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Taraji P. Henson To Star In Lee Daniels’ Hip-Hop Fox Pilot ‘Empire’

By | Wednesday February 26, 2014 @ 10:00am PST
Nellie Andreeva

taraji-hensonTaraji P. Henson is reuniting with her Hustle & Flow co-star Terrence Howard for another drama project set in the hip-hop world, this time in TV. Person Of Interest alumna Henson has been tapped as the female lead opposite Howard in Esmolletmpire, Fox‘s drama pilot from Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Imagine’s Brian Grazer. Also cast in the project, written by Strong and to be directed by Daniels, is Jussie Smollet. Empire is described as a unique family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire. It centers on Lucious Lyon (Howard), a charismatic, savvy music superstar who is about to take his company, Empire Entertainment, public. Raised on the streets, he has never backed away from a fight and will resort to any measures, fair or foul, to defend his beloved Empire. Henson plays Cookie Lyon, Lucious’ ex-wife and former business partner.

Related: 2014 Fox Pilots

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Terrence Howard To Topline Fox’s Hip-Hop Drama Pilot From Lee Daniels, Danny Strong

By | Wednesday February 19, 2014 @ 11:45am PST
Nellie Andreeva

Lee Daniels,Terrence HowardLee Daniels’ The Butler co-star Terrence Howard is reuniting with the movie’s director Lee Daniels and writer Danny Strong, this time on TV. Howard is set as the lead in Empire, Fox‘s drama pilot from Strong, Daniels and Imagine’s Brian Grazer. Written by Strong and to be directed by Daniels, Empire is described as a unique family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire. It centers on Lucious Lyon (Howard), a charismatic, savvy music superstar who is about to take his company, Empire Entertainment, public. Raised on the streets, he has never backed away from a fight and will resort to any measures, fair or foul, to defend his beloved Empire. 20th Century Fox TV and studio-based Imagine TV are producing, with Strong, Daniels, Grazer and Francie Calfo executive producing. Empire, which is geared toward series per Fox’s new development model, extends Howard’s relationship with the network where he co-stars on the upcoming event series Wayward Pines. His series credits also include Law & Order: LA. Howard is repped by CAA and Authentic.

Related: 2014 Fox Pilots

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Fox Picks Up Hip-Hop Drama Pilot From Brian Grazer, Lee Daniels & Danny Strong

By | Thursday January 23, 2014 @ 7:15pm PST
Nellie Andreeva

fox-tv-logoFox has given a pilot order to drama Empire, from the duo behind hit feature Lee Daniels’ The Butler – writer Danny Strong and director Lee Daniels —  and Imagine’s Brian Grazer, who brought the two back together. Per Fox’s new development model, the project will be geared toward series, with Fox likely picking up additional materials, but the nature of that supplemental order (backup scripts, bible?) is still being fired out. Empire had a put pilot commitment atdanielslee1dannystronggrazer Fox after sparking a heated bidding war in September. Written by Strong and to be directed by Daniels, Empire is described as a unique family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire. 20th Century Fox TV and studio-based Imagine TV are producing, with Strong, Daniels, Grazer and Francie Calfo executive producing. The project marks Daniels’ TV debut, while Strong started his writing career in TV with the HBO telefilms Recount and Game Change, earning Emmy nominations for both and winning for Game Change. At Fox, Imagine has upcoming drama series Gang Related and event series 24: Live Another Day.

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OSCARS Q&A: Lee Daniels On ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

By | Monday January 6, 2014 @ 8:36pm PST

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.

Although Lee Daniels is better known for art-house fare such as 2009’s Precious, for which he earned AwardsLine.LogoBWan Oscar nomination for best director, he has found his biggest box office success with this summer’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which so far has earned more than $116 million domestically. After working on edgier fare — directing 2012’s The Paperboy and producing 2001’s Monster’s Ball and 2004’s The Woodsman — Daniels says he can’t really explain the commercial success of the film. The experience of telling the story of a White House butler has left Daniels humbled and grateful to the film’s biggest champion, the late Laura Ziskin.

Related: OSCARS Q&A: Forest Whitaker Learns The “Philosophy Of Service” For ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

Lee-Daniels-The-Butler-Forest-Whitaker-David-OyelowoAwardsLine: How did this project start?
Lee Daniels: It started with (Sony co-chairman) Amy Pascal, who read an article in the Washington Post, and she told the late Laura Ziskin that she should option the story. Laura started talking to directors, and it came to me.

AwardsLine: How did you shape the material?
Daniels: At first, it was more of a history lesson than the family story. What I wanted to create was a heart, and that really was the father-son story.

Related: Reagan’s Son, Obama Both Watched ‘The Butler’, Saw Different Films

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2013 Gotham Awards: ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ ‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Short Term 12,’ ‘Dallas Buyers Club’; Lee Daniels Talks Racism: “I Became Very Angry At White People”

IFP's 23nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards - ShowThe Coen brothersInside Llewyn Davis won Best Feature tonight at the fourth annual IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards but lost some of the spotlight to presenter Lee Daniels, who made some eyebrow-raising remarks. Kicking off awards season in NYC, the trophy show propelled the CBS period folk music drama and Fruitvale Station, Dallas Buyers Club, and docu The Act of Killing toward the Oscars. The raucous audience at Cipriani Wall Street chattered so loudly during Daniels’ tribute speech his The Butler star Forest Whitaker that he tried to shush them with a few f-bombs. Gotham Awards 2013“Forest would like to hear all you talking through my speech, so shut the f*ck up,” admonished Daniels. He wasn’t the only presenter to complain onstage about the Gothams crowd, as Julie Delpy threatened to set herself on fire to get their attention while presenting another tribute, to Before Midnight helmer Richard Linklater.

Jared Leto GothamsBig wins went to Fruitvale Station, which nabbed Best Breakthrough Director and Actor for Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, respectively. Dallas Buyers Club star and Oscar hopeful Matthew McConaughey won the Gothams’ inaugural Best Actor award and accepted via iPhone through co-star Jared Leto with his signature “All right, all right, all right.” Short Term 12‘s Brie Larson nabbed Best Actress honors, boosting the SXSW winner’s awards profile. Presenting Best Documentary, Morgan Spurlock took a shot at public television (“PBS: We pay more money than IFC”) before presenting the Gotham to Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar hopeful The Act of Killing.

Related: OSCARS: An Early Look At The Best Picture Race – Frontrunners In A Crowded Field

Host Nick Kroll (Kroll Show, The League) struggled with the ambivalent room early on with a roast of the indie scene: “To the people from L.A. or abroad, I hope you’re enjoying your tiny hotel room you had to pay for out of pocket because Magnolia or IFC wouldn’t pony up.” Riffing on the night’s nominees, he quipped, “A common theme in this year’s movies are the horrors we inflict upon one another – slavery, war, folk music… .” Unfortunately for Kroll, he was upstaged by New York Mayor Bloomberg. “Independent filmmakers and New York have a lot in common… We both want Harvey Weinstein to be nice to us.” Boosting local filmmaking versus runaway production to neighboring Canada while presenting the tribute to his Media and Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver, Bloomberg joked, “For the record: the mayor of Toronto and the mayor of New York do not have a lot in common.” Read More »

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Hollywood Film Awards: Oscar Hopefuls Turn Out In Force But Does It Have Any Impact?

Pete Hammond

Nancy O’Dell, host for the 17th annual Hollywood Film Awards on Monday night at the Beverly Hilton, looked across the impressive star-studded room and said, “This is just like the Oscars”. Uh, not exactly. It’s not just like the Golden Globes or The Critics Choice Awards either, but it’s become a pretty good warm-up act for all of them. ”We used to make fun of this show, but not so much anymore,” said one industry observer. In fact the cover of the slick program says it all: “First mandatory stop in the awards season”. And this brainchild of Carlos de Abreu, who is the arbiter and chief negotiator of who gets what, has really been growing. The studios seem to love it because they essentially get to dictate the winners and plant a flag for one film or another early in the season. No one takes the actual award too seriously, but getting the opportunity to be seen holding that award is another thing altogether.

In its early days, stars would come in the back of the Hilton, make an appearance onstage to accept an award and get a photo op, and then make a hasty retreat. Now, most of them stayed all night for the nearly three-and-a-half hour show, schmoozing, seeing old friends and subtly campaigning. One person at the Disney table where I was sitting (director Dan Scanlon won the Hollywood Animation Award for Pixar’s smash sequel Monsters University) put it succinctly, saying about the appeal of this show: “If they show up, it’s worth it. If they don’t show up, it’s not worth it”. They showed up.

And there was lots of high star-wattage in the room including various winners like Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Jared Leto, plus presenters like Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr, Kanye West, Geoffrey Rush, Bruce Willis, Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jane Fonda, Forest Whitaker and others. Hollywood Song Award winner Chris Martin of Coldplay even performed his tune Atlas from the upcoming The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire, the first song the group has written for a film.

Studio heads like 20th Century Fox’s Jim Gianopulos, Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley, Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard and Harvey Weinstein were also in the room for the show which has never been televised — but will be next year according to an announcement by O’Dell. Dick Clark Productions, which also produces the Globes,  has now got a stake in the event and plans to start exploiting it in 2014. Just how it will all play on TV is anybody’s guess when there are no nominees only winners, and most of the viewers will not have seen any of the movies rewarded on this very early mid-October Hollywood lovefest (hell, not many of the industry audience or even the presenters had seen most of the films yet). Read More »

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Fox Lands Hip-Hop Drama From Brian Grazer & ‘Butler’ Team Of Lee Daniels & Danny Strong With Put Pilot Commitment

By | Thursday September 19, 2013 @ 12:41pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: The duo behind hit feature Lee Daniels’ The Butler writer Danny Strong and director Lee Daniels — are reuniting, this time in television. Strong and Daniels have been brought back together by Brian Grazer for a hip hop drama project that sparked heated bidding among the four major broadcast networks before landing at Fox with a put pilot commitment. Written by Strong and to be directed by Daniels, the untitled project is described as a unique family drama set in the world of a hip hop empire. 20th Century Fox TV and studio-based Imagine TV are producing, with Strong, Daniels, Grazer and Francie Calfo executive producing. The deal for the TV project comes just as Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, crossed the $100 million box office mark in North America. It would mark Daniels’ TV debut, while Strong started his writing career in TV with HBO’s Recount and Game Change, earning Emmy nominations for both and winning for Game Change. Imagine has Parenthood on NBC and the rebooted Arrested Development on Netflix as well as upcoming series Gang Related and Those Who Kill on A&E. Strong and Daniels are with CAA, which also … Read More »

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Weinstein Co Unveils New Poster For ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ To Comply With MPAA

By | Tuesday July 23, 2013 @ 10:21am PDT

Here’s the end result of the brouhaha over The Butler — rather, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The Weinstein Co just released this poster for the Lee Daniels-directed historical drama, out August 16. It stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo as occupants of the White House during one man’s tenure as butler for eight presidents. Warner Bros had been trying to block Harvey Weinstein from using the title The Butler on the film, claiming it has rights from a 1916 silent comedy short called, well, The Butler. Last week the Title Registration Bureau of the Motion Picture Association of America ruled that TWC could use the word “butler” in a modified title, but all words have to be of same size/prominence and  “Lee Daniels” has to be 75% the size of “The Butler.”

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‘Butler’ Backers Petition MPAA Chief Chris Dodd As Title Fight Appeal Gets Underway

By | Friday July 19, 2013 @ 10:23am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The appeal by The Weinstein Company of an MPAA ruling denying them use of The Butler title is just getting underway, with Harvey Weinstein out to overturn that judgement. At the same time, the investors who backed the Lee Daniels-directed film have made a direct appeal to MPAA chief Chris Dodd. After Deadline broke the story of this title battle, it has kicked up a ruckus I never expected and perked up what is usually a fallow period for news. Some have claimed TWC has done this for publicity, others have claimed Warner Bros is being spiteful, with Weinstein even claiming the studio has tried to force him to surrender the 5% first dollar gross participation he holds in The Hobbit. Believe me, that ain’t never going to happen–that condition was part of the turnaround deal when New Line founder Bob Shaye agreed to back three Lord Of The Rings films, and if he hadn’t, Weinstein would have made one, maybe two LOTR installments, without writer/director Peter Jackson. That move has meant billions of dollars to Warner Bros and changed Hollywood history. Weinstein got 5% of all those films, and that gross payment is so valuable now with two more Hobbit installments coming that if push came to shove, TWC would retitle its Lee Daniels civil rights drama. Despite the sentimental appeals and harsh words between the studios, this all comes down to lawyer horse trading between two studios that will begin if today’s appeal doesn’t overturn the verdict and if TWC continues to abide by the MPAA Title Registry (it is not a signatory studio). Some have speculated that the film could go out with an alternative title like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Here is the letter that the film’s financial backers just sent to Dodd: Read More »

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MPAA Schedules ‘The Butler’ Title Appeal Hearing

By | Thursday July 18, 2013 @ 1:00pm PDT

Harvey Weinstein will get his chance tomorrow to convince the MPAA to overturn their title ruling on The Butler. An appeal arbitration hearing has been set for 10 AM Friday in the Motion Picture Association of America’s Sherman Oaks offices, I’ve learned. The hearing comes over two weeks after The Weinstein Company lost a Title Registration Bureau arbitration to Warner Bros on the matter of the Lee Daniels-directed White House drama. Warner Bros says Weinstein can’t use the title because of a 1916 short film with the same title that WB had registered and the MPAA agreed. TWC has been being fined $25,000 a day in penalties over the matter since the initial ruling as they have not removed the title from the marketing, promotion and other materials related to the pic. It is unclear if the appeal hearing will include company and studio execs or just their respective lawyers but with the letters, potential lawsuits and public remarks that have been flying the past fortnight, it’s going to be a tense sitdown regardless. A possible compromise could be in the works with WB having suggested a couple of months back that the film be called Lee Daniels’ The Butler. This was brought up again, sources tell me, in a proposal that WB sent to TWC last … Read More »

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Hot Trailer: Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’

A first look at The Butler and the staff that Lee Daniels assembled including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey in her first film since 1998′s Beloved, and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan which raised plenty of eyebrows and rankles last year. The film tells the story of Eugene Allen (Whitaker), who served eight commanders in chief during his 1952-1986 stint as the White House butler. Daniels wrote the screenplay with Danny Strong, based on Wil Haygood’s 2008 article in The Washington Post. The Weinstein Company releases the drama on October 18:

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Liev Schreiber Is LBJ In Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’

By | Tuesday July 24, 2012 @ 2:37pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Liev Schreiber The ButlerLiev Schreiber will play President Lyndon B Johnson in The Butler, the Lee Daniels-directed film about the life of Eugene Allen, a White House servant who worked for eight First Families. The film also stars Robin Williams (as President Dwight D. Eisenhower), Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo, as well as John Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and recently added cast members Melissa Leo (Mamie Eisenhower), James Marsden (JFK), Minka Kelly (Jackie Kennedy), Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Yaya DaCosta, Elijah Kelly and Jesse Williams. Danny Strong wrote the script with Daniels, based on Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about Allen. Daniels will produce with Hilary Shor, Cassian Elwes and Pam Williams of Laura Ziskin Prods. The music is being composed by Quincy Jones. Schreiber is repped by Untitled and CAA.

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Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ Adds Colman Domingo To Cast

By | Monday July 2, 2012 @ 3:53pm PDT

Colman Domingo has joined The Butler and will play a White House butler who works in the Executive Mansion in the Lee Daniels-directed film. The Butler, which starts shooting later this month in New Orleans, is based on the life of Eugene Allen, a White House servant who worked for eight First Families over three decades. Though retired, Allen was invited to the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s first black president. Forest Whitaker plays Allen, and Oprah Winfrey plays his wife. The rest of the film’s cast is pretty Air Force One: Matthew McConaughey as John F. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. Cuba Gooding Jr, David Oyelowo, and Lenny Kravitz also star, as does Jess Williams and Magic Mike’s Alex Pettyfer. Danny Strong wrote the script with Daniels based on Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about Allen. Domingo, who appeared onstage in The Scottsboro Boys and Chicago, also has roles in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. He is repped by Wolf Talent Group and managed by Station3.

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‘The Paperboy’ Gets Oct. 5 Release Date

By | Wednesday June 20, 2012 @ 12:23pm PDT

The Paperboy Release DateMillennium Entertainment will release Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy theatrically on October 5, the distributor announced today. The erotic thriller stars Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray and John Cusack. The screenplay was written by Pete Dexter and Daniels, based on the novel by Dexter. The movie got decidedly mixed reviews in May when it had its world premiere at Cannes. It revolves around a man (Efron) who tries to help his journalist brother (McConaughey) investigate the possible wrongful conviction of a man on death row (Cusack). Kidman co-stars as a Southern tart who likes her men behind bars.

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Alex Pettyfer Joins Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’

By | Monday June 18, 2012 @ 9:47am PDT

Alex Pettyfer The ButlerEXCLUSIVE: Alex Pettyfer will next be seen — actually a lot of him will be seen — on the big screen shortly in the male stripping movie Magic Mike releasing into theaters on June 29th. The actor has just lined up his next movie, joining Precious director Lee Daniels’ The Butler in the role of Thomas Westphall. Like Daniels, the pic already has a stellar cast of Oscar winners and nominees: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Oprah Winfrey, Minka Kelly, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrance Howard, and Lenny Kravitz. And talks are underway with Vanessa Redgrave to join the pic as well. Pettyfer’s Westphall appears early in the life of Whitaker’s character and has a pivotal influence on the rest of that character’s life. Filming starts mid-July in New Orleans with producer Hillary Schor. Pettyfer is repped by WME.

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Cannes Conflicted Over ‘The Paperboy’ As All-Star Cast Hits Town For Premiere

By | Thursday May 24, 2012 @ 8:49am PDT
Pete Hammond

Some press and critics at the Cannes Film Festival are already having a field day hurling invectives (a favorite pastime here) against The Paperboy, director Lee Daniels’ first filmMatthew McConaughey Nicole Kidman Zac Efron since his Oscar-nominated work on Precious. This one is based on a well-regarded book by Pete Dexter, who wrote the screenplay with Daniels. It’s about a man (Zac Efron) who tries to help his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) investigate the possible wrongful conviction of a man on death row (John Cusack). Nicole Kidman co-stars as a Southern tart who likes her men behind bars and singer Macy Gray is the maid in this 1960′s civil rights era-set wallow that takes place mostly in Florida swamp country (but shot in Louisiana).

At Tuesday morning’s buyers screening and today after the first press screening, reactions seem to be vivid. One critic said “it could be so bad it’s good”. Another compared it to the kind of exploitation pictures Roger Corman regularly turned out. For me, it’s one of those movies that is just dripping with Southern sweat and sleaze — you can smell the place. If it’s an over-the-top wallow into the Deep Deep South of the period, it’s a fun one. You either go with it or you don’t. Tennessee Williams this is not, but it’s fascinating material on many levels and all these actors took a kind of risk and just jumped in without a life preserver; they didn’t do this indie for the money. Avi Lerner’s Millennium and Nu Image produced and the film is up for distribution, as Deadline previously reported, although Lerner could decide to distribute it himself if the deal isn’t right. One top distrib who was at Tuesday’s screening told me they didn’t care for Paperboy, while at least two others said the complete opposite. With a starry cast, exploitable subject matter and scenes already being tweeted all over the place — Kidman peeing on Efron to relieve his jellyfish stings is getting lots of action on the net and the Croisette —  in the end it may not matter what any of the auteur-mad critics here have to say. Unlike Precious this is not really a critics kind of movie. It is in fact the commercially oriented Millennium’s first competition entry ever. Read More »

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Icon UK Group Joins ‘The Butler’; Forest Whitaker And Oprah Winfrey And Intriguing Choices For Presidents

Mike Fleming

Oprah Winfrey ButlerForest Whitaker ButlerMatthew McConaughey as JFK, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and John Cusack as Nixon? As Lee Daniels unveiled The Paperboy at Cannes, Icon UK Group signed on to be part of his next film, The Butler. The picture will star Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in the true story of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who served eight American presidents, observed the civil rights movement, and was brought back after he retired to witness the inauguration of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Related: Precious Time Left For ‘Selma’ To Mobilize As Director Lee Daniels Makes ‘Butler’ Deal

The casting is intriguing. Whitaker plays Allen, Winfrey his wife, McConaughey is John F. Kennedy, Cusack is Richard Nixon, Rickman plays Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda is Nancy Reagan, and Cuba Gooding Jr, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz and Terrence Howard also star. Danny Strong wrote the script with Daniels based on Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article.

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Paradigm Signs Smokewood Producers; Repping Domestic On ‘Long Time Gone’

By | Friday May 18, 2012 @ 12:44pm PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Film and TV company Smokewood Entertainment and co-founders, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness and Bobbi Sue Luther, develop and produce projects with positive messages. The company and director Siegel-Magness have been signed by Paradigm for representation in all areas. Magness and Luther are also now repped by the agency as producers.

Siegel-Magness and husband Gary produced Lee Daniels’ breakout Precious and she recently shot her directorial debut, Long Time Gone. The Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group is now repping North American rights to the drama that chronicles a broken family that is healed when the girlfriend of the youngest son comes to live with them. Virginia Madsen, Anthony LaPaglia, Eva Longoria, Zach Gilford, Amanda Crew, Sam Trammell and Graham Rogers star. Karen McCullah, whose credits include Legally Blonde and The Ugly Truth, penned the screenplay based on April Stevens’ novel, Angel, Angel. Luther, Magness, and McCullah produced with Andrew Sugerman and Seth Jaret exec producing.

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Jesse Williams In Talks For ‘The Butler’

By | Friday May 11, 2012 @ 12:59pm PDT

Jesse Williams is in negotiations to join The Butler. Lee Daniels’ historical drama tracks the latter the 20th century through the eyes of a White House staff employee. The film is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who started work at the White House in 1952 and served eight First Families. Williams was most recently seen in Cabin In The Woods and is a regular on Grey’s Anatomy. IM Global will bring The Butler to foreign buyers at the Cannes Film Festival next week. CAA is repping the movie’s North American rights. Williams is represented by WME, Management 360 and attorney PJ Shapiro.


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