True story inspires free-speech tale
Paramount Pictures and MTV Films have made a deal for fact-based drama “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”Story concerns a high school student in Juneau, Alaska, whose suspension turned into a battle over free speech that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Double Feature Films partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher will produce, with Mark Poirier penning the script. The student, Joseph Frederick, his father, Frank, and Doug Mertz, the local attorney who took his case, all made life rights deals for the film. Frederick already had a contentious relationship with the school principal when he got suspended for 10 days for displaying a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” message on a 14-foot sign outside the school. The principal felt the banner promoted drug use. The case made national headlines, and Frederick became a poster boy for the First Amendment, but in a split decision, the Supreme Court upheld the principal’s right to suspend the student. “The heart of this story is the relationship between a father and son,” Shamberg said. “Frank Frederick was an insurance adjuster facing the loss of his job if his son didn’t back down.” Frederick, who’d often discussed the importance of First Amendment rights with his son at the dinner table, would not force his son to drop the case, and he was fired from his job. Father and son now teach English in China. “The tone is ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ about a young man standing up for his rights,” said Shamberg, who with Sher has mined true stories for the films “Freedom Writers,” “World Trade Center” and “Erin Brockovich.” Poirier wrote Dennis Quaid-Sarah Jessica Parker starrer “Smart People,” which recently completed production.