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'Hunger Games' Sequel May Be Delayed By Tense Contract Negotiations

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Contract talks with "Hunger Games" director Gary Ross are reportedly creating tension for Lionsgate in the wake of key executives' departure.

For a studio that is celebrating its $363 million-and-counting hit "The Hunger Games," Lionsgate seems to be in an awkward spot.

"Hunger Games" screenwriter-director Gary Ross is pricing himself above what the studio wants to pay for the blockbuster's sequel, "Catching Fire," and tensions could delay a hoped-for fall shoot date, The Hollywood Reporter wrote Wednesday. The second installment is scheduled for a Nov. 22, 2013 release.

Lionsgate and the director didn't even begin negotiations until just three weeks before "The Hunger Games" opening, when the teen-targeted film about reality TV style death matches appeared to be a sure-fire smash, the trade daily said. It added that Ross has yet to revise the script for the sequel, from the second book of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy.

Ross has some bargaining power. For a relatively cheap $3 million salary (plus a reported 5 percent of profits), he delivered one of Hollywood's most cost-efficient hits in recent memory, finishing under-budget at $78 million, departing Lionsgate executive Joe Drake told The Huffington Post in an earlier story.

Word of sputtering negotiations comes amid continued silence over the departure of key Lionsgate executives behind "The Hunger Games." Drake, the motion picture president and co-COO of the studio, shepherded the project from inception to fruition, along with production president Alli Shearmur. (Former Disney big Nina Jacobson brought the project and a reasonably priced book deal to Lionsgate.)

The Lionsgate honchos have apparently been replaced by executives from Summit, the "Twilight"-birthing studio that Lionsgate purchased for $412 million in January.

It remains unclear whether Drake was flat-out fired, walked away a winner of his own accord, or a combination of both as he reportedly negotiates his farewell.

Neither Drake nor Shearmur would consent to an interview, a studio spokeswoman told HuffPost.

Hollywood is a funny place. On Wall Street, executives can lose billions and still get multimillion dollar bonuses. But in show business, the brains behind a potential billion-dollar series can be shown the door.

Vulture had a sharp take on Lionsgate's predicament: Either the studio felt the executives were expendable (not likely) or their exits were a condition of the merger, which will result in more cash flow as a result of Lionsgate now able to profit on another "Twilight" film. Lots of nuance to either possibility, including recent flops by both studios.

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