tonya lewis lee

*Producers Tonya Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver, operating under their new Tonik Productions banner, have optioned film rights to the Gallagher Girls book series with an eye toward establishing a big-screen franchise.

The six-book young-adult series, written by Sarah Leigh Fogleman under the pen name Ally Carter and published by Disney’s Hyperion Books, centers on a student, Cammie Morgan, at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women in Roseville, Va. While the school poses as an institution for highly intelligent girls, it’s actually a training facility for the CIA.

“It’s an incredibly readable young-adult series about a spy school for girls. We love it because it’s totally about girls and girl empowerment, and it’s very international,” says Silver. Adds Lewis Lee, “It’s important for us to have things that are about diversity and empowerment — and it’s kick-ass and fun.”

While they are looking for a writer to take on the project, the duo, who formerly joined forces last year, have a number of other projects coming to fruition. The TV film “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” starring Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, Skai Jackson and Wood Harris, will air on Hallmark Channel on Sept. 20.

Also in September, Tonik will begin filming “The Giver,” starring Jeff Bridges, in South Africa.

Lewis Lee began her career as a corporate lawyer before shifting into writing and producing. Through her previous company, Madstone, she worked with Disney Television Animation, Nickelodeon and Nick at Night and also produced the series “That’s What I’m Talking About” for TV Land. She is also the author of three children’s books as well as co-author of the novel Gotham Diaries.

“Nikki and I like to have provocative, interesting conversations that push us to grow and evolve. I think in our work our desire is to make people think, to make people feel and to push the envelop a little bit,” Lewis Lee says of the traits that led the two to work together. “Even in something like Gallagher Girls that might seem so initially mainstream, I think the themes of girl empowerment and global inclusion are what really draw us to the work.”

“The Watsons” is based on a 1995 historical novel by Christopher Paul Curtis. “It’s about an All-American, African-American family that travels from Flynt, Mich., down to Birmingham, Ala., in the summer of 1963,” says Lewis Lee. “They happen to be there when the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that kills the four little girls happens. The film is really about parents who are trying to protect their children from what’s happening in the civil rights movement, and yet they end up right in the middle of it.”

She talks more about the film below.

With Tonik’s Lewis Lee and Silver producing along with Philip Kleinbart, the film was directed by Kenny Leon and produced in partnership with Walden Media. It will air as part of Hallmark Channel’s new Friday night Walden Family Theater, presented in collaboration with Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Walden and ARC Entertainment.