Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Gary Ross is in early talks to direct The Hunger Games, the first installment of the novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The film is a joint production between Lionsgate and Color Force’s Nina Jacobson. Filming will start next year with a script by Billy Ray, who rewrote a draft by the author. The huge sales of the trilogy make the film adaptations a potential game-changer for Lionsgate, the way that Twilight was for Summit Entertainment. It has been a coveted job among directors (Three More Directors Circle ‘The Hunger Games’), and Lionsgate picture chief Joe Drake and Jacobson spent the past two weeks meeting candidates that included Sam Mendes, David Slade (also a contender for the X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 job), Andrew Adamson, Rupert Sanders, and Nanny McPhee Returns helmer Susanna White. There was also talk about Francis Lawrence. It’s unclear who stayed in or out as Lionsgate focused on Ross, who directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. He isn’t set yet, but he is the choice. Let the negotiating games begin. Mendes, for instance, bowed out of contention last Friday, and I’m told it was because the MGM picture is clearing up and it looks like production on 007 could begin by late summer or early fall, 2011 with Mendes at the helm and Daniel Craig back in the Aston Martin.

The Hunger Games takes place in the futuristic ruins of North America, which crumbled and was replaced by a Capitol and 12 districts. Each district is forced to supply 2 teenagers, between 12 and 18. They participate in The Hunger Games, a televised reality series that pits the contestants against one another in a battle to the death. The heroine is 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, a skilled hunter who’s adept with a bow and arrow. She replaces her younger sister, who was chosen in a lottery. She is joined by a baker’s son who is also chosen from her dirt poor home district. The subject matter is dark, but book has become a juggernaut: the final installment, Mockingjay, has sold over 450,000 since being published August 24 by Scholastic.