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THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

From Novel To Screenplay
"The bees came summer of '64, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinnin' off into a whole new orbit. Lookin' back on it, I want to say they were sent to me….they showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary. I know it's forward to compare my small life to hers, but I have good reason to believe she wouldn't mind.” -Lily

The movie began its gestation when visionary producer Lauren Shuler Donner first read The Secret Life of Bees in galley form eight years ago and could not put it down. Moved by the story of a young girl's attempt to find self-worth and her search for a family, the award-winning producer committed herself to bring this complex and arresting novel to the big screen. "Lily is searching to see if she's lovable and I think there are times when we all feel that way,” Shuler Donner observes. "This is also a story about family. That's what's really important in life.”

Tackling a period film set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, with a teen lead and a multi-racial cast, became not only a challenge but also a labor of love for the filmmaker. But, just as the novel attracted millions of readers around the globe, Shuler Donner believes the film's universal themes will resonate with moviegoers. "Rarely can Hollywood make a movie that's better than the movie you've seen in your mind,” she reflects. "In this case, I'm hoping we'll match the movie in your mind and enhance it.”

Despite a two-decade track record of bringing critically and commercially successful projects to the big screen, including her recent X-MEN franchise; the Oscar®-nominated DAVE; YOU'VE GOT MAIL and the FREE WILLY franchise, Shuler Donner was excited about the low budget prospect of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. Shuler Donner joined forces with producer Joe Pichirallo, who first optioned the novel for Shuler Donner while he was a senior executive at Fox Searchlight. "Of all the projects I've been involved with over the years, I can honestly say that this book really spoke to me on so many levels – especially the importance of family and how we find love in the most unlikely places,” says Pichirallo. While at Fox Searchlight, Pichirallo shepherded such critically acclaimed films as ANTWONE FISHER, the directorial debut of Denzel Washington which starred Derek Luke; QUILLS, nominated for three Academy® Awards; and THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN, winner of the 1995 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Pichirallo was head of feature film production and development at Overbrook Entertainment when he brought the project in with Shuler Donner to James Lassiter, the producer/manager who had created Overbrook Entertainment with Will Smith in 1998.

Together, Shuler Donner, Lassiter and Pichirallo now set about securing a screenwriter who could bring all the nuances of the novel to the screen, and also a director who could handle such a delicate yet complicated tale. The solution emerged with writer/director Gina Prince- Bythewood.

Six years ago, Prince-Bythewood had been sent the novel The Secret Life of Bees. At that time, she was too exhausted to read it after wrapping back-to-back directing projects: the multi-award-winning LOVE & BASKETBALL, a feature she wrote and directed; and the HBO film "Disappearing Acts,” starring Sanaa Lathan and Wesley Snipes. Over the years her family and friends raved about the book and five years later Prince-Bythewood finally read it but by then the producers had moved on. "After I read it,” she recalls, "I got what all of the hype was about and I was so disappointed that I'd missed an opportunity to be involved.” Amazingly, a few months later the project fell apart and it was again sent to her for consideration.

"We met with lots of writers and directors who wanted to do this project,” Pichirallo remembers. "Many of them came with interesting id

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