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'Hunger Games Part 2' Director: Francis Lawrence In & Gary Ross Out - Good Choice?

Francis LawrenceApril 19, '12, update: The Catching Fire director will be Francis Lawrence, among whose (few) feature-film credits are Reese Witherspoon / Robert Pattinson / Christoph Waltz's Water for Elephants, Will Smith's I Am Legend, and Keanu Reeves / Rachel Weisz's Constantine. Deadline.com reports that Lionsgate's other strong possibility, Moneyball / Capote director Bennett Miller, wanted the studio to delay filming so he could work on the prospective Steve Carell / Mark Ruffalo / Channing Tatum movie Foxcatcher.

Lionsgate refused to do so because The Hunger Games and Catching Fire star Jennifer Lawrence must be ready to shoot 20th Century Fox's sequel to X-Men: First Class in January 2013.

In addition to Francis Lawrence and Bennett Miller, other contenders – or rumored contenders – for the Catching Fire directorial job were The Orphanage's Juan Antonio Bayona, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / Children of Men's Alfonso Cuarón, Babel / 21 Grams' Alejandro González Iñárritu, Cosmopolis / A History of Violence' David Cronenberg, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close / The Hours' Stephen Daldry, Unstoppable / The Hunger's Tony Scott, and Let the Right One In / Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Tomas Alfredson.

The Hunger Games director Gary Ross reportedly turned down Lionsgate's offer to direct Catching Fire because of time constraints imposed by the studio. (Initially, salary issues were also mentioned as a factor.)

In addition to Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth will be returning for Catching Fire, based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling novel. Slumdog Millionaire's Simon Beaufoy is currently working on the screenplay. Shooting is expected to begin in late August.

April 18

Jennifer Lawrence The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games

Forget “arty” filmmakers such as Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and David Cronenberg. Lionsgate is now eyeing Moneyball / Capote's Bennett Miller and I Am Legend / Constantine's Francis Lawrence to helm Catching Fire, the sequel to Gary Ross' The Hunger Games. According to several reports, Lawrence is the apparent front-runner.

Although he doesn't have anything like The Fly or Scanners or Dead Ringers on his resume, the Austrian-born Lawrence does have at least one key Cronenberg connection: Robert Pattinson, the star of Lawrence's circus drama Water for Elephants and of Cronenberg's upcoming comedy / drama / thriller / who-knows-what-else Cosmopolis. Bennett Miller, for his part, has a connection to González Iñárritu: Brad Pitt, the star of both Moneyball and Babel.

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth star in The Hunger Games and will return for Catching Fire, based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling novel. Slumdog Millionaire's Simon Beaufoy is currently working on the Catching Fire screenplay. Shooting is expected to begin sometime in August, so Jennifer Lawrence can be free to begin work on 20th Century Fox's sequel to X-Men: First Class in January 2013.

In other words, Lionsgate should be announcing Gary Ross' replacement in the next few days. Besides the aforementioned directors, also considered by Lionsgate (at least officially) were Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close / The Hours' Stephen Daldry, Unstoppable / The Hunger's Tony Scott, and Let the Right One In / Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Tomas Alfredson.

The Hunger Games photo: Murray Close / Lionsgate.

April 12

David CronenbergUnfortunately, neither Margarethe von Trotta nor Catherine Breillat is in the running as a replacement for Gary Ross, who officially left The Hunger Games' sequel Catching Fire a couple of days ago. The names currently being bandied about online (and purportedly by Lionsgate) belong to three North American males: Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Canadian David Cronenberg (photo). (Though, once again purportedly, there are a handful more names on Lionsgate's list.)

All three filmmakers would add “prestige” to Catching Fire, something that, if a Los Angeles Times report on the issue is to be believed, would please author Suzanne Collins, “who is much more interested in quality filmmaking than box office prowess.” Now, let's not be cynical. Aren't we all more interested in “quality filmmaking” than in “box-office prowess”? Really.

That Cuarón's name would pop up in connection to Catching Fire is no surprise. Many have given him credit for injecting new life and a more mature sensibility into the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Though some would surely disagree with that assessment.)

Yet, Cuarón may still be doing post-production work on Gravity, his sci-fier starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. As for González Iñárritu and Cronenberg, they both have their names attached (however tenuously) to a variety of projects. Lionsgate needs someone fast: like, by next August.

If his speech at the Gotham Awards last year was genuine, Cronenberg might enjoy tackling something like Catching Fire. The director called himself “a complete fraud” after receiving a Career Tribute from a group honoring independent films, explaining that he has remained an “indie” filmmaker simply because “I've failed to sell out. I've tried endlessly, since the beginning, I've tried to sell out to Wall Street, to the studios, to the networks, to the bourgeoisie, to the mainstream, to the moneymen, and it has never worked out.” Well, if this Catching Fire “list” isn't pure b.s., maybe now it's his chance.

Cronenberg's next release, which should benefit from the Catching Fire publicity, is Cosmopolis, featuring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, and others. The film opens in France in May, and has a good shot at getting screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Catching Fire is set to star Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson.

April 10

Gary Ross The Hunger Games
Gary Ross, The Hunger Games

Gary Ross will not be directing The Hunger Games' sequel, Catching Fire. It was initially reported that Ross was out of the picture because he wanted to focus on his own projects. A day later, Deadline reported that negotiations were still ongoing, and that Ross had invested quite a bit of effort into Catching Fire to merely drop out like that.

Well, it has happened. Ross' official reason for quitting the production, as published at Deadline.com earlier this evening, is as follows:

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.

He then proceeds to praise Lionsgate and just about everybody else involved in The Hunger Games. Lionsgate's response was as follows:

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.

The Deadline report made no mention of salary disputes, though previous reports asserted that Lionsgate's offer had been considered problematic. No Gary Ross replacement has been announced as yet, though Lionsgate will likely going to do that soon, for Jennifer Lawrence is due to start filming 20th Century Fox's sequel to X-Men: First Class in January 2013.

Previous successful movie franchises whose directors were changed time and again include the Harry Potter (Chris Columbus, David Yates, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell) and the Twilight movies (Catherine Hardwicke, David Slade, Chris Weitz, Bill Condon). Even the early Star Wars movies had several directors (George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand).

On the other hand, Steven Spielberg remained attached to the Indiana Jones movies, while Sam Raimi stuck to Spider-Man, Michael Bay to Transformers, and Gore Verbinski to the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The Hunger Games movie franchise is based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling book trilogy. In addition to Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games stars Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. Catching Fire is scheduled to come out on Nov. 22, 2013.

Gary Ross / The Hunger Games photo: Murray Close / Lionsgate.

April 7

Gary RossGary Ross may still come back for Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, reports Deadline.com. Yesterday, an “exclusive” by indieWIRE/The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth asserted that Ross had “officially exited the franchise and will not direct the sequel, formally giving Lionsgate and Summit his notice earlier this week, that he will not be coming back.”

The article went on to claim that Ross had left the movie franchise-to-be not because of money (despite a “lowball salary offer”), but because “the burning desire simply isn't there to spend another couple of years with Katniss in the Capitol.”

Be that as it may, Deadline's Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming say they've heard “from multiple sources close to Catching Fire that director Gary Ross has not formally withdrawn from The Hunger Games sequel. Ross is off on a family vacation and couldn't be reached, but these internet reports that described his withdrawal as definitive are simply not accurate.”

Finke and Fleming add that “Ross lobbied hard to get The Hunger Games and turned it into the biggest hit of his directing career.” Not that Ross has had a long career as a director: Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, both featuring Tobey Maguire, are the only other feature films to his credit.

Prior to The Hunger Games, Deadline affirms, “he developed several serious historical dramatic projects under his deal at Universal that didn't get off the ground.” And that sounds kinda surprising, considering that in 2003 Seabiscuit grossed $120 million at the North American box office (though it flopped overseas with only $28 million) and went on to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Anyhow, Deadline expects Ross to be back behind the cameras for Catching Fire. Unless, that is, that “lowball salary offer” becomes a problem. And we're back to this issue being all about contractual matters.

In case Deadline has got its facts right, then that means bye-bye to Alfonso Cuarón, Debra Granik, and our own private choices, Margarethe von Trotta and Catherine Breillat. Sniff.

Gary Ross co-wrote The Hunger Games' screenplay with author Suzanne Collins and Breach / State of Play / Captain Phillips screenwriter Billy Ray. Slumdog Millionaire's Simon Beaufoy was brought in to assist with Catching Fire. The Hunger Games features Winter's Bone / Serena / House at the End of the Street / X-Men: First Class' Jennifer Lawrence, The Expendables 2 / AWOL / The Last Song's Liam Hemsworth, Red Dawn / Carmel / The Kids Are All Right's Josh Hutcherson, Movie 43 / What to Expect When You're Expecting / People Like Us' Elizabeth Banks, and Indecent Proposal / White Men Can't Jump's Woody Harrelson.

Also in the cast: Margin Call / The Devil Wears Prada / The Lovely Bones' Stanley Tucci, JFK / MASH / Ordinary People' Donald Sutherland, American Beauty / Loveless / The Time Being's Wes Bentley, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising / Race to Witch Mountain's Alexander Ludwig, Salvation Boulevard / The Healer's Isabelle Fuhrman, Sitting Babies / Running Wild's Jack Quaid, and Snow White and the Huntsman / Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / The Girl's Toby Jones.

Catching Fire is scheduled to come out on Nov. 22, 2013.

April 6

Gary Ross The Hunger Games
Gary Ross, The Hunger Games

Gary Ross won't be directing The Hunger Games' sequel Catching Fire, according to various online reports. The Pleasantville and Seabiscuit director wanted more money than Lionsgate was offering him, though some sources claim that Ross wasn't too keen on revisiting Katniss Everdeen and pals.

Now, would a more generous offer have sparked his interest in spending extra time with Katniss? And was the “low” offer a means for Lionsgate to get rid of Ross?

Either way, some have already begun suggesting various – quite disparate – names to replace Ross. Among those are Alfonso Cuarón, who directed Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban in 2004, and Debra Granik, who directed The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence in the Oscar-nominated Winter's Bone. Considering that the Hunger Games movies focus on Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss, surely Granik won't be the only woman mentioned as a welcome Ross replacement. (Kathryn Bigelow's name must have popped up somewhere.)

If a female filmmaker were to be hired, that would be a first for a major Hollywood franchise. After all, when Catherine Hardwicke directed Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in Twilight, that was before Twilight became a phenomenon. The first film in that franchise was a relatively low-budget production that became a sleeper megahit.

Now, if Lionsgate does indeed want a female director to helm Catching Fire, our suggestions would be Catherine Breillat, who would bring out the aesthetic qualities of the source material while adding extra dimensions to the story's romantic entanglements. Else, Margarethe von Trotta, who would emphasize the sociopolitical aspects of Collins' dystopian tale, thus grounding the characters in a relatable context.

Gary Ross co-wrote The Hunger Games' screenplay with author Suzanne Collins and Breach / State of Play / Captain Phillips screenwriter Billy Ray. In addition to Jennifer Lawrence, the film features The Expendables 2 / AWOL / The Last Song's Liam Hemsworth, Red Dawn / Carmel / The Kids Are All Right's Josh Hutcherson, Movie 43 / What to Expect When You're Expecting / People Like Us' Elizabeth Banks, and Seven Psychopaths / Zombieland's Woody Harrelson.

Also in the cast: Margin Call / Easy A / The Lovely Bones' Stanley Tucci, JFK / Eye of the Needle / Max Dugan Returns' Donald Sutherland, American Beauty / Loveless / The Time Being's Wes Bentley, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising / Race to Witch Mountain's Alexander Ludwig, Salvation Boulevard / The Healer's Isabelle Fuhrman, Sitting Babies / Running Wild's Jack Quaid, and Snow White and the Huntsman / Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / The Girl's Toby Jones.

Catching Fire is scheduled to come out on Nov. 22, 2013.

Gary Ross / The Hunger Games photo: Murray Close / Lionsgate.

Correction: We'd initially had Tom Hanks as Sandra Bullock's Gravity co-star. Hanks and Bullock were both featured instead in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

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3 Comments to 'Hunger Games Part 2' Director: Francis Lawrence In & Gary Ross Out - Good Choice?

  1. art0

    Not sure Francis Lawrence is the best choice. He directed that Will Smith and directed Water for Elephants. I still wish that Gary Ross had continued with The Hunger Games series. I think that Catching Fire would have been a better movie than the first one.

  2. sparrow21

    YES…. ALFONSO CUARON! BABY!!!

  3. sparrow21

    Been saying this for ages… GET ALFONSO CUARON!!! HE'S PERFECT FOR THIS!!! How can you not picture him doing this!? LIONSGATE SHOULD WATCH “CHILDREN OF MEN”. See how perfect it is for “Mockingjay”? (Alfonso Cuaron might not accept two films form the series, - like he did with HP - But hell, it's better to have him at least once than none at all.)
    ALFONSO CUARON ALL THE WAY!!!!!!!