directing “The Hunger Games” “the happiest experience of my professional life.” Then, addressing the reports, he said, “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.”
Lionsgate followed the Ross statement by saying that it was “very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct ‘Catching Fire,’" adding that he “did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work.” It also said, "This will not be the end of our relationship, as we consider Ross to be part of the Lionsgate family and look forward to working with him in the future."
The news will inevitably spark a new round of speculation, calling to mind another famous director-studio separation after a hit: Catherine Hardwicke’s high-profile departure from Summit’s “Twilight Saga.” As in that case, the studio in question was run by Rob Friedman (Summit and Lionsgate were recently combined into one entity), though there are also some differences. Hardwicke’s “Twilight,” for instance, did not earn reviews as strong as Ross’ “The Hunger Games.”
The guessing game can now begin in earnest on which director should take on "Catching Fire," which centers on Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark after they leave the Arena in the titular games. The film already has a shiny pedigree in one respect: Simon Beaufoy, the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” scribe, is penning the new film.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Gary Ross at "The Hunger Games" premiere in Berlin. Credit: Britta Pedersen / European Pressphoto Agency