EXCLUSIVE: This is just happening, and here is what I know. Juan Antonio Bayona has just exited as director of the sequel to World War Z, the film that Paramount and Plan B are readying for a summer start with Brad Pitt reprising his lead role as the man who fights the zombie apocalypse. The studio and Plan B have a script by Steven Knight that Dennis Kelly rewrote. Bayona’s abrupt exit is being attributed to timing. The studio is determined to get this picture into production for June 9, 2017 release and Bayona felt he needed more time because he has commitments on the film he just shot, A Monster Calls. Skydance is co-financing with Paramount. The studio confirmed this, with this statement: “Bayona is no longer able to make World War Z 2 this year, and it is our ambition to do so. He is a wonderful director and we hope to work with him soon.”

bayonaThis immediately becomes one of the biggest Open Directing Assignments in town, maybe the biggest job this side of the Jurassic World sequel, for which Bayona will probably now find himself a prime candidate since that film has a looser timetable and is still awaiting a script. Bayona came out of Spain and hit Hollywood with the fright film The Orphanage, and followed that with the true tsunami survival tale The Impossible and most recently wrapped A Monster Calls with Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell for Focus Features.

wwzParamount and Plan B are no strangers to adversity with this franchise. They essentially redrafted and shot a new and satisfying third act for the first film, an adaptation of the Max Brooks novel. It escalated the budget to around $200 million, but the film was a global hit that grossed around $540 million worldwide. It also led the sequel opportunity.