Gary Ross has officially stepped away from directing "Catching Fire," the sequel to "The Hunger Games."
"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.
Despite reports that the director and "Hunger Games" studio Lionsgate were at odds over salary demands for "Catching Fire," Ross said there were no hard feelings.
"I loved making 'The Hunger Games' -- it was the happiest experience of my professional life," he 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."
Ross potentially made that decision sometime last week. On Friday, Indiewire's blog The Playlist reported Ross had stepped away from "Catching Fire" because he wanted to try something different. "Ross has never been a filmmaker that repeats himself," the site wrote, "and we're told the burning desire simply isn't there to spend another couple of years with Katniss in the Capitol."
The Playlist story was discounted by Deadline.com's Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming on Saturday, who wrote that Ross hadn't left the franchise and was likely to return. Whether things changed in the last two days or were already decided is unclear, but THR did report that Ross and Lionsgate were back at the negotiating table on Monday.
"We’re very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct 'Catching Fire,'" Lionsgate said in a statement. "We were really looking forward to making the movie with him. He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work." Lionsgate said it hopes to work with Ross again in the future.
As for "Catching Fire," the search for a new director starts immediately. Production on the sequel is scheduled to start in August.
PHOTOS: 10 Directors Who Should Direct "Catching Fire"
Why He Should Do It: No one does big action better than Michael Bay (true), and "Catching Fire" is filled with big action. Why He Shouldn't Do It: He'll have Jennifer Lawrence running around in a string bikini and hire Victoria's Secret angels as the new Tributes.
Why She Should Do It: Forget gender: Kathryn Bigelow is one of the best action directors in Hollywood. She could bring a gritty realism to "Catching Fire" that even Gary Ross lacked in "The Hunger Games." One question: can she do PG-13? Why She Shouldn't Do It: She's too busy doing real movies, like that one about killing Osama Bin Laden.
Why He Should Do It: Real talk: "Safe House" might have been the best pure action movie to come out in five years. Why He Shouldn't Do It: Espinosa's got the frenetic shaky-cam thing down cold, but can he actually do anything with characters?
Why He Should Do It: Speaking of shaky-cam! Paul Greengrass invented that thing! Let him get out there in the arena with his handheld camera and bring the motion-sickness pills. Why He Shouldn't Do It: Everyone loves the Jason Bourne movies, but aren't they kinda a little boring?
Why He Should Do It: From Beetee -- who is basically described as Ben Linus -- to Finnick and Johanna, "Catching Fire" plays out like an extended episode of "Lost." Who better then but frequent "Lost" director Jack Bender to take the reins on this one? Why He Shouldn't Do It: Bender isn't a big name, and he's never helmed something as large as "Catching Fire." He does look like Greengrass, though.
Why He Should Do It: David Yates directed the final four Harry Potter films with a yeoman's effort, and his steady hand would probably work well in calming the inevitable nerves of everyone involved in "Catching Fire." Why He Shouldn't Do It: Love "The Hunger Games" and all, but it's no "Harry Potter." Can you drive a Toyota after driving a Bentley? (Get it, because he's British!)
Why He Should Do It: Gavin O'Connor brought great emotion to "Warrior," a tricky move since the film was about ultimate fighting. He could do the same for "Catching Fire," ratcheting up the emotion where Ross did not. Why He Shouldn't Do It: Like Bender, he's never been involved in something this big. Unlike Bender, he doesn't have the readily visible action chops.
Why He Should Do It: Because Doug Liman is kinda crazy and awesome and will have Lionsgate executives pulling their hair out. Why He Shouldn't Do It: Because Doug Liman is kinda crazy and awesome and will have Lionsgate executives pulling their hair out.
Why He Should Do It: David Fincher already brought one of the strongest female heroines of the last decade to the big screen with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," so why not another? Why He Shouldn't Do It: Would Fincher's notoriously finicky style translate to a massive action spectacle? "Take 105, Jennifer!"
Why He Should Do It: With its lush nature shots and moments of silence, "The Hunger Games" looked like a Terrence Malick movie. Let's get him on board for part two! Why He Shouldn't Do It: Lionsgate wants this thing out in November of 2013, not 2023.