The Hunger Games
Director Gary Ross will not return for the Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire (Reuters / Mario Anzuoni)

The director of The Hunger Games has shocked fans and Lionsgate Studios by choosing not to direct its sequel.

Gary Ross met with box office and critical acclaim for his adaptation of the first of Suzanne Collins's hit teenage novel series in March.

It was assumed that he would take the director's chair for its sequel, which was immediately greenlit when it was clear that the first film would be as big a success as expected.

But Ross released a statement announcing that he would not take on the project as the film's tight schedule would not allow him to make the film he wanted.

Studios, keen to capitalise on the success of any film with franchise potential, often shackle sequels to rigorous filming and release schedules, in order to strike while the first film is still fresh in the mind of the audience. In this case it has cost the studio its director.

Ross, who also took co-screenwriter duties for The Hunger Games, caught the eye of Lionsgate after his work directing Seabiscuit and Pleasantville.

"Despite recent speculations in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire," he said.

"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 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," 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.

Liongate said: "We're very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire.

"We were 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."

Lionsgate hopes to release Catching Fire in November 2013.