By Nicole Sperling
September 14, 2010 at 09:03 PM EDT

Gary Ross, who hasn’t directed a feature since 2003’s Academy Award-nominated Seabiscuit, is in early negotiations to helm The Hunger Games, confirms a source at Lionsgate, the studio behind the film. The news was first reported late last night by The job is a coveted one, considering the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy from writer Suzanne Collins. Her third and final book of the trilogy Mockingjay debuted last month at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

The series, while much more violent than Twilight, could rouse that fan base, considering it’s centered on a female protagonist and features a compelling love triangle. This, however, is no faint-hearted romance. The Hunger Games centers on protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year old girl living in a post-apocalyptic world where children annually compete to the death in a vicious arena game. Everdeen, the main food provider for her mother and sister, is thrust into the ring after her sister’s name is called randomly to compete and Katniss volunteers to take her place. The books are incredibly engaging, but it will be challenging to depict this violent world without making the films R-rated — a rating I assume the studio will shy away from, considering their target teen audience.

Ross is an interesting choice for the directing job. His two directing credits are Seabiscuit and 1998’s Pleasantville, though he’s written and produced a number of films including 1990 hits Big and Dave, and 2008’s animated flick The Tale of Despereaux. Deadline has reported that the producers looked at a number of directors, including Sam Mendes, who dropped out voluntarily on the news that Bond may be coming back to life, and David Slade, who just directed The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

No casting has yet to begin, though rumors of who will play Katniss are traveling at a furious rate. The studio hopes to begin filming in the first half of next year.