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And The Winner Is: Francis Lawrence For ‘Hunger Games’ Sequel

Chosen from long list of contenders, including finalist Bennett Miller

When Gary Ross decided that he could not take on the sequel to 2012’s blockbuster hit “The Hunger Games,” Hollywood’s floodgates were opened as Lionsgate looked to fill one of the most coveted jobs in that town.

Who would direct “Catching Fire,” the proposed 2013 followup that pits teenager against teenager in a televised fight to the death? By Thursday, Lionsgate had narrowed the list down to two people. But by the end of that day, it was to one: Francis Lawrence.

Lawrence was offered the job late Thursday, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and once he signs on the dotted line, he’ll have to get to work immediately. That’s because filming is set to begin in a matter of months, based on a screenplay written by “Slumdog Millionaire” writer Simon Beaufoy. And it was that very tight schedule that pushed Ross out of the director’s chair in the first place.

But who is Francis Lawrence?

Genre fans will probably best known him from another post-apocalyptic film he did in 2008 with actor/singer Will Smith: “I Am Legend.” That film, made on a budget of $150 million, earned $256.4 million domestically, and proved his skill of working with complex storylines in unfamiliar environments.

That’s exactly what Lawrence will face when he takes on “Catching Fire.” While we are looking at Earth, it’s one sometime in the distant future that is much different from our own. And while audiences were introduced to this locale in “Hunger Games,” the long-term success of the franchise will depend on whether viewers will get comfortable in this world: something that typically has to happen by the second film.

And now Lionsgate is putting it all in the hands of someone who just 12 years ago was directing music videos for Jennifer Lopez and Green Day. But it’s not a risky bet at all.

Instead of jumping on to a bunch of films like what typically happens to new directors who help usher in blockbusters, Lawrence instead has been very picky about what he works on. His next job, in fact, would be two years later when he would helm the pilot to the critically acclaimed “Kings” series for NBC — once again, having to create a world foreign to the typical viewer with his kingdom fashioned after the David and Goliath biblical story.

Then last year, Lawrence directed a high-profile Kiefer Sutherland pilot project that became “Touch,” a series based on a child who can predict events before they happen, by seeing how everything in life and our world string together.

Through the end of March, “Touch” remains Fox’s No. 1 scripted drama, earning a 6.5 rating/10 share in Fast National overnight ratings from The Nielsen Co.

Lawrence may not take on a lot of work, but he may have to do some juggling. He directed an ABC fantasy pilot called “Gotham,” a cop drama that reveals a magical underworld of New York City. That pilot has reportedly already been filmed, but Lawrence will have to work through post-production quickly so that he can focus on the very short pre-production window of “Catching Fire.”

The other finalist for the director’s chair was reportedly Bennett Miller, the Oscar-nominated director for “Capote” on 2005, and who recently directed the Oscar-nominated “Moneyball” with Brad Pitt. The Los Angeles Times, one of the first to break the news that both were being considered, pointed out that Miller has little experience in CGI, plus has another project already lined up for this summer and fall that likely could not be moved to accommodate the filming schedule for “Catching Fire.”

“Hunger Games” continues to dominate at theaters while all this behind-the-scenes drama continues. The film pulled in another $1.3 million on Wednesday, bringing its 27-day total to $341 million domestically, according to The Numbers.

Only three films hit wide release this weekend: “Chimpanzee” from Walt Disney Pictures, “The Lucky One” from Warner Bros. and “Think Like a Man” from Sony/Screen Gems. One of them are expected to take over the No. 1 slot from “Hunger Games,” which last weekend became the first film since “Avatar” to win four weeks in a row at the box office.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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