As Nick Loeb walked to his car with a production assistant during a day of shooting his upcoming feature film, Roe v. Wade, outside Tulane University last week, a woman wearing a headset approached and asked: "Are you the director?"
"When I told her I was, she told me to go fuck myself," Loeb recalls. "Then she threw her headset on the ground and walked off. I found out later she was our electrician."
Anecdotes such as this have become fairly common since Loeb and his production partner, Cathy Allyn, began shooting their pro-life feature film June 15 in and around New Orleans. While Loeb has been in the news in recent years because of his ongoing custody battle over frozen embryos with former girlfriend Sofia Vergara of Modern Family, there's been little information about the filmmaker's new project, save for a flurry of articles five weeks ago alleging that Facebook wasn't allowing him to use its platform to raise money for the story of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion.
The radio silence — until now — has been by design, both for the security of the cast and crew and in order to obtain shooting locations. To accomplish the latter, Loeb and Allyn have been shooting the film, which will wrap principal photography around July 15, under a fake title that the pair will not disclose.
The film has been under such tight wraps that even the major castmembers had not been revealed; two Supreme Court justices are played by a couple of Hollywood's more outspoken conservatives, Jon Voight and Robert Davi, and other justices are played by Corbin Bernsen, John Schneider, Steve Guttenberg, William Forsythe, Wade Williams and Richard Portnow.
Stacey Dash, the Clueless star and former Fox News commentator who withdrew from a congressional race as a Republican three months ago, claiming the campaign had become "detrimental to the health and well-being of my family," plays Mildred Jefferson, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the former president of National Right to Life.
Even with the secrecy, it's been a challenging shoot. At Louisiana State University, Loeb says, "we were told we were rejected due to our content, even though it will be a PG-rated film. They refused to put it in writing, but they told us on the phone it was due to content." At Tulane, where Loeb is an alum, the film shot one day, but after the school newspaper reported on the nature of the project, producers were denied a second day of shooting, according to Loeb. (Both Tulane and LSU say logistics were the problem, not the content of the movie.)
And then there was a synagogue in New Orleans that producers rented for catering and as a place for extras to hang out. "Once they found out what the film was about, they locked us out. We had to call the police so that the extras and caterers could retrieve their possessions," Loeb says.
Casting has been a problem throughout, as actors have walked away once they realized there was a pro-life tilt to the film. "We had to replace three local actors, including one who was to play Norma McCorvey, even after she begged for the role," says Loeb. McCorvey was known as Jane Roe in the landmark legal case.
Also touched on in the film is that Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade also prosecuted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald. McCorvey's attorneys, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, are played, respectively, by Justine Wachsberger and Greer Grammer, Kelsey Grammer's daughter, while Lucy Davenport plays famed Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan.
Among the crew members who quit in protest was a costumer who left after two weeks "because of the subject matter and pressure from her peers," says Allyn. Even the director, also a woman, quit on the first day of shooting, so Loeb and Allyn are co-directing. They are also producers, and they co-wrote the script.
When they shot in Washington, D.C., their location manager there sent an email that read: "I have been doing research on the movie trying to figure out who is producing and what the gist of the story is, and I finally found it, and so I am withdrawing from this project. I am a staunch pro-abortion feminist activist, and I will not be party to such horrible propaganda."
Loeb and Allyn say that the timing is perfect for their film, since the Roe v. Wade decision has been in the news due to Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing on June 27 he will retire from the Supreme Court, giving President Trump the opportunity to potentially appoint a judge who will tilt the court toward overturning the case.
"But even without that news, it's one of the most controversial political decisions in history. It divides us and makes us uncomfortable," says Loeb, adding that his own battle with Vergara over access to embryos they created has informed the film. "I have my own pro-life issue going on with my fight over embryos, but no one has really told the whole truth about Roe v. Wade in a film. When I delved into this, I discovered conspiracy theories, fake news, made-up statistics and a whole lot of people involved who switched their positions from pro-choice to pro-life, including Norma."
The filmmakers say there are some notable investors behind the project, though they won't reveal them. They're negotiating a distribution deal now and are aiming for a January release date, while Republicans are hoping to confirm Justice Kennedy's replacement this fall.
The movie is executive produced by Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and she also has a cameo in the picture.
"There are lots of surprising cameos from controversial people in the news that I can't tell you about — or more people might walk off the set," quips Loeb.