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UPDATE: After several days of negotiations with Lionsgate, Gary Ross has ultimately decided to officially step down as director of the "Hunger Games" sequel, "Catching Fire," according to Heat Vision.
The film's pre-production schedule seems to be the major factor in his decision. "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," Ross said in an official statement.
Ross' departure from the franchise comes hot on the heels of star Josh Hutcherson expressing his belief that an agreement could be reached between the director and the studio. "There is not much doubt in my mind he'll be doing it. I don't think there's a chance he won't," Hutcherson told ComingSoon.net. "I couldn't imagine making another movie without him."
Lionsgate is taking it well, at least according to their official statement: "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."
So the hunt is now officially on for a director who can have "Catching Fire" ready to start shooting in August. Stay tuned to see if one of our proposed candidates for who should be passed the "Hunger Games" torch ends up being the winner.
You can read Gary Ross' entire statement at Heat Vision.
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Just when one flame got doused for the first "The Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire," and Jennifer Lawrence's potential schedule kerfuffle with the "X-Men: First Class" sequel was resolved, another has arisen. And it's a veritable inferno if you ask us.
According to The Playlist, "The Hunger Games" director Gary Ross has now pulled out of directing the sequel "Catching Fire" — not just for the salary issues revealed earlier this week, but also because "the burning desire simply isn't there to spend another couple of years with Katniss in the Capitol" and he "is looking to change things up for this next effort."
This is quite contrary to Ross' prior public attitude about "Catching Fire," as he previously expressed his commitment to returning for movie two, but Playlist reports that Ross fancied the first story more than the other two.
Reportedly, he's got another screenplay (his own) all lined up and ready to go into production, and he can make a lot more cash with that project than by helming the second "Hunger Games" installment.
This is a major bummer for those who enjoyed Ross' work on "The Hunger Games," obviously, and there's no word yet on which other directors Lionsgate is eyeing to replace Ross. With the planned production start date of August creeping ever nearer, the pressure is definitely on to find someone (and quick).
"Catching Fire" is scheduled for release on Nov. 22, 2013.
Originally published on Friday, April 6, 2012 at 11:55 a.m. ET.