Helmer set for Lionsgate's 'Hunger Games' sequel

Francis Lawrence has closed his deal to direct Lionsgate’s “Catching Fire,” two weeks after the studio offered him the gig.

Lionsgate is planning to shoot the movie starting in the fall for a Nov. 22, 2013 release date. “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross ankled the sequel on April 10, citing a “fixed and tight production schedule” as his key reason for exiting.

Fox is planning to start its “X-Men: First Class” sequel in January with “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence — no relation to Francis Lawrence — committed to the superhero pic.

Suzanne Collins’ “Catching Fire” story features a special edition of the Hunger Games every quarter-century in which tributes are “reaped” from the victors of past games. Among the key new characters is Finnick, a combatant in the second book who leads a revolt against the Capitol, and the head Gamemaker in the second book who turns out to be working stealthily for the uprising.

“Slumdog Millionaire” screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is crafting the “Fire” script.

“It is truly an honor and a privilege to bring ‘Catching Fire,’ the second chapter of Suzanne’s beloved trilogy, to the big screen,” Lawrence said in a statement. “I fell in love with the characters, the themes and the world she created and this chapter opens all of these elements up in such a thrilling, emotional and surprising way.”

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, and Woody Harrelson will return in their roles. The film will be produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force with producer Jon Kilik.

Lawrence, a native of Austria, broke into show business as a music video director and landed his first feature gig on 2005″s “Constantine.” He then directed “I Am Legend” and “Water for Elephants.”

Lionsgate has not set the release dates for the final two films in the franchise, based on the concluding “Mockingjay” tome in Collins’ trilogy.

Lawrence is repped by CAA and 3 Arts.

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