The Town of North Hempstead looks like the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons, according to a growing number of New York City-based film and television location scouts.
Indeed, Town Hall itself, situated on Plandome Road in Manhasset, served this month as the setting for a pivotal scene in Freeheld, a major motion picture starring a number of Hollywood luminaries including Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell and Michael Shannon.
Based on a true story, Freeheld chronicles retired police Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s (Moore) bid to have her pension benefits transferred upon her death to Hester’s domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page), after Hester becomes terminally ill. Steven Goldstein (Carell) was at the time of the pension dispute the head of Garden State Equality, and Dane Wells (Shannon), was a Hester police colleague. Hester died in 2006.
“It’s a thrill to have this independent film which focuses on civil rights shot right here in the Town of North Hempstead. Our Town Board room was used for much of the shooting and it certainly made for an interesting week here at Town Hall,” said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth (D-Great Neck). “It’s been a great experience and an economic boost for our town.”
The fictional Ocean County, New Jersey, Board of Freeholders, whose real-life members make a ruling at the center of Freeheld’s plot, convened in North Hempstead’s Town Board meeting room during the first week of November. Moore, Page, and Carell were there for the scene. Peter Sollett (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) is the movie’s director, and Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia), wrote Freeheld’s screenplay.
“I’ve seen this amazing documentary. We should get the rights to it,” Michael Shamberg, Freeheld’s producer, told me he said to his producing partner, Stacey Sher, after I asked him how he acquired the movie. It subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
“This is the fifth or sixth biopic I’ve produced, and each of them have said something which is worth saying,” Shamberg added. Perhaps the best known is Erin Brockovich, for which Julia Roberts won the Academy Award in the title role. Earlier in his career, Shamberg was the executive producer for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
The U.S. theatrical release date of Freeheld has not as yet been determined, and will be known only after Freeheld secures a domestic distributor. That should happen early in 2015 because many U.S. studios have divisions which acquire true-story films. Meanwhile, the workaday world of local government has been enlivened by its show business interactions.
“We gave them a tour of Town Hall, and they loved not only the town board room, but some of the office space for other scenes they wanted to film,” said North Hempstead Town Clerk Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), referring to Freeheld’s production team. The crew first visited Manhasset in August. One of the town clerk’s responsibilities is issuing film permits, and Wink noted the entertainment industry’s fascination with North Hempstead has paid financial dividends for the town’s taxpayers, too.
“By the end of this year, our film revenues will be nearly twice what they were last year, close to $100,000,” Town Clerk Wink stated. “Under the leadership of Supervisor Judi Bosworth and the town board, we are re-doubling our efforts to market the town.”
Film and TV location scouts, Wink continued, are drawn to the northern Nassau County municipality’s proximity to Manhattan, its scenic waterfronts, and lively downtowns. Besides Freeheld, television’s Royal Pains (USA Network), set in the Hamptons, and The Blacklist (NBC), have also made use of North Hempstead locales. Royal Pains shot scenes at Port Washington’s North Hempstead Beach Park, and The Blacklist filmed part of an episode on a residential Manhasset street.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism.