Gary Ross has bowed out of “The Hunger Games” sequel, citing time constraints for his exit.
His role in “Catching Fire” has been subject to much speculation in recent days, and late Tuesday, he and Lionsgate issued statements announcing his exit from the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book.
"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, calling the decision a difficult one.
Also read: 'The Hunger Games' Box-Office Bonanza: 4 Lessons Hollywood Must Learn
Lionsgate, for its part, said that it was sorry that he was not returning for the second installment.
"We were really looking forward to making the movie with him," the studio said in a statement. "He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work."
Also read: 'The Hunger Games': A Blockbuster Without Young Men
The movie, which opened March 23, has already grossed more than $300 million in the U.S. alone. It stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson and is set in the dystopian future; youth must compete in the titular Hunger Games, wherein they are forced to eliminate their competitors.
Ross co-wrote the script with Collins; their collaboration replaced the version written by Billy Ray. He previously wrote and directed "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit."
Also read: 'Hunger Games' Ditches Billy Ray's Script For One by Novelist Suzanne Collins and Director Gary Ross
Ross is not the first director to bow out of directing the follow-up to a hugely popular teen franchise on a tight schedule; Catherine Hardwicke walked away from the "Twilight" sequel for creative reasons.
That Summit franchise is now under Lionsgate's roof due to the merger earlier this year.
The question now is: Who will take the reins of Lionsgate's lucrative franchise? There are three books in the trilogy, which the studio hopes to turn into four hit movies, much the way Summit has with "Twilight." The first "Hunger Games" installment has exceeded expectations.
Its release has further stoked book sales; the trilogy has sold more than 30 million copies.
Also read: Why the Imminent Lionsgate-Summit Merger Makes Sense
In exiting the project, Ross called "The Hunger Games" the happiest experience of his professional life and disputed claims that sequel negotiations with Lionsgate were rocky.
"Lionsgate was supportive of me in a manner that few directors ever experience in a franchise," Ross said. "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."
He also praised producer Nina Jacobson, the "brilliant Suzanne Collins," "the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence" and the rest of "the incredible cast."
Lionsgate said the parting "will not be the end of our relationship" and that it looks forward to working with Ross in the future.