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As Helmer Gary Ross Plays Hardball With Salary, Could 'Hunger Games' Sequel 'Catching Fire' End Up With A New Director?

by Oliver Lyttelton
April 4, 2012 1:11 PM
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Hunger Games Gary Ross

"The Hunger Games" is that rarest of things in the movie industry: an unqualified smash hit. In a world where tentpoles cost upwards of $200 million, Lionsgate's adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular young-adult novel cost far less, but is doing the same kind of numbers: after the third-biggest opening weekend of all time, it's now taken more than $250 million in the U.S. alone, and half as much again abroad, making everyone involved very, very happy. But as franchises from Marvel to "Twilight" have displayed, once the studio starts making money, everyone else wants in on the action, and that starts to mess around with the business model.

Lionsgate knew they had a hit on their hands even before "The Hunger Games" hit theaters: they'd already commissioned a script for follow-up "Catching Fire" from Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" writer Simon Beaufoy and set the film for a November 2013 release date. But now that the film's a monster hit, they've found a couple of speedbumps, most crucially when it comes to Gary Ross, who directed and co-wrote the first film. The Hollywood Reporter ran a story today that says Ross has never been signed for the sequel officially, and after what's described as the "terrible experience" of negotiations for the first film, he came away with a relatively low $3 million payday.

And while he's got what's sure to be a lucrative 5% take of the back-end (although it's unclear if that's of the film's gross or the murkier net), he's looking for a major raise for the second film, arguing that the film's excellent reviews mean that it'll have better legs than some of its competition (fair enough), and that should he decide to look elsewhere, he'd have his pick of projects (certainly true). But it's a dangerous game to play: the "Twilight" series went for a different helmer for each of their first four movies, in part to avoid boosting salaries, and Marvel and Jon Favreau went their separate ways after the first two "Iron Man" movies.

Indeed, one only has to look at the latter studio, which has looked mostly at TV directors for their sequels to "Thor" and "Captain America," to see that for most companies, the brand name will prove more important than the director, and we can't imagine many of the key teen demographic will boycott the sequel because the guy who did "Seabiscuit" isn't in charge this time round. Things are complicated further because the company is in a rush to get the film into theaters for next November, although that could be disrupted due to Fox having a prior option on star Jennifer Lawrence for the inevitable "X-Men: First Class" follow-up and the company is aiming to get Matthew Vaughn's sequel before cameras before the end of the year.

Ross had no shortage of competition when he landed the gig for the first film: he beat out Sam Mendes, David Slade ("Twilight: Eclipse"), Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"), Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe"), Rupert Sanders ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and Susanna White ("Generation Kill") for the job, and it's possible that some might be interested if the position became available, and the studio have plenty of directors who are even cheaper to pick from. All that being said, Ross certainly deserves recognition for helping the film become such a giant hit, and we're sure that things will get ironed out in good time. What do you think? Would you prefer Ross to make way for new blood? Who would you pick to helm the sequel? Weigh in below. Whoever ends up directing it, "Catching Fire" is currently set to hit theaters on November 22, 2013.

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  • Gabriel | April 4, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    Even though I enjoyed the film, I think that someone else could do better with the rest of the films starting with Catching Fire. Alfonso Cuaron would be good for this. Maybe Nicolas Winding Refn? Just a thought

  • Alex Vail | April 4, 2012 6:36 PMReply

    The most important thing when it comes to sustaining an excellent film franchise is continuity. Look at the Harry Potter films. After Chris Columbus left, the franchise could not settle on a visual style until it kept a director around for more than one film (David Yates), which is a disservice to the beloved material. The director is the glue that holds the whole thing together. Gary Ross did an excellent job with the PG-13 rating he had to sustain, and don't over look the fact that he helped pen the most loyal adaptation in years. The jury is in: GARY ROSS MUST STAY.

    **When it comes to the violence, here's hoping for an unrated director's cut.

  • Russell | April 4, 2012 7:25 PM

    The palate of the first two films was mostly wiped away by Alfonso Cauron with the third movie that arguably laid the groundwork visually for the rest of the series.

  • Nik Grape | April 4, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    Most of the film's faults came from the direction so losing Ross would be no loss. Rupert Sanders looks like he really has an eye for visuals and if SWATH is a hit it would be nice to see him tackle this. Sam Mendes is the veteran from that list, with some great adventure movies under his belt, so he would be a great choice too. But, how greedy are people working in Hollywood when 3 million isn't enough? Ross should get dropped, that's my take.

  • LA2000 | April 5, 2012 2:42 AM

    When $3 million isn't enough...relative to what?

    A director is typically paid 7% of the budget. In the case of "Hunger Games" that comes to $5.5 million, so Ross basically cut his rate almost in half to secure the job in the first place. Now if you took a 50% pay cut to get a job, knocked it out of the park, and your employer decided it would be cheaper to dump you and move on with another sucker who'd take a 50% pay cut, you'd probably feel like you'd just been scammed.

    Ross made these people a lot of money. They clearly played hardball with him the first time around, and now, having been vindicated, he wants a paycheck that reflects the success he brought to the first project.

    I don't see anything wrong with that.

  • Collin | April 4, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    I think Ross delivered an excellent film. I hope he's back for "Catching Fire".

  • bruckey | April 4, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Fail to see how he is in a powerful position.
    The sad fact is 97% of people don't care who the director is

  • WRT | April 4, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Ross's herky-jerk, 50-cuts a minute visual style was the worst thing about the film. The art direction and cinematography (in terms of light and color) were great, but the unrelenting momentum of the cutting was obnoxious. I'd love a new director to come in and slow cutting down a lot, while still keeping pacing at a nice clip. As for who should do it, I have no realistic suggestions. Mendes would be the best from the above, I think

  • ray | April 4, 2012 5:03 PM

    The camera shakes, wobbles, and whips around even on the non-action scenes - Katniss and Pheeta just walking to the bullet train, the girls and boys walking to the Reaping, even just people calmly talking. After a while it feels like the camera guy showing off - like the Benihana chef doing tricks with his knife.

  • MPH | April 4, 2012 3:46 PM

    I agree, WRT. The directorial touches were the worst part of the movie. Ross has too soft a touch for this material. Somebody suggested Alfonzo Cuaron somewhere. He did the best Harry Potter sequel. I think he'll be perfect for this.

  • gaston213 | April 4, 2012 3:44 PM

    I believe i read that the reason there was so much shaky camera work was so that they could get their PG-13 rating in a movie where children are slashing each other's throats left and right.

    So it was either that, or have all of that action happen off screen. Both feel like a cop out, but seeing how Bully got an R for using "fuck" 4 times, I don't imagine Hunger Games would have gotten it's rating without glossing over most of the bloodier violence in the film.

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