Lionsgate nets ‘Game’ documentary

Studio obtains James film in unusual deal

“More Than a Game,” a documentary about NBA star LeBron James’ high school days in Akron, Ohio, has been sold to Lionsgate in an unusual deal.

The indie distrib, teaming with music notables Harvey Mason Jr. and Interscope Records, plans a fall 2009 release. Lionsgate has world rights.

After a well-received world preem in Toronto, where James received a five-minute standing ovation and presided over a spirited latenight party and a street dunk contest, the pic had been chased by several buyers.

It took months to lock in a distrib deal because the doc’s reps at Endeavor sought to rally in-kind marketing support from sponsors to bolster its B.O. prospects. The agency had been nurturing the pic for nearly four years.

Commitments from Nike, Coca-Cola, State Farm and the NBA could reach well into eight figures. Nike, for example, launches a major shoe campaign for James every September. In 2009, the campaign is likely to pivot on the film.

Docs have struggled theatrically of late, though Lionsgate scored with Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” which is approaching $13 million at the domestic B.O.

The marketing for the Maher pic emphasized the pic’s comedic aspects, and “Game” is being positioned not merely as a record of James’ achievements but as a feel-good story of overcoming adversity.

It follows the five starters on the varsity team at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, who travel a winding road from a rundown gymnasium to national glory and NBA riches, seeking to remain a tight-knit quintet even as James becomes a megamillionaire.

The film mixes newly unearthed archival footage and family memorabilia with fresh interviews.

James jumped straight from Akron into the NBA in 2003. The 6-foot-8 star, now 23, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007. The expiration of his contract in 2010 has set tongues wagging in L.A. and Gotham, where the Lakers and Knicks are already said to be starting to court James.

Director Kristopher Belman, an Akron native, began the film nine years ago as a thesis project at Loyola Marymount U. He co-wrote (with Brad Hogan) and produced the film along with Mason (producer of the “Dreamgirls” soundtrack), Matthew Perniciaro and Kevin Mann.

Exec producers include James, his manager Maverick Carter and Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine, who plans to marshal musical acts to push the pic via live performances and a soundtrack.

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