3RD UPDATE: Well, this is a fast-moving story… Lionsgate is going to greatly expand, according to a new plan for the studio about to be put into effect. Multiple sources tell me that Joe Drake is about to launch the attempt to make Lionsgate a major studio and it’ll involve more hirings than firings. (And maybe no firings at all…) I’m hearing that Alli Shearmur, the co-prez of production at Paramount Pictures until January 2007, may be brought in to run the studio or part of it. Also, Lisa Ellzey, the 20th Century Fox SVP who left a year ago, may become a senior exec. Also Wolfgang Hammer, who spent two years with the film group at showbiz financing/sales MRC (Media Rights Capital), may become a Lionsgate VP.

Drake is “recruiting heavily and making massive offers to people,” one insider informs me. “Joe needs to grow the company now. Bigger and better movies, all genres, cost-effective but high quality with potential for real earnings. He’ll invite filmmakers to use the infrastructure and knock it out of the park creatively and financially.” This could be great news for the film industry to have another real buyer.

Drake, the one-time head of Lionsgate’s international distribution unit, founded independent production and distribution company Mandate Pictures and then sold the company to film studio operator Lionsgate in September 2007. Drake then became co-chief operating officer and president of Lionsgate’s motion picture group as well remained chief executive of Mandate. Everyone’s been expecting Drake to start putting his stamp on Jon Feltheimer’s Lionsgate, so that’s supposed to start in the next weeks.

Already, he’s upset horror fans. I reported a month ago that the studio’s phones and email accounts were jammed with angry fans making a stink because Drake appears to be dumping all of ex-prez Peter Block’s “hard” R-rated movies in favor of more mainstream-friendly Tyler Perry pics even though Lionsgate has made big bucks off the scare genre.

Certainly bringing Shearmur and others on board indicates Lionsgate is looking to move up to the next level. Whether the studio’s fans will follow is another story. See my previous, Furious Horror Film Fans Target Lionsgate.

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