As three National Football League teams fight for the right to move into the lucrative L.A. market, the league is about to be hit with some uncomfortable publicity by a Hollywood movie.

The Christmas Day release “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, is the first major film to examine links between playing professional football and subsequent brain damage.

Peter Landesman, the L.A. writer and director of the Sony Pictures Entertainment drama, said his film sticks to the facts in dramatizing the early deaths of NFL stars who suffered from dementia and depression. But he admits the movie could make uneasy viewing for those who love the nation’s favorite sport.

“Like any gigantic business, there are powerful interests invested in keeping it going, no matter what the cost. I hope the film makes the facts known. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” said the former investigative journalist in a statement.

Smith plays forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, the crusading doctor who first uncovered the ugly truth. The actor said he felt a responsibility to get the film made.

“The thing that impelled me to make this movie is that as a parent I had to put the information out for parents and players to be able to make an informed decision,” said Smith in a statement. “I’m a football dad. I have two sons and my oldest, Trey, was a big-time football player. I was concerned about my son breaking his leg but there was no conversation about long-term neurological repercussions. As a parent, how could I have no information?”

The NFL promises that player safety is a priority, and that it has learned from past experience and medical research.

“As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, in a statement.

New Stage

In its 20th anniversary year, Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse has appointed Gil Cates Jr., the son of its late founder Gil Cates, as executive director. Cates Sr. was also known for producing the Academy Awards a record 14 times.

“It means everything to be able to build upon what my father started, to keep the core audience and expand to the next generation of theatergoers,” said Cates, who also works as a film producer.

With so much technology available these days, Cates acknowledged that it will be a challenge to get the younger generation away from their screens and into Geffen seats for live plays.

“Theater is the oldest but still the most vibrant reflection of the human spirit,” he added. “I believe it can only expand thanks to compelling, moving plays like our current production, ‘Outside Mullingar,’ which speaks to exactly what we are going through today.”

Rocky Road

Ryan Coogler was still a student at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts when he got the idea for the new “Rocky” movie, “Creed,” which aimed to score a box-office knockout over Thanksgiving weekend.

After graduating, Coogler used connections and persistence to nab a meeting with the film franchise’s creator and star, Sylvester Stallone, to pitch him the reboot idea about Rocky training the son of Apollo Creed, the boxer he beat to win his first world title.

“I could tell he was apprehensive,” said the 29-year-old Coogler, a lifelong fan of the “Rocky” films. “I hadn’t even made a feature film yet so he was probably thinking, Who is this kid? But I could tell he was also thinking about every way the idea could work.”

After seeing Coogler’s acclaimed debut feature, “Fruitvale Station,” Stallone came on board as producer and co-star of “Creed,” agreeing to leave writing and directing duties to the impressive youngster.

“When Ryan came to me with the idea, I thought it was incredible,” said Stallone in a statement. “This filmmaker … is so young and yet so captivated by what we began all those years ago.”

Short Takes

L.A. Tourism president Ernest Wooden Jr. has been named to the Ebony Magazine 2015 Power 100 – a list of the country’s most influential African-Americans. Wooden was heralded for his strategic leadership in making Los Angeles one of the world’s most popular destinations, with more than 44 million annual visitors.

As Hollywood award season approaches, luxury long-stay destination AKA Beverly Hills has launched a pampering program called Recharge, which gives residents and visiting stars a complete mind and body boost featuring spa treatments, healthy food and drink options as well as personal styling.

In a bid to attract celebrities and Hollywood club owners to the brand, Absolut Co.’s new luxury vodka, Elyx, has launched Elyx House Los Angeles, a luxury Hollywood Hills home designed for promoting the product by entertaining clients and stars.

Staff reporter Sandro Monetti can be reached at or (323) 549-5225, ext 200.

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