Director cites scheduling conflicts

Gary Ross, director of “The Hunger Games,” has decided against directing the sequel “Catching Fire” for Lionsgate.

“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,” he said in a statement released Tuesday evening by Lionsgate.

Ross has said in recent months, during interviews to promo “The Hunger Games,” that he was planning to direct the sequel but the deal was never completed. At the March 12 premiere at L.A. Live, Ross told Variety that he was working on the details on starting production on the second film.

The studio has set a Nov. 22, 2013, release date for “Catching Fire” and has locked in “The Hunger Games” cast for that pic — inlcuding Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth — with shooting expected to take place this fall.

Lionsgate said Tuesday that it was “very sorry” that Ross had exited “Catching Fire.”

“We were really looking forward to making the movie with him,” the studio said. “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.”

Lionsgate has grossed over $302 million domestically in three weeks from “The Hunger Games.” International grosses have topped $150 million.

Ross co-wrote “The Hunger Games” script with Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray. The “Catching Fire” script has been penned by “Slumdog Millionaire” scribe Simon Beaufoy.

Ross said his dealings with Lionsgate were not acrimonious.

“I loved making ‘The Hunger Games’ – it was the happiest experience of my professional life,” Ross said. “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.”

For Ross, the “Hunger Games” directing gig was his first since “Seabiscuit” in 2003.

Reports that Ross had decided to exit had emerged last week but Ross and Lionsgate had refused to comment until Tuesday night’s announcement.

It’s not uncommon for studios to employ different directors on franchise properties in recent years. The eight Harry Potter films were directed by four directors and Summit Entertainment has used Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, David Slade and Bill Condon for the first four “Twilight” films; Condon also directed “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” which opens in November.

Lionsgate is planning to split “Mockingjay,” the final “Hunger Games” book in the Suzanne Collins trilogy, into two films.

Ross concluded his statement by thanking “Hunger Games” fans.

“To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust,” he said. “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.”

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