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As first reported by BuzzFeed, a location manager had picked out Salesian High School in New Rochelle, New York, for a key scene in the fact-based movie, based on the 2007 documentary of the same name.
The location manager described the plot of the civil rights drama to school staffers, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Those staffers then allowed the scout to shoot still photos of the building.
In the scene in question, Moore’s character, a New Jersey police detective with terminal cancer, applies for a domestic partnership with her partner (Page) in order to pass on her pension legally after her death. The school was to stand in for the town hall of Ocean County, New Jersey.
After first approving the shoot, the school’s principal, John Flaherty, then informed producer Michael Shamberg that it had reversed its decision.
“They turned us down because of the subject matter,” Shamberg tells THR. The school has approved other shoots in the past, Shamberg says, where it has served as the setting for a music video and TV commercial.
Shamberg then penned an email to Flaherty, in which he clarified that the film, based on the final days of Det. Laurel Hester, was “not about gay marriage, nor are the women attempting to get married. It is about recognizing the dignity of a woman who was a brave civil servant.”
“I believe the theme of the movie is what Pope Francis recognized just yesterday when he called for the Church to welcome and accept gay people,” Shamberg continued in the email.
Flaherty replied that he would pass along the email to Father John Serio, the school’s president. “After that it was crickets,” says Kelly Bush, a top Hollywood publicist and another producer on the film.
Asked to comment on the decision, Flaherty told BuzzFeed, “All are welcomed at Salesian High School. Our school chooses to embrace the social issues such as hunger, homelessness, poverty, and helping the less fortunate.” Several attempts by THR to reach out to school officials for comment were not returned.
For Bush, the school’s decision only serves to underscore the themes of the film, which is directed by Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and reunites Moore with Steve Carell, her costar on 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love.
“Freeheld captures the inequality and bigotry that one couple faced while coping with cancer and the end of life,” Bush tells THR. “That our film was denied access to a location because of the subject matter — a same-sex couple fighting for their legal rights — illustrates just how important it is that this story be told.”
With time running out on the independently financed production, Mayor Paul Rosenberg of nearby Rye Brook stepped in and allowed Freeheld producers to use his town’s city hall for the scene.
“The mayor personally came to the set and greeted us and introduced his teenage daughters to Julianne,” says Shamberg. “Clearly, there are a lot of different attitudes in the area.”
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