A few weeks ago a non-3D, non-sequel film broke several box office records when The Hunger Games splashed into theaters and positive reception. Now, Lionsgate has a brand new mega movie franchise to work with over the next few years – but they’ll be doing so without one key player: director Gary Ross.

Ross directed and co-wrote The Hunger Games adaptation but over the last few days, it’s been a bit of a back and forth on whether or not he would return for the sequel, Catching Fire. As it turns out, he’s not. For real this time.

The Playlist did the groundwork on breaking this scoop last week and they were right all along, first reporting that Ross would not return to helm Catching Fire. Some other outlets claimed it was an issue of money, but The Playlist explained it was more about motivation and creativity. Ross simply did his part and wanted to move on to something else.

Another outlet later claimed Ross and Lionsgate were still in negotiations and that the Seabiscuit director hadn’t actually pulled himself away from the project just yet. As we’re learning now officially, Ross is out and here is his goodbye:

“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.”

The Hunger Games is still leading the box office, and the sequel is already scheduled to begin shooting in a matter of months. It’s a fast schedule to meet quick deadlines, as Ross points out as a partial knock on rushed franchise films – something Lionsgate’s new acquisition in Summit Entertainment is all too familiar with (see: Twlight).

Lionsgate’s response:

“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. He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work. 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.”

Now we can get back to speculating on potential replacement directors for Catching Fire.

Catching Fire sees the return of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth and is currently scheduled to release in theaters November 22, 2013.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: The Playlist