Francis Lawrence Is Lionsgate's Choice to Direct 'Hunger Games' Sequel 'Catching Fire' (Exclusive)

After a quick but fairly exhaustive search, Lionsgate has chosen Francis Lawrence to direct the Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire.

Sources say that Lawrence will receive an official offer this afternoon. If he accepts and a deal can be worked out, he will replace Gary Ross, who directed the first installment of the hugely successful franchise.

The hunt has been a fast and furious one, with the field narrowing down to Lawrence, the director of I Am Legend and Water for Elephants, and Bennett Miller, the director of the acclaimed Brad Pitt baseball movie Moneyball. Both directors met with the studio today, according to sources, and Lionsgate executives have made their pick.

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Lawrence was deemed the frontrunner by observers simply because of his open schedule. Miller is working his way to a December start for Foxcatcher, a true-life project centering on John Du Pont that has been his focus for several years. Miller has even lined up Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo for the drama, and delaying it would have been a Herculean task.

Other directors on the shortlist of Catching Fire contenders were Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy), Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Babel), Cary Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) and Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code).

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Lawrence’s selection raises the question of the state of the Catching Fire screenplay. Ross, who is a writer as much as he is a director, worked on the Hunger Games script and was planning on spending two months honing Fire, working from a script penned by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). The producers and the new director now will need to keep working with Beaufoy or hire new scribes to hammer out the script before shooting begins.

The moviemakers are facing a ticking clock, especially since Lionsgate set a Nov. 22, 2013 release date for Catching Fire, the second of four planned movies based on Suzanne Collins' trilogy of books. Also coming into play is that shooing for Fire likely needs to be done by late December so that star Jennifer Lawrence, who is not related to the Austrian-born director, can begin shooting the sequel to X-Men: First Class. Fox, which is making that movie, has an option on the actress that supercedes her Lionsgate commitment.

Lawrence is repped by CAA and 3 Arts and attorney Gretchen Rush. 

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