The Film Strip: Cuba Gooding, Jr. on ‘Life of a King,’ Oscars and Foreign Stigma

cuba gooding jr & dennis haysbert

Cuba Gooding Jr. & Dennis Haysbert in ‘Life of a King’

*Cuba Gooding, Jr. is Eugene Brown in the remarkable film, “The Life of a King,” based on the real life of the Big Chair Chess Club founder. In prison 18 years for bank robbery, Brown learned how to play chess.

After his release Brown’s motto of “Teach the un-teachable, reach the un-reachable, and always think before you move” saved the lives of many doomed youths.

The Film Strip caught up with Gooding and writer/director Jake Goldberger recently at the Soho Grand in New York City. Gooding gives a lowdown of his newest release, the Oscars and the ‘Blacks don’t sell overseas’ stigma.

Cuba, what makes this character special to you? 
CUBA GOODING, JR: There are a few criteria on which I choose for the roles I gravitate towards. One would be military. I like military movies but I also like real life people that reflect how America became the great nation that it is today. Just look at ‘Men of Honor,’ Chief Carl Brashear, and the Tuskegee Airmen movies. I think the third thing is the father and son nucleus in the family. You look back at ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ with Tre and Furious, even ‘The Butler’ there’s that relationship with father and son. When I was growing up my father was on the road and all my other buddies’ fathers were gone. It was the mom that raised us and turned us into men, but it pushed me to wanting to be in the life of my sons. All of those things coupled with the fact that when I was going to high school I didn’t know about Tuskegee Airmen or the other [black heroes] in the pages in Black history. And I damn well didn’t know about prison inmate Eugene Brown who taught some kids in the inner city how to play chest hat became Grand Master chess champions.

What were some of the challenges?
CG: Money to shoot it, to sell the script. [Enacting the negative responses of some studios and financiers]‘, so what’s it about?’ It’s about this Black guy who teaches kids how to play chess. ‘Right, good luck with that.’

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Specialty B.O. Preview: ‘Life Of A King’, ‘Generation War’, ‘Back In The Day’, ‘Big Bad Wolves’, ‘G.B.F.’

Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.

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As Sundance kicks into high gear with much of the spectrum of the indie world high up in Utah, Millennium will debut Life Of A King with Cuba Gooding, Jr. The project has been a passion of veteran producer Jim Young over a decade in the making and will open in a fairly sizable launch this weekend. Music Box will bow Generation War, a feature that was initially shown as a highly successful mini-series in Germany with a “unique” story against the backdrop of WWII. Also a project that gestated over some years, Back In The Day will bow this weekend via Screen Media Films, while Magnet releasing will open Israeli-produced thriller Big Bad Wolves. And festival favorite LGBT-centered G.B.F. will open in an initial limited run by Vertical Entertainment.

Related: Fleming On 2014 Sundance Forecast: Thriving Indie Biz Makes Appetite Strong

Life Of A Kinglifeofking
Director-writer: Jake Goldberger
Writers: David Scott, Dan Wetzel
Cast: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dennis Haysbert, LisaGay Hamilton, Thurston Hill
Distributor: Millennium Films

Life Of A King has roots in a segment from ABC’sNightline over a decade ago. The drama centers on ex-felon, Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding, Jr) who establishes a Chess Club for inner city teens in Washington, D.C. “I met a sports writer named Dan Wetzel and he said I had to watch this episode ofNightline about Eugene Brown,” said producer Jim Young. “I watched it and it was unbelievable.” He attempted to track Brown down via the internet, but had difficulty at the time (we’ve come a long way) and decided to go the traditional route by hiring a private detective. “He was dumbfounded someone called and wanted to do a movie on him. I started developing the script with Dan [Wetzel] and Dave Scott,” said Young. “Eventually a writer/director I had worked with as a producer on a previous film, Jake Goldberger, [took a look] and worked on a script re-write.” That was 8 years ago, around the time both Young and Goldberger worked on an earlier project, Don McKay. Life Of A King had some sizable production outfits on board at various stages, but it had difficulty getting a final home, but eventually they received a call about the feature from a company in Atlanta. “In early 2012, after many years of toiling to get the film made, we found an amazing partner in UP Entertainment and we were off running,” said Young. Meanwhile, a casting agent had contacted Cuba Gooding, Jr., who read the script, and he came on board.

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First Lady, Alicia Keys Team up for Education

WASHINGTON January 16, 2014 (AP)

Associated Press

First lady Michelle Obama and singer Alicia Keys are teaming up to turn the message of a movie about two inner-city boys battling long odds into a call for the nation to do more to help young people get the support they need to make it to — and through — college.

The first lady held a White House screening of “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete,” for educators and others helping young people make it. The Grammy-winning Keys was the movie’s executive producer and did its score. The movie tells the story of two boys in New York left to take care of themselves.

Keys says she’s passionate about the story, and passionate about the need to do better for kids.

The first lady picks 2013 Sundance favorite “Mister & Pete” for a screening

Brooklyn Park screenwriter gets a White House invitation

The first lady picks 2013 Sundance favorite “Mister & Pete” for a screening

Blog post by: Colin Covert

Updated: January 10, 2014 – 3:44 PM

Michael Starrbury

Brooklyn Park screenwriter Michael Starrbury has had some nice accolades. His scripts have won multiple awards and his first film to be produced debuted last year at the Sundance Film Festival. “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete,” the story of a streetwise, neglected Brooklyn eighth-grader looking after his vulnerable 9-year-old friend, won nationwide praise from critics (though not wide distribution.)
None of those kudos quite measures up to the email he received today, inviting him to attend a screening of the movie with a very special audience in Washington, D.C.
It read: “Mrs. Michelle Obama requests the pleasure of your company at a screening of the film ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete’ to be held at The White House.”
“When I heard that “Mister & Pete” would be screening at the White House and I was invited to attend,” he said, “the first thing I thought was, ‘There goes my goal of going my entire adult life without wearing a suit.’”
Starrbury isn’t sure whether the President will attend the presentation Wednesday. Either way, he’s now in a company of filmmakers that’s a lot more exclusive than winning an Oscar.

This post is from the Artcetera blog

“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” Nominated for a 2014 Independent Spirit Award!

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete  has been nominated for a 2014 Independent Spirit Award in the category of “Best First Screenplay”! Congratulations to Alicia, George Tillman Jr. and Michael Starrbury of Mister & Pete on this nomination!

The Independent Spirit Awards will air on Saturday, March 1st at 10:00PM EST/PST on IFC.  Check local listings.


AFM: 13 Films Launching With Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning’s ‘Very Good Girls’


Newly minted sales-production banner 13 Films is launching at AFM with Naomi Foner’s directorial debut “Very Good Girls,” starring Elizabeth Olsenand Dakota Fanning.

The drama, which debuted at Sundance, will have its debut market screening at AFM. Story centers on two girls who pact to lose their virginity during their first summer out of high school and fall for the same boy. Groundswell Pictures’ Michael London and Norton Herrick’s Herrick Entertainment produced.

Los Angeles-based 13 Films is launching with the goal of acquiring, selling and financing six to eight films a year. The company is positioning itself as a boutique one-stop shop for filmmakers and financing partners.

The company is headed by Tannaz Anisi.

Cuba Gooding Jr.’s ‘Life of a King’ Gets U.S. Distribution


Millennium Entertainment has acquired all U.S. rights to “Life of a King,” a drama that stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as a chess-playing ex-con.

The film premiered in June at the Los Angeles Film FestivalJake Goldberger directed from a script he co-wrote with David Scott and Dan Wetzel.

Gooding portrays Eugene Brown, an ex-con who founded the Big Chair Chess Club for inner city teenagers in Washington, D.C. The film also stars Malcolm Mays, Richard T. Jones, Paula Jai Parker, Carlton Byrd, LisaGay Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, Kevin Hendricks, Pepi Sonuga, Jordan Calloway and Rachae Thomas.

Serena Films’ Tatiana Kelly and Animus Films’ Jim Young produced. Millennium is planning an early 2014 release.

Millennium Entertainment’s Tristen Tuckfield negotiated the deal with Dina Kuperstock of CAA.