By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 11, 2012 at 9:59AM
So, writer-director Gary Ross, having helped make "The Hunger Games" into a gigantic hit, has decided to move on to new pastures. As we reported last week, Ross will be focusing on a new project, and after a few days, Lionsgate officially confirmed (admitted) he will not be helming "Catching Fire," with both the studio and the director issuing formal statements.
Which leaves Lionsgate needing to find someone to replace him, and find someone soon. They have a script from "Slumdog Millionaire" writer Simon Beaufoy, a release date of November 22, 2013, and a scheduling window they need to hit before Jennifer Lawrence has to move on to shooting the "X-Men: First Class" sequel. With all that in mind, we've picked out five names who we think would be good candidates to fill the hole left by Ross on "Catching Fire." Bear in mind, given the studio won't likely be spending big cash on a new helmer, coupled with their desire to maximize profitability, whoever gets chosen next probably won't be an A-list name, with the selection skewing toward relative newcomers, rising talents or even helmers best known for TV work. Essentially, they will be directors who won't disrupt things too much the second time around, and who will be able to get a movie rolling with the brief four-month start time that, in part, prompted Ross to move on. Check out our choices, and then tell us your own suggestions in the comments section below.
Why He Could Do It: A graduate of both the Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams schools, with writing/producing credits on "Buffy," "Angel," "Alias" and "Lost," Goddard graduated to features by penning the found-footage monster movie "Cloverfield" four years back. But it's this weekend that he'll really start turning heads, making his directorial debut on "The Cabin In The Woods," co-written with Whedon. It's one of The Playlist's favorite films of the year so far, and while we can't say exactly why the film's last act is going to land Goddard on a lot of wishlists (for fear of ruining the film's surprises), it does show that the director can handle an impressive scope on a relatively meager budget. Plus his earlier scripting efforts suggest he can deal with emotion and character work just as ably. Lionsgate are putting out "The Cabin In The woods," too, so might be keen to keep Goddard inside the family.
Why He Might Not: The film hasn't opened yet, and if the box office doesn't live up to the hype, Lionsgate may not be willing to give him the gig. He also might be seen as too irony-happy for a relatively straight-faced franchise. Plus there's a small handful of sloppy directorial moments in 'Cabin' (amongst a lot of greatness) that give us slight pause for a film on a much bigger scale. Also, Goddard's going to have a lot of offers, and may find some of them more enticing than picking up someone else's franchise. Finally, as a writer, he'd likely want to put his own stamp on the script, and there may simply not be enough time for that.
Why She Could Do It: Jenkins hasn't directed a feature film since her 2003 drama "Monster," which won Charlize Theron an Oscar, but she impressed many with her Emmy-winning work on the pilot for AMC's "The Killing" (as well as gigs on "Arrested Development" and "Entourage"). And it's the cable crime procedural that's seen her make waves back in the feature world: last year, she became Marvel's surprise first choice to direct superhero sequel "Thor 2." Creative differences meant she eventually stepped aside, but she's clearly on studio wishlists. If "Monster" and "The Killing" are anything to go by, she's clearly skilled with the more dramatic side of things, and presumably the Marvel consideration meant that they were confident she could handle big action pieces as well. Plus, as the biggest female-fronted franchise, wouldn't it be nice to have a woman in charge?
Why She Might Not: She was basically straight-up fired by Marvel (to the fury of star Natalie Portman), which suggests she probably wasn't lying down at the behest of the studio, and Lionsgate may be a little perturbed by that -- they won't want to rock the boat at this stage. Plus, the action and effects take a big step up in "Catching Fire," and they may want a more experienced hand when it comes to that kind of thing. One could, we suppose, also argue that she hasn't really dealt with romance much either, although we'd counter with the (unconventional) central relationship in "Monster."
Why He Could Do It: Nolfi started out as a screenwriter, whose main previous credits were on "Ocean's Twelve" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," but he made his name last year by writing and directing the Matt Damon/Emily Blunt sci-fi-romance "The Adjustment Bureau." Nolfi managed to handle a tricky blend of tones well, with some zippy suspense set pieces, and it's the kind of mix that could really benefit "Catching Fire" -- he's shown he's capable with romance, has a fondness for sci-fi, and can handle a little action when necessary. And he's certainly making the right kind of lists: last week, it was announced that he, along with F. Gary Gray and the Russo Brothers, was on the short list to direct the sequel to "Captain America." And we imagine the reasons that make him appealing to Marvel apply to Lionsgate too: he's not going to be too expensive, and he's got the chops to do it.
Why He Might Not: For one thing, he might end up winning the "Captain America" job. But purely from a creative point of view, we like "The Adjustment Bureau," but it got very silly in places -- is he the right man to be let loose on the ridiculous haircuts and beards of the Capitol?
Why He Could Do It: Few films of late have combined well-shot action (at a PG-13 rating, no less) and raw, moving character beats as successfully as Gavin O'Connor's MMA film "Warrior" did last year, and it's a combination that seems to be crucial to the success of "Catching Fire." O'Connor won mild acclaim over the last decade thanks to the hockey drama "Miracle" and (to a much lesser extent) the cop flick "Pride & Glory," but "Warrior," while a box office failure, really put him on the map. And while his recent efforts have been all about bruised masculinity, let's not forget that he first came to notice by bringing Janet McTeer to an Oscar nomination with "Tumbleweeds," so he's got a feminine side as well. He was one of the names considered to step in for Darren Aronofsky on "The Wolverine," so he's not adverse to franchise fare, and he's probably not yet too expensive or difficult to work with. Lionsgate were the studio behind "Warrior" as well, which can't hurt matters.
Why He Might Not: If Lionsgate do pick O'Connor, they wouldn't be the only girl asking him to dance: the helmer's also working on actioner "Samurai" for Warner Bros, a stage version of "The Hustler," another film from the co-writer of "Warrior" entitled "Victory," and he recently became attached to Sony's "Neverland," a reboot of "Peter Pan." Plus he's directing the pilot for "The Americans" this summer, so he's a busy bee. Most of these projects are self-generated and closer to his heart, and he may be reluctant to jump ship for a franchise where someone else has already made many of the key decisions. Again, romance and sci-fi haven't really been his forté to date yet either, although "Neverland" suggests he's willing to dip his toe into more fantastical waters.
Why She Could Do It: Of the names originally in contention alongside Ross to helm "The Hunger Games," most are unlikely to be contenders for the sequel: Sam Mendes will be tied up on "Skyfall" through November, Rupert Sanders has now made his name with "Snow White and The Huntsman," and David Slade is doing "Daredevil" for Fox. But there's one name from that original shortlist who's thoroughly possible: relatively little-known British director Susanna White. The helmer made her name on British TV with "Bleak House" and "Jane Eyre," before moving to the U.S. to make "Generation Kill" and an episode of "Boardwalk Empire," as well as the HBO miniseries "Parade's End," which will air later in the year. She made her big-screen debut with internationally-successful sequel "Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang," which had its shares of effects without a blockbuster budget, too. Someone who can make both "Generation Kill" and 'Nanny McPhee' seems to fall into the exact sweet spot for "The Hunger Games," and she's familiar with young adult waters too, having been attached to the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's "The Host" before Andrew Niccol. If she was good enough to be in the running the first time around, she's only proven her spurs further by now.
Why She Might Not: White is still a relatively unfamiliar name, and is unlikely to put fans upset at Ross's removal to rest, and studio executives may still be a little nervous about her, particularly given that there's more action and effects in the sequel. That being said, as a TV helmer, she'll probably be cheap and fast, and they could certainly do a lot worse.
Honorable Mentions: It might not be popular with fans, but any of the "Twilight" directors (bar perhaps Bill Condon, who'll still be working on "Breaking Dawn Part Two") might well end up in contention -- assuming "Daredevil" isn't going immediately, Slade might be the best bet of them. Also in the running originally was "The Chronicles Of Narnia" director Andrew Adamson, but the material also felt ill-suited to his sensibilities, somehow. Otherwise, if they wanted to keep it in-house, Billy Ray, who co-wrote the script for "The Hunger Games," did an admirable job with directorial efforts "Shattered Glass" and "Breach." That being said, he favors more adult fare, and may not be experienced enough with action and effects.
Otherwise, there are a host of names being batted around by fans, including Alfonso Cuaron, Daniel Espinosa, Francis Lawrence, Kathryn Bigelow, Danny Boyle and Mike Newell, but most are likely too expensive and strong-willed to take over the second installment of a franchise, even one as massive as this. Other names with potential, like Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Jaume Collet-Serra, are busy on other projects, while someone like Doug Liman is too much of a wild card, and Ross' friend and second-unit director Steven Soderbergh isn't likely to stall his retirement for this one.
We like the idea of Joe Wright (particularly given "Hanna"), and he could be done with "Anna Karenina" in time, but given how individual and unique his tastes are, he probably won't want to be tied down creatively. Other names who'd be fascinating, but will never in a million years happen, include "Winter's Bone" helmer Debra Granik, Susanne Bier, David Michod, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Gus Van Sant (although don't forget, the other two were courted for the fourth "Twilight"). Our absolute dream pick -- Lynne Ramsay. How amazing would that be, even if it has no chance of coming to pass? But we hope Lionsgate don't go to the other extreme and start chasing names like Scott Stewart, Breck Eisner or Nimrod Antal either.