[Update: It's now official and Gary Ross won't be back for the sequel. Read on...]
It came as somewhat of a surprise when, earlier this week, word leaked out that Hunger Games co-writer/director Gary Ross had not yet been locked down for the sequel, Catching Fire - not only because of the widespread positive response to (and massive box office returns for) the first HG movie adaptation, but also because Ross had already begun to discuss his tentative plans for shooting the followup.
Reports are now in that Ross has selected to not be involved with Catching Fire after all. That puts Lionsgate in somewhat of a precarious position, as the studio wants production on the sequel to get underway by this upcoming September - meaning that the search for a replacement helmer will have to be a relatively quick one.
The Playlist says that Ross' decision to pass on Catching Fire stems from a desire to press ahead with a different, original project that he's more passionate about - one which, ironically, is expected to snag him a bigger payday than what Ross might've fetched for directing the second Hunger Games flick. Still, by all accounts, money was not the primary motivating factor for Ross' departure.
[UPDATE: Deadline's is reporting that Ross has not yet "formally withdrawn" from Catching Fire. The filmmaker is currently on vacation, so there presumably won't be an official confirmation either way until he returns to work.]
[UPDATE 2: Ross is officially not directing Catching Fire.]
Truth be told, Lionsgate had already taken precautions for an event like this. The studio recruited Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours fame) to start working on the Catching Fire script, back when Ross was still busy working the promotional circuit for Hunger Games. Hence, the ball's already off and rolling on this tentpole production.
Couple that with Fox's newly announced 2013 start date for filming on X-Men: First Class 2 - which will free up Jennifer Lawrence to reprise her role as Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire this fall - and (for now) it doesn't appear that Ross leaving the Hunger Games sequel will trip up the film too much on its way down the production pipeline.
Fan reaction to the news concerning Ross' vacating the director's chair on Catching Fire will probably be somewhat mixed, as far the immediate response goes. On the one hand, most people seem to agree that he did an admirable job of translating Suzanne Collins' popular dystopian sci-fi thriller into cinematic form; on the other hand, some of Ross' stylistic choices with Hunger Games (specifically, the disorienting shaky cam/editing approach) left many viewers feeling disgruntled.
That said: a directorial switch-up can be very tricky when it comes to franchise fare - especially when studios trade in a respectable filmmaker who leaves a recognizable artistic fingerprint on the series (see: David Slade with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse or Bryan Singer with X2) for someone who delivers more of a generic take on the property (see: Bill Condon with Breaking Dawn or Brett Ratner with X-Men: The Last Stand). Suffice it to say, Lionsgate is gambling that it can avoid making a similar mistake with the Hunger Games franchise, by letting Ross go.
We'll be sure to let you know when a replacement director for Ross on Catching Fire has been found. In the meantime, be sure to check out our Catching Fire: 5 Things The Hunger Games Sequel Needs To Do post, for our own suggestions on what the sequel's director ought to do in order to improve on Ross' first HG film.
Catching Fire releases in theaters November 22, 2013.
Source: The Playlist