I couldn’t resist!

Over the last week there has been rampant speculation about the future of director Gary Ross and the Hunger Games franchise. Early reports were that he was leaving, but then a half-hearted denial from Lionsgate just before Easter weekend made it clear that negotiations were ongoing. The Playlist says Ross told Lionsgate he didn’t intend to come back early last week citing scheduling concerns, but Deadline claims Lionsgate execs were “shocked” by his decision on Tuesday to exit Catching Fire. Meanwhile The Hollywood Reporter maintains that talks were contentious and were more money-centric. So what’s the truth?

This past week of “no no, we’re still talking about it” looked less like actual negotiating time and more like finding the “how we all save face” option of announcing Ross’s exit. At no point did it look like Ross would be returning and those “we’re still talking” PR statements from late last week smacked of stall tactics, not actual information. There is some tight scheduling as Lionsgate is already committed to a 11/22/2013 release date for Catching Fire, which leaves only four months to prep a production that would need to lens in August, because Jennifer Lawrence is also under contract to Fox for the X-Men franchise, which has first priority, and is due to shoot in January.

Ross objected to this tight scheduling, and rightly so. Rushing franchises like this never pays off. Every time Harry Potter stopped for a breather, the franchise got better and better. Christopher Nolan put off The Dark Knight Rises because he wasn’t satisfied with his script. Captain America 2, also on the hunt for a new director, held their release until 2014. On the other end of the scale, you know who rushed production after the first film was a big hit? Twilight. In fact, Summit, now merged with Lionsgate, used the exact same “scheduling conflicts” excuse when Catherine Hardwicke parted ways with the franchise, right down to citing a tight pre-production period not leaving enough time for scripting. And in that case, the “scheduling conflicts” line was the face-saving public excuse for sacking Hardwicke after a dramatic production.                                                                                                         

The Hunger Games was not a dramatic production. Or, it was no more dramatic than any production involving a young, attractive cast working in relative isolation (summer camp + college dorm). And I don’t think Ross was canned—I believe he opted out. I just don’t quite buy the “scheduling conflicts”. Money is the sea on which the good ship Hollywood sails, and Ross was already getting 5% off the back end and would be asking for a substantial raise on his upfront salary as well. Lionsgate is already spending considerably on these movies and will have to give their principal actors a raise; they’ll be looking for places to save money and a cheaper director is a good start. Combining touchy money talks with scripting concerns is a recipe for a business divorce.

So now the question is—who will direct Catching Fire? I think he needs to work with a co-director because he doesn’t give a sh*t about storytelling, but I’m intrigued by the idea of Tarsem Singh taking on the Capitol and the arena. Or how about a man with a dark, twisty vision like Guillermo del Toro? Or Gore Verbinski (proven franchise guy with a flair for the arcane)? What do you think? Who should take over the Hunger Games?