HitFix has exclusively learned, from multiple sources, that Bryan Singer may not be directing "X-Men: First Class" despite recent press reports to the contrary, and that 20th Century Fox is actively searching for directors to step in and helm the film, with discussions with at least two other filmmakers as recently as last week.

The filmmakers that they're approaching now about directing "X-Men: First Class" are good names, guys who either have real experience in the comic book movie medium or who have heavy credibility with fan audiences.  Names that would make fanboys happy from the first moment they're announced.  I'm curious to see who else they meet with in the next few weeks now that their first few choices have passed.  Those meetings, exclusively reported by HitFix, make it seem like no matter what public face they're putting on things, Fox is making plans as if Singer will not be free.

This is particularly interesting if you consider the timing of the interview with Geoff Boucher of The Los Angeles Times, who sat down with Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer for a story that's running in this weekend's Calendar section.  Much has been made of the "confirmation" in the story that Singer's directing "X-Men: First Class."  Here's the section of the story that is the most interesting:

"Before Singer can dive into casting, he has a rather large problem --  the fact that Warner Bros. has the filmmaker on the hook to direct 'Jack the Giant Killer.'  Fox, flush with money from 'Avatar,' is eager to move forward with its mutant franchise in all of its permutations, so there are negotiations that need to be done.

Shuler Donner also has pitched Singer on doing a fourth installment of the previously established 'X-Men' franchise and Jackman had that lunch with Singer to coax him into a project as well, which may or may not be a 'Wolverine' film, which Jackman has said will be set in Japan and released in 2011. 'I wish I could be four people,' the director said with a moan. 'I could make everybody happy.'"

That "rather large problem" is an important one for Singer, and a pivotal one for Fox, who has a definite timetable for this "X-Men" reboot in mind.  Singer is already scouting locations for "Jack The Giant Killer."  He's deep into pre-production on the picture now, and it would seem almost actionable if he were to drop out at this point.  Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures are counting on Singer to deliver this big-budget fairy-tale, and the earliest he's going to be free to start work on another large-scale picture will be 2012.  There's no way Fox wants to wait for either "X-Men:  First Class" or "Wolverine 2" for that long, so my guess is that Singer will be involved in those films as a producer of some sort, but not directing either one.

It sounds like "X-Men 4," the next full adventure of the original cast, is going to be the earliest place in the story arc where Singer's going to be able to get behind the camera again, which raises the question of why they sat for this story and what games are being played here.  It's interesting... when Singer was waiting for Fox to make his deal on "X-Men 3," a process that took over a year due to some hardball negotiation, Warner Bros. took advantage of that and dangled the "Superman" in front of him.  It was an awkward moment for Fox and led to some seriously difficult feelings between Singer and the studio.  I'm sure Fox would be happy to undercut Warner on a big fantasy film by stealing Singer away, but this is not the same situation.  Singer's already signed and in process on "Jack The Giant Killer," and I would hope he stays to see that one through before running back to the studio that treated him with such powerful contempt at least once before.  Fox may be whispering sweet nothings to him now, but this is the same studio that had him thrown off the lot over "X-Men 3" a week before they had to allow him back on the lot to make the "House" pilot.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, but for fans who are celebrating his return to the series, you may want to put the hysteria on hold for a few, since it's far from a guaranteed thing at this point.

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You can e-mail me at drew@hitfix.com or follow me on Twitter, where I'm DrewAtHitFix.