The next chapter in The Hunger Games film series has found a director.

Francis Lawrence, the director of I Am Legend, has been announced as Lionsgate studio's first choice to take the reins on the film, which will be released next year to capitalise on the success of the first film.

The studio was shocked when Gary Ross, who directed the first adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular novel series, announced that he would not helm the sequel, as the tight shooting schedule would not let him make the film he wanted in time for the November 13 release date.

If Lawrence confirms his attachment to the film, Lionsgate will spring into action. The first draft of the script has been written by Simon Beaufoy.

When Ross announced he would not be directing the sequel, he stressed how much he had enjoyed working on the first film.

"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."

Ross said that he loved making The Hunger Games. It was, he said, the "happiest experience of my professional life".

"Lionsgate was supportive 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," he said.

He stressed the fact that he had not suffered problematic negotiations with Lionsgate, "contrary to what has been reported", claiming the studio had been very understanding.

"To the fans I want to say thank you for your support and your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you.It's been a wonderful experience," he added.

Moneyball director Bennett Miller is also understood to have been considered for Catching Fire, but his attachment to Steve Carrell vehicle Foxcatcher meant the schedules could not by aligned.

The HUnger Games series is expected to span four films and hopes to amass the same level of fan following as the Twilight saga.