A crew walkout has stopped production on In Search of Liberty, a film from Tea Party activist Norm Novitsky that was shooting in Savannah, Georgia, Deadline reports. Crew members, many of whom were film students or recent graduates, were dissatisfied with their wages, their classification as independent contractors, and their treatment on set. They approached the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to represent them and negotiate better conditions, but when the film’s production company BluNile Films refused to recognize the union, it became necessary for the crew to dissolve the bonds that had connected them with the production. A strike began on Sunday, and on Thursday the film shut down completely after an attempt to hire replacement workers failed.
As the situation worsened, producer/director Novitsky and production manager Chip Lane reportedly attempted to have IATSE internal representative Scott Harbinson arrested in a dispute over property belonging to the production. Novitsky didn’t comment, but Harbinson minced no words:
The irony and hypocrisy of a Tea Party activist like Norm Novitsky misclassifying employees as independent contractors in order to push payroll tax burdens from themselves on to employees—all the while seeking a $300,000 incentive from the taxpayers of the state of Georgia—is lost on no one.
If it is completed, the film, written by Tom Solari, will tell the story of Ben Franklin teaching a modern American family about the U.S. Constitution. In the trailer Novitsky promises that In Search of Liberty “will make you weep for the beauty of what the founders created and how it is systematically being destroyed.” The film’s website has photos of actor Jimmy Hager in costume as Franklin driving a Corvette and shooting a rifle (as well as several photos in which the crew look less than thrilled).
Screenwriter Solari has a background in entertainment going back to his days in comedy duo Solari & Carr, regulars on The Sonny & Cher Show, but Novitsky is new to the industry. Before entering filmmaking, he founded Nationwide Title Clearing, a document-processing company that gained national attention for its dubiously ethical robo-signing practices, which helped fuel the 2010 foreclosure crisis. In a deposition, one of the company’s employees admitted to signing as many as 5,000 mortgage assignments a day. The company was also the subject of a 2011 St. Petersburg Times investigation into its ties with the Church of Scientology.
Novitsky has been working for years to get In Search of Liberty off the ground, relying on crowdfunding, individual donors, and even pitching the film to Michele Bachmann at a Tea Party Patriots event back in 2014, according to a Washington Post report:*
“It’s called ‘In Search of Liberty,’ and it’s about the Constitution,” [Novitsky] told Bachmann as she walked by.
“Oh, good for you,” she said with a big smile. “I have to go.”
*Correction, July 12, 2016: This post originally misspelled Michele Bachmann’s first name.