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FREEDOMLAND

The Road To Freedomland
Scott Rudin, the prolific producer of such acclaimed films as The Hours, The Village and Closer, among many others, first met writer Richard Price when he served as a casting director on The Wanderers, the film adaptation of Price's first novel. Later, as a producer, Rudin worked with Price when he called upon him to write the screenplays for Ron Howard's film Ransom starring Mel Gibson, and for John Singleton's Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson.

More recently, Scott Rudin optioned the film rights to Freedomland, a novel about the investigation of a carjacking, when Price was only about halfway through writing the book.

"One of the things about Scott, which I think makes him so successful, is that he knows exactly what he wants in a business where most everybody else is tentative and unsure,” says Price. "Then here comes Scott and he's completely unconflicted.”

Rudin was eager for Price to adapt his novel to the screen because "Richard is the preeminent writer of social realism working in movies today. This movie is completely, squarely in his wheelhouse. He wrote a tremendous script and worked terrifically with (director) Joe Roth in honing it for the screen.

Freedomland takes place in two Northern New Jersey towns: Dempsy, a predominantly African-American working-class poor inner-city community, and Gannon, a neighboring, largely white blue-collar suburb. Both towns had served as the setting for one of Price's earlier novels, Clockers.

When Gannon's Brenda Martin (played by Julianne Moore) says that she was assaulted in a park next to a low-income housing project in Dempsy, and her car was stolen by a black man with her child asleep in the back, the hostility between the two disparate communities escalates.

"I created these two towns with very different types of people,” says Price, and in this story, Gannon's worst nightmare comes true — the projects snatches one of their own.”

When Brenda arrives at the Dempsy hospital with the tale of her terrible ordeal, it is Detective Lorenzo Council (played by Samuel L. Jackson), big in size and personality, who handles her case. Price modeled the character of Lorenzo on Calvin E. Hart, a 21-year veteran of the Jersey City police force whom the author had first gotten to know while researching Clockers. Hart, a well-respected figure in Jersey City, not only enforces the law as a police officer, but also works with young people to help them find jobs and stay off drugs. "Sometimes I'm the only positive male role model they have,” Hart says. "So I do the things that I do to show kids that you can do anything that you want to do.”

Like Hart, Price's Lorenzo is African-American and a pillar of the community. Lorenzo is especially beloved and respected by the residents of the Armstrong housing project, which is where the carjacking occurred. With this particular crime, Lorenzo finds himself under intense pressure to find the perpetrator. "It's a simple carjacking that turns into what they call a ‘red ball,'” explains Price, "which is, all-hands-on-deck crime with tremendous media pressure, a missing white child and an alleged black abductor.”

As if a ‘red ball' weren't enough, Brenda's brother Danny (portrayed by Ron Eldard) happens to be a Gannon detective. The racial lines are then clearly drawn as the Gannon police move onto Lorenzo's turf, the Armstrong Houses, arresting any possible suspects and blockading people in their homes.

Price's research into police procedures in cases of abducted children also led him to Donna Cutugno, the founder and leader of "Friends of Jennifer for Missing Children,” a volunteer group that searches for missing persons. In 1987, when a local child named Jennifer Schweiger was kidnapped in Staten Island, Cutugno organized neighbors to help police search for the missin

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