The Hunger Games just wrapped up its third weekend in theaters and, naturally, Catching Fire chatter is already taking over. Making a movie is a very temperamental process, so while the Hunger Games sequel does have a definitive due date, November 22nd, 2013, the road to that release could veer in all sorts of directions.
Search for a Director
We’ve been whipped around quite a bit with this whole Gary Ross/Catching Fire issue, but just last night it came to an official close. After a lengthy back and forth, some reports claiming Ross was a no-go for Catching Fire and then others saying it was still possible, we received the man's definitive decision: Gary Ross will not continue to direct the franchise.
According to Deadline, Ross’ exit “shocked” a Lionsgate executive. In a personal statement, Ross said, “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 goes on to talk about how much he enjoyed making The Hunger Games and refutes claims that he’s had difficulties negotiating with the studio. In fact, Ross noted, “They have also been very understanding of me through this difficult decision.”
While it’s nice that Ross is leaving the franchise on a positive note, the news will undoubtedly disappoint many fans, some of which even created a website in his honor, GaryRossIsBoss.com. Their effort was notably expansive, as they managed to accumulate over 150 submissions in support of Ross sticking with the franchise while the Gary Ross “Twittion” has over 1,800 signatures. Based on this recent THR article, I was getting the feeling that talks were heading south, but I also considered the idea of Ross staying on in a producing position, that way he could still have a hand on Catching Fire without having to take on all that responsibility. But, what’s done is done, so now it’s time to move on, and Lionsgate better get moving – fast.
Now that we know we’re getting a new filmmaker behind the lens, let the speculation begin! Don’t let Ross’ exit bum you out; there are some really fantastic options out there, perhaps even another Oscar nominee. Of the names swirling around the rumor mill, I wouldn’t mind seeing Matt Reeves, Kathryn Bigelow or maybe Gavin O'Connor getting the gig.
And now for the next big question: When will this new director sign on the dotted line? Looking at The Hunger Games' timeline, Ross signed on in November of 2010, the film went into pre-production in January of 2011, began filming in May, wrapped in September and then had a little over five months for post. There was a nice chunk of time for each stage of the process. With Catching Fire, on the other hand, development and pre-production will have to be much swifter. Should the film be ready to shoot in August or September, it's got to go into pre-production by May and obviously must have a director lined up before that. In true Hollywood fashion, the picking process will likely be quite drawn out with rumored options hitting the web in an instant, a short list arriving soon thereafter followed by the big winner by the end of the month.
While Ross say’s he’s leaving on amicable terms, his reasoning is cause for concern. Regardless of who directs Catching Fire, Lionsgate is going to have to put this monster of a movie together fast. Sure a lot of the elements are in place, but Catching Fire still offers many new challenges. There’s no dout in my mind that the studio will pull everything together in time, but when you’re making a movie, you always want more time.
It wouldn't be a surprise if Lionsgate held onto the large majority of the creative team, but of course we'll be in need of a few more stars and must make sure the veterans have their schedules cleared. Apparently Jennifer Lawrence is good to go now that 20th Century Fox announced plans to shoot the X-Men: First Class sequel in January, and considering none of the other major players are involved in big franchises -- including Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson -- they all should be good to go.
Now that leaves the Catching Fire newcomers. We’ll explore the nitty gritty in the Catching Fire 101 edition of the Countdown, but the key characters to pay attention to are certainly Plutarch Heavensbee, Finnick Odair, Johanna Mason and Beetee of District 3. Before these roles can be cast, Catching Fire needs a director, so assuming that happens within the next month, we can at least expect to see casting rumors immediately after that.
But don’t forget -- the casting announcements for The Hunger Games (and for most films in general) arrived quite close to shooting time. We first found out Lawrence snagged the leading role in March, just two months before filming began. Hemsworth and Hutcherson weren’t confirmed until the first week of April and then it was tribute casting madness until one of the very last main roles was cast, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, and that happened well into the production process. So, speculate all you want (I know I will), but there’s a pretty good chance the cast won’t be filled out until much closer to the fall.
For those who aren’t "in the know" when it comes to Catching Fire, filming locations and the shooting scheduling in general might be a bit tough to compile this time around. Rather than the story taking place during the timespan of the Games – from the Reaping to the final death in the arena – Catching Fire covers the Victory Tour, which happens in the dead of winter. In fact, after Katniss and Peeta return home from that trip during which they visit each District of Panem and the Capitol, there’s a blizzard in District 12. Assuming the filmmakers stick with the same location in North Carolina, that material will have to be shot towards the end of the year.
On top of that, the climate is also drastically different in each District. While it’s a chilly winter in District 12, the sun still beats down on District 11 where the terrain is also far different and the citizens spend their days working in fields rather than coalmines.
Once the tour wraps, the focus shifts back to the Games and those happen during the country’s warmer days, so there’s no trouble working in North Carolina just as they did last year for the Reaping and pre-Games time in the Capitol. However, another problem crops up inside the arena. The 75th Games cannot be shot in a North Carolina forest. A key component of the Games is the ever-changing landscape. Each year, the tributes are thrown into a new terrain with new threats. For the Quarter Quell, they get some saltwater surrounded by a jungle. Clearly that ain’t going down in the US.
What exactly are we looking at here? It’s really impossible to pinpoint exact dates for certain announcements, but we certainly can speculate based on the first film’s pre-production, production and post-production process. So, in that case, here we go …
Director Selection: April 2012
Pre-Production Begins: After Director is Chosen
Rumors About Casting of New Key Players: After Director is Chosen to When They’re Actually Selected
Casting of New Key Players: June to August 2012
Production Begins: End of August 2012
Production Wraps: January of 2013
Post-Production Begins: February of 2013
Teaser Trailer Arrives: April of 2013
Theatrical Trailer Arrives: July of 2013
Catching Fire Arrives: November 22, 2013
Again, these are only very rough estimates, so please take these dates with a grain of salt.
Before wrapping up, we’ve got some fun Hunger Games updates. Creation Entertainment is holding a Hunger Games convention in Chicago in June. Click here for all the details. A huge congratulations to our very own Glimmer, Leven Rambin, who just snagged a major role in the Percy Jackson sequel, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters. As much as we all love The Hunger Games, we know how to take a good joke, too. This weekend, on SNL, Sophia Vergara got her Hunger Games on in an absolutely hilarious skit.
The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. There are 589 days until the release of Catching Fire.