Despite word from Deadline over the weekend that their sources were claiming Gary Ross was still in play as director on Catching Fire, the much-anticipated Hunger Games sequel due out in November 2013, Deadline now reports (via statements from both Ross and Lionsgate) that he will not be stepping behind the camera one more time.
"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.
I loved making The Hunger Games – it was the happiest experience of my professional life. Lionsgate was supportive of me in a manner that few directors ever experience in a franchise: they empowered me to make the film I wanted to make and backed the movie in a way that requires no explanation beyond the remarkable results. And contrary to what has been reported, negotiations with Lionsgate have not been problematic. They have also been very understanding of me through this difficult decision.
I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends.
To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It’s been a wonderful experience."
"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 what does this mean from all 5 trillion of us who just want a kickass sequel that remains true to the book while besting the original by being even more entertaining and life-altering?
Look for Lionsgate to begin viciously searching for a new director. In the coming days you'll hear rumors, read wishlists and envision a million different ways this thing can shake out. Hopefully the search will be a short one, and we'll know our new director soon.