Francis Lawrence, helmer of “I Am Legend” and “Water for Elephants,” has been chosen to direct “Catching Fire,” the sequel to “The Hunger Games,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Lionsgate planned Thursday to extend Lawrence an official offer to replace Gary Ross as the next director of the wildly successful fledgling franchise, reports the trade publication.
Just last week, Ross confirmed that he would not return to direct the second film based on Suzanne Collin’s best-selling young adult book trilogy.
“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,” Ross said in a statement.
As Ross noted, time is of the essence when it comes to “Catching Fire.” Lionsgate intends to release the second of four planned “Hunger Games” movies in theaters on Nov. 22, 2013.
Shooting for “Catching Fire” could begin as soon as August and likely needs to be done just after the first of next year so “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence, who is not related to the Austria-born director, can begin shooting the sequel to “X-Men: First Class” in late January. Fox, which is making the new “X-Men” movie, has an option on the actress that supersedes her Lionsgate commitment, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
With the tight time frame looming, Lionsgate conducted what the trade publication called a “quick but fairly exhaustive search” for a director to replace Ross, with the hunt reportedly coming down to Lawrence and “Moneyball” helmer Bennett Miller.
But Lawrence’s open schedule likely helped make him Lionsgate’s pick: Miller is working on a December start for “Foxcatcher,” a true-life project about industrial heir/sports enthusiast/murderer John Du Pont that the filmmaker has has been working on for several years. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Miller has lined up Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo for the drama, which would make delaying it for “Catching Fire” rather problematic.
Other directors on the shortlist for “Catching Fire” 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”).
Lawrence got his start as a popular director of music videos for Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Green Day and more. He made the jump to feature films with the 2005 comic book adaptation “Constantine.”
Unlike Ross, who is both a director and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Lawrence is not known as a scribe. So provided Lawrence and Lionsgate hash out a deal for him to take the “Catching Fire” helm, the studio’s attention now turns to preparing the script, which Oscar-winning scribe Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) is already working on.
“Catching Fire” presents more of a challenge to condense and adapt than “The Hunger Games,” since it goes beyond the arena of the titular televised death match to delve into the political unrest that begins to bloom into an all-out rebellion in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem.
Collins’ best-selling trilogy is set in a not-too-distant dystopian future in which North American society has collapsed and been replaced by Panem. Every year two teenagers from each of the country’s 12 districts are summoned to the corrupt Capitol to participate in the deadly “Hunger Games,” a spectacle televised throughout the land and intended to punish the districts for a long-ago uprising. The books follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough 16-year-old huntress from poor, remote District 12, who volunteers for the Games after her younger sister is selected in a random drawing. Over the course of the trilogy, Katniss unwittingly becomes the symbol of a revolution.
“The Hunger Games” has topped the domestic box office for the past four weekends, opening in theaters March 23 and earning $155 million in its debut weekend, the third-best domestic box-office bow ever in terms of of revenue. It has made almost $341 million domestically so far, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
IMAX Corporation and Lionsgate today announced that due to overwhelming demand, “The Hunger Games” will return to more than 100 IMAX digital theater across North America on next Friday, April 27. The film will play for a one-week special return engagement through May 3.