Over in the world of film, there’s a whole lot of talk going on about The Hunger Games director Gary Ross deciding not to direct the much-anticipated sequel, Catching Fire. Ross was formerly considered a lock because of his expressed interest, his reverence for novelist Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, and because he made The Hunger Games a $300 million (and counting) box office goliath.
However, Ross backed out this week, and according to his own released statement said, “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." He’s referring to Lionsgate locking in the Catching Fire theatrical release date of November 22, 2013 months ago and in their negotiations, shifting release dates must have been taken off the table. You can’t blame Ross really, as he just pushed through an extremely accelerated schedule for The Hunger Games going from pre-production to picture lock in the span of about 16 months.
Now the question is who can take over the directing job for a book that’s filled with intense character moments, some romantic overtones, and most importantly, a new Arena that’s chock full of action, CGI menaces and tense, harrowing sequences. To be honest with the success of The Hunger Games, the sequel doesn’t really need a name director to get it rolling when everything else is locked in place. However, the trades, fan blogs and movie sites are all spit-balling dream directors for the job but frankly they’re mostly pipe-dreams.
Why? Because most Hollywood directors of note 1) won’t be interested in doing an inherited, major blockbuster without any breathing room (just like Ross), 2) a lot of the names being mentioned are already busy on other projects, 3) Lionsgate can’t afford (or won’t pay) for what smart, high-profile directors would ask for a run-and-gun assignment and 4) plenty of bigger directors like to do original material, or will at least want their own re-write (and there’s no time!).
So what's the alternative? How about an incredibly accomplished TV director?
Television directors already live in a world where they jump from show to show to show with differing subjects, tones and styles. Great TV directors don’t get precious about having to re-write every script they direct because they only get about 4 weeks to jump in, prep their episode, shoot it and then turn in their edit. With Academy-award winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy already deep into the Catching Fire drafts with Suzanne Collins’ notes, there’s a solid foundation for the film’s script in progress and that will work nicely for a director used to that dynamic just like it works in TV.
TV directors are also incredibly efficient. Again, most dramas get about eight days to shoot a one-hour episode. Eight days! That’s half a movie right there, and why it’s often said that making TV dramas are like making mini-movies…just 12 to 22 hours of them back-to-back in one season. Directors working in TV know how to get things done. Unlike film, they shoot pages of script in a day and can get their teams moving fast for quick-turnarounds, everything Lionsgate is going to need to get Catching Fire done on time.
Lastly, some of the most visually stunning, tense, compelling stories are being told in TV right now. While snobs might poo-poo a TV director taking over a franchise of this caliber, that’s just myopic thinking. There’s a pool of fantastic TV directors out there right now looking for an opportunity to transition from TV to theatricals and if Lionsgate is wise, and unwilling to say “Uncle” about their fixed release date, they should look to TV as Catching Fire’s possible savior. Heck, we’ll even suggest some names…
Jack Bender, Emmy-winning executive producer on Lost and most recently, Alcatraz
As the overseeing director on both series, Bender made both of those shows look like they were big screen, cinematic every week. Lost, in particular, challenged Bender to use every trick in his directorial arsenal shooting on location in the jungles and on the beaches of Hawaii eight months a year. Wait a minute…the Arena in Catching Fire takes place in jungles and on a beach! How convenient! It also helps Bender directed the hell out of a plethora of character moments on Lost that are exactly like the ones found in Catching Fire between Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Gale Hawthorne, Haymitch Abernathy and more.
Michelle MacLaren, Emmy-nominated director who worked on The X-Files, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead
Yes, a woman directing Catching Fire would be an excellent choice and maybe that woman should be Michelle MacLaren. A veteran of directing many high-profile sci-fi shows, MacLaren already has the genre chops to step into the disparate worlds of Panem. She can easily reproduce the gritty, bleakness of District 12 (she’s done gritty zombie-infested Atlanta for The Walking Dead) and she knows how to create fantastic tension on-screen as witnessed in her several episodes of Breaking Bad. She might be a wee bit lean on the epic CGI action of the Arena but when you know how to frame practically, you can transition easily to green screen work.
Jon Cassar, Emmy-winning executive producer on 24 and most recently, Terra Nova
A master of action and pathos, Jon Cassar was one of two primary directors on 24 that shot two episodes back-to-back every 15 days on 24. All together, Cassar directed 59 episodes of Jack Bauer’s tense hours, as well as the TV movie, 24: Redemption. Capable of directing everything from the most vulnerable Jack Bauer moments to the most jaw-dropping action sequences, Cassar would bring some real energy to Katniss Everdeen’s Arena moments from the quiet to the epic. It also doesn’t hurt that Cassar spent 2011 shooting Terra Nova in the wilds of Australia, that show about dystopian humans in the jungles of the past running from a lot of CGI creatures. Sound familiar?
Tim Van Patten, Emmy-winning director of The Pacific, Game of Thrones, and Boardwalk Empire
A former actor-turned-director, Van Patten is a much sought after talent who knows how to do gritty drama and action – both needed in Catching Fire. As any actor will tell you, it’s always great to have a former actor behind the lens as there is an inherent shorthand and empathy with directors that know both sides of the camera. With the Catching Fire cast already locked and incredibly high-caliber to boot (not to mention sure to be smarting from Ross’ loss), someone like Van Patten would help bridge the gap and get the trust of his cast quickly.
Jonathan Frakes, director of Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection and current TV shows Leverage, NCIS: Los Angeles and Burn Notice
Ok, slightly a cheat because Jonathan Frakes has already ably handled the huge Trek franchise as a director of various Star Trek series episodes and two big screen movies. But Frakes has been working primarily in television for the last decade and he’s got a deft hand at crafting tense thrillers that include action and even some levity. Why is that a plus? Well there’s plenty of opportunities in Catching Fire to let in some charm and levity with characters like Haymitch, Finnick Odair and Joanna Mason. Those new roles need to be cast well (like Ross did) and Frakes has an eye for picking talent and for directing that talent in productions with varying tones.
What do you think? Do you have your own favorite TV directors you’d like to see get a chance at Catching Fire? Is it a feasible answer considering the release date squeeze?