ATLANTA – July 7, 2015 – New York Liberty Team President Isiah Thomas served as an executive producer for the film “Playin’ for Love,” a romantic comedy about life on and off the basketball court, which will make its premiere on UP this Sunday, July 12, at 7 p.m. (ET).
The journey behind making Playin’ for Love is as uplifting as the film itself. The movie was shot on location in Overtown, one of Miami’s roughest neighborhoods. The original idea to film in this community and create a mentorship program for local kids during production was the brainchild of Miami’s former District 5 Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Jeff Friday, president of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), a Miami-based event, helped put the idea into motion. Having been raised in rough neighborhood himself, Townsend loved the idea and took on one of the most challenging projects of his career – going into a rough community to teach 20 kids about making a movie, and then making one. During production in Overtown, Townsend taught his 20 mentors how to make a movie. They also appear in the film.
In addition, Townsend got the community and corporate sponsors involved as he shot the film on a shoestring budget. Commissioner Spence-Jones reached out to NBA superstar Isiah Thomas and he came aboard as one of the executive producers. Soon after, the Miami Heat gave Townsend the American Airlines Arena for basketball tryouts and 5,000 kids from the inner-city showed up. Then, another 3,000 kids came out to audition for speaking parts. Jamba Juice stepped up by partially funding the film and giving away 20,000 free smoothies and breakfast treats during production. NBA superstar Dwyane Wade donated over 500 free sneakers to the cast and volunteers. Conner Sports Flooring gave a new basketball floor to the community center. And finally, recognizing this as a film with morals and values, the American Federation of Teachers gave a donation to help offset costs.
Acclaimed filmmaker Robert Townsend (The Five Heartbeats, Hollywood Shuffle) stars, directs, produces and co-wrote script with Michelle Amor and Cheryl L. West. It’s a story about a successful high school coach who gets a superstar player – and the mom who tries to take over the team. The film also stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield (“Being Mary Jane,” “Eureka”), Jenifer Lewis (Think Like A Man, “Black-ish”), Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs (The Jacksons: An American Dream, Claudine) and Esai Morales (La Bamba, “Criminal Minds”).
Robert Townsend plays Coach Niven Banks, an overly confident high school basketball coach who’s used to calling
all the shots. He recruits a basketball player named Justice “The Judge” McCoy (Daniel Yorel Cooper) from another school district to help his team win. When Justice’s mother, Talisa McCoy (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), comes in, she turns his world upside down. She’s smart and knows a thing or two about coaching basketball. And she’s onto the coach’s selfish, arrogant ways and now won’t let him get away with it. When Coach Banks won’t take her seriously, she threatens to pull her son off the team. Reluctantly, the Coach starts using her plays and the team starts to win. Sparks start to fly on and off the court. Playin’ for Love is romantic comedy about making the right plays, on and off the court. Jenifer Lewis stars as Alize Gates, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs stars as Coach Preston Reid, and Esai Morales stars as Principal Jose Marti.
Currently, filmmaker Wills J. Felin is working to finish a documentary film called “Believe” about the entire behind- the-scenes journey of Townsend and the kids making Playin’ for Love in the hood. To check out the trailer and possibly help donate to complete this inspiring documentary, click here: www.believedocumentary.com.
“We’re thrilled to bring our viewers the world television premiere of Robert Townsend’s entertaining, fun family
film Playin’ for Love,” said Sophia Kelley, senior vice president of programming, UP. “Under his keen direction, the film presents a range of characters who you can’t help but root for as they struggle to do the right thing and on and off the basketball court. And as impressed as we are by the film, we are also amazed by the story of the making of the film and how Robert and Miami’s Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones changed the lives of a group of kids and brought the community together.”
“As a filmmaker I strive to uplift and inspire people, so I’m thrilled to have Playin’ for Love make its television debut
on UP,” said Townsend. “This film is an homage to one of my favorite films ‘Claudine,’ starring James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll, who received an Academy Award nomination for her role. It also starred a young Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, so I had to have him in this film because ‘Claudine’ changed my life. I saw my life on screen and it made me want to make movies.”
UP presents Playin’ for Love, a Philippians 4:13 production. Starring Robert Townsend, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jenifer Lewis, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Esai Morales. Directed by Robert Townsend. Executive produced by Jeff Friday and Isiah Thomas. Produced by Lydia Nicole and Robert Townsend of Townsend Entertainment. Co- produced by McGee. Casting by Ed Arenas. Cinematography by John L. Demps Jr. Music by Ben Foy. Wardrobe by Sierra Townsend. Script by Michelle Amor, Robert Townsend and Cheryl L. West.
UP is television’s trusted entertainment brand dedicated to providing viewers with “feel good TV for you and your family.” UP uplifts viewers every day with premiere movies, original reality, dramatic and comedy series filled with compelling stories and characters with character. In keeping with its brand promise, UP’s pro-social initiative, “Uplift Someone,” inspires people to do simple, everyday acts of kindness. UP can be seen in 70 million homes on cable systems and satellite providers across the United States. Based in Atlanta, UP is a division of UP Entertainment, LLC which also operates gMovies, the first faith-friendly streaming movie service and provides sales and operations services to the ASPiRE network.