Francis Lawrence’s ‘Catching Fire’ To-Do List

As a new helmer takes over 'The Hunger Games,' Hobnobbing examines the challenges (and opportunities) that lie ahead.

The reaping has concluded, with Francis Lawrence officially named victor in the contest to direct “Catching Fire,” according to a release from Lionsgate.

It’s been a fraught few weeks for fans following director Gary Ross’ announcement that he would not helm the series’ second installment. Numerous directors were reportedly in contention for the coveted position, including Alfonso Cuarón, David Cronenberg, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Bennett Miller. Lionsgate and producer Nina Jacobson ultimately singled out Lawrence, who most recently shepherded “Water for Elephants” from the page to the screen.

“From the very beginning of this brilliant trilogy’s journey from page to screen, our first priority has been to stay true to the heart and soul of Suzanne Collins’ powerful stories. From my first conversation with Francis, I knew he would make a great partner for both me and Suzanne,” producer Nina Jacobson said in a statement. “His passion for ‘Catching Fire’ and inspired ideas for a faithful adaptation make him the perfect director for this movie. I know this will be a wonderful collaboration and I cannot wait to get started.”

With a November 23, 2013, release date looming, Lawrence has a lot to accomplish within the next 18 months. From currying favor among Panem’s faithful to casting a cabal of characters, let’s examine the opportunities and challenges that await the director:

Fan Following
Say what you will about Ross’ vision for and execution of the first installment of Suzanne Collins’ series, but the director won over fickle fans before a single frame ever rolled by, positioning himself as an acolyte first and director second. Lawrence is already off to a winning start, posting a special message for fans on Facebook:

Hello fellow Hunger Games fans! I just want you all to know how unbelievably excited and honored I am to be a part of Catching Fire. At the end of the day, all of the work that I put in to my movies is for you — the fans. Make sure to post and let me know what you’re most excited to see in this adaptation as we aim to make something truly faithful and spectacular!

Lawrence can continue building consensus by giving fans further insight into his vision. How about sharing a sneak peek of concept art? Or, as filming progresses, taking a page out of “Breaking Dawn” director Bill Condon’s playbook and sharing on-set images early? Involving fans during the film’s infancy will keep fans eager and engaged.

Study Sequels
There are few more feared curses than the sophomore slump. Propelling an established narrative forward in an engaging and meaningful manner can sometimes be tricky, but it’s an art that directors like Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) have mastered. Better yet, Lawrence would be wise to look at franchises helmed by multiple directors (hello, “Harry Potter”) to strategize a smooth transition.

Find Finnick (and Johanna and … )
Lawrence’s first high-profile decision as director will likely be casting the new players introduced during the Quarter Quell. Tributes Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason are of special interest to fans, with casting speculation running rampant. (Unsurprisingly, we have a few suggestions for the hunk and the hottie too.) The caliber of actors Lawrence lines up will say plenty about the sort of sequel he plans to direct. In other words: Make it good, Francis!

Stronger CGI
If there was a chief complaint among fans regarding Ross’ work on “The Hunger Games,” it was that the Girl on Fire effects were largely lackluster. Lawrence has the opportunity to improve here, and with a brand-new, intricately designed arena, the helmer can create his own vision of the Games that’s not reliant upon the precedent set by Ross.

Phone Famous Friends
T. Bone Burnett is one of the best scorers in the biz, and his sensibility helped set the dire tone of the dystopian drama, so we hope he’ll sign back up for the sequel. But, as is often the case, director shakeups can lead to staffing shakeups, so if Burnett is no longer game, Lawrence should take advantage of his musically inclined mates from his days as a video director. Aren’t you at least a tiny bit curious what a Lady Gaga-produced “Catching Fire” score would sound like?

What do you think should be on Francis Lawrence’s to-do list? Sound off in the comments below and tweet me @amymwilk with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

Earlier ‘Hunger Games’ columns
+ ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: What’s In It For ‘Hunger Games’ Fans?
+ ‘Catching Fire’: Five Reasons To Be Stoked
+ ‘Catching Fire’ Director: Who Could Carry The Torch?
+ ‘Hunger Games’ Postmortem: Five Lessons For ‘Catching Fire’

Check out everything we’ve got on “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

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