Lions Gate Gets Busy on 'Bee' Drama

Lions Gate Films has come on board to finance and distribute the drama "Akeelah and the Bee," starring Laurence Fishburne and Keke Palmer.

The producers on the project are Sid Ganis' Out of the Blue Entertainment, Michael Romersa's Reactor Films, Nancy Hult Ganis and Danny Llewelyn in association with Fishburne's Cinema Gypsy Prods. Inc. Executive producers are 2929's Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban and Marc Butan along with Helen Sugland of Landmark Artists Management.

USC graduate Doug Atchison will direct from his script, which won the Nicholl Fellowship in 2000. The drama follows an 11-year-old girl from South Los Angeles whose journey to compete in the National Spelling Bee unites her community. Fishburne plays Dr. Joshua Larabee while Palmer, who appeared in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," has been cast in the title role.

Mike Paseornek, Lions Gate Films president of production, and Donna Sloan, senior vp production, will oversee the project, with Jonathan Ruiz, vp production, acting as production exec.

Ganis and Out of the Blue are prepping production on the big-screen adaptation of "I Dream of Jeannie" for Columbia Pictures. Out of the Blue and Columbia are also developing the comedy "The Toy" and the romantic comedy "The Governess." Atchison is repped by ICM, manager Lou Pitt and Greenberg, Glusker.

Meredith Fine of Coast Talent Group brokered the deal for Palmer. Fishburne was repped by Paradigm and Jeffrey Finkelstein of Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka & Finkelstein. Lions Gate was repped by Robert Melnick, exec vp business affairs.