Before The Hunger Games was released, I spoke with Gary Ross on numerous occasions and each time he seemed extremely confident he’d be back to direct the sequel, Catching Fire. He’d hand selected the screenwriter, had thoughts about casting and Lionsgate even set a release date. Then his film blew up into an gargantuan success and rumors began swirling Ross wasn’t going to come back. The Playlist then confirmed this. Days later, Deadline wrote otherwise and we all just thought it was public posturing for a bigger check. According to Gary Ross, that was not the case.

Ross has released a statement that explains why he will not be back to direct Catching Fire, finally closing the book on the argument and you can read it after the jump.

Thanks to Deadline for the statement but it was The Playlist who got the new right first. Here goes:

Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire. 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.

I loved making The Hunger Games – it was the happiest experience of my professional life. 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.

I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends.

To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It’s been a wonderful experience.

And here’s Lionsgate’s response:

We’re very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire. 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. This will not be the end of our relationship, as we consider Ross to be part of the Lionsgate family and look forward to working with him in the future.

So let the games begin, as it were. If Ross doesn’t think he would have had enough time, who is going to? Do you think Catching Fire will be ready for its November 2013 release date?

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