Following much speculation in the media as of late regarding the prospects of "Hunger Games" director Gary Ross returning to helm its sequel "Catching Fire", the filmmaker has finally made his decision public: he will NOT be coming back for the second installment (via Deadline).

The reason Ross gave, in a statement released just a few minutes ago, was that he wasn't given "the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule."

Jennifer Lawrence, of course, will be returning as Katniss (though it took some juggling to square things between Lionsgate and Fox, the latter of which had planned to begin production on the sequel to "X-Men: First Class" at the same time as "Catching Fire" was slated to start filming.)

You can read the director's full statement below, followed by Lionsgate's response, in which they claim they are "very sorry" the director has decided against returning.

Statement from director Gary Ross:

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.


Statement from Lionsgate:

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, are you surprised? Disappointed? Sound off in the comments!