Did ‘Hunger Games’ director wimp out on sequel?

Meriah Doty
Movie Talk

You would think any director would jump at the chance to helm the sequel to "The Hunger Games"—a mega blockbuster that has so-far earned $306 million in the U.S. alone. Not Gary Ross. He has dropped out of "Catching Fire," the sequel which is set to land in theaters November 22, 2013. It is simply not enough time, Ross said in recent press release:

"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."

[PHOTOS: The Hunger Games: What's Next For The Cast? ]

A combination of Ross' directing style and star Jennifer Lawrence's schedule are thought to have steered his decision to bail. Ross has only directed four movies and is known to take several years in between projects. He has written the scripts of all of his directorial efforts, which likely accounts for the extra time needed.

Lawrence is committed to shooting the "X-Men" sequel in January 2013 and is required to complete her scenes in "Catching Fire" before that date. After a studio battle for her time, Lawrence is said to be set to start working on "Catching Fire" in late summer, which allows for a window of about four months of shooting before she has to move on to "X-Men." "The Hunger Games" also took roughly four months to shoot. But compared to "Twilight," that seems like eons—that series' first installment only took two months to shoot and mere weeks of pre-production.

Given that there is now roughly four months to ready the script and pre-production, and four months to shoot with Lawrence, I'm left to wonder if Ross is simply wimping out. Sure, he's been given about a third less time to get the second installment ready (he had about six months for "Hunger Games" instead of the four he was allotted for "Catching Fire"). But it also seems the director has grown accustomed to spans of several years in between projects: He directed "Pleasantville," which was released in 1998, followed up by "Seabiscuit" five years later (released in 2003). His next directing role would be "The Hunger Games" several years later.

A recent Hollywood Reporter article further explains:

Ross, who has had Oscar nominations three times for screenplay (Big, Dave and Seabiscuit), felt that he had to focus on the script for at least two months, leaving him only six to eight weeks to prepare for shooting.

Regardless of Ross' involvement, the franchise shouldn't suffer. Judging by the history of both the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" series, Ross' departure won't affect fan fervor or box office dollars—both film series played host to several directors.

Fans are reacting on social media, but there is no marked groundswell of outcries on Ross' behalf thus far. On Twitter, some fans expressed disappointment while others were optimistic: "Hopefully the new guy won't abuse shaky-cam, and will add some depth/emotion to characters," tweeted Travis Manick. StephanieWLK pleaded with Ross to stay: "Only a fan is capable of making the trilogy an epic. Please consider." Marcus Pyne told @YahooMovies jokingly, "i would like gary ross to replace gary ross ><."

What do you think of Ross' decision to bow out? Comment below.

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