16 and Pregnant Creator Morgan J. Freeman On His Journey From Laguna Beach to Teenage Crisis

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If you're not familiar with writer-producer-director Morgan J. Freeman, here is a primer: The multi-hyphenate's debut feature, Hurricane Streets, starring Edie Falco and Brendan Sexton III (Welcome to the Dollhouse), was the first narrative project to win three awards at Sundance in 1997. Freeman went on to direct other films including Desert Blue and American Psycho 2 while launching a successful career producing reality television shows for MTV. His first series, Laguna Beach, spawned two spin-offs and two years ago, Freeman created 16 and Pregnant, which has already spun off another successful social commentary series for MTV, Teen Mom.

Movieline caught up with Freeman recently to discuss how 16 and Pregnant has been a "dream come true" for his inner storyteller, why the series hits home with so many audience members and how all of his projects -- scripted or not -- are related.

What is the casting process like for each season of 16 and Pregnant?

It's a very lengthy process to really find the stories. It's really about finding families and finding teens who first and foremost want to share their truths with us and with us, I mean, the world. It really starts with people who want to take a very challenging situation and turn it into a tool for communication, a tool to teach. A tool to open their peers' eyes about exactly what it means to get pregnant at this age. So the goal is to find these girls that want to share. And then, it's a matter of throwing a really wide net out there, because teen pregnancy -- as a condition, as a crisis, as an epidemic -- does not discriminate. So we want our show to also offer stories on different backgrounds. To show that this issue exists everywhere.

Did MTV have any idea that it would be such a hit? Did you?

This show in particular, as far as all the things I have worked on... there was just a sense from the very beginning that it was going to connect. It felt relevant, it felt timely, it felt powerful and emotional and it felt like a window into a world that nobody had really shined a light onto. You never know whats going to happen but we had a good sense that the show was going to connect to the audience.

When you are in the editing room looking through footage, how aware are you of the message you are trying to send your teenage audience? Are you ever consciously putting in some of the girls' worst moments to make teenage pregnancy seem as negative as possible?

I would say we are very aware of wanting to make sure we are as accurate as we can when dealing with the girls. Any time prevention came up, any time sex education came up, any time any of the pratfalls that kids might encounter came up... all of those moments make the show. It's particularly important to make sure that we get one from each of the girls -- sometimes it's called the "blind spot" -- how did this happen? Whether the girl had unprotected sex once or a couple just did not think that they needed to use contraception or they did not think that they could get pregnant the first time they had sex. We really

want to make sure when we tell their stories, the girls share how this experience started for them. We want to show how challenging it is, what sacrifices they've had to make, if school has fallen off or they become scared of falling behind in their career -- the larger fears. We only have this hour-long show to try and capture five to seven months of a very emotional journey. A lot of thought is put into it.

It's amazing that after just 60 minutes, viewers can feel so emotionally connected to each girl.

We were just talking about that last night. Each of these shows takes so long to make and at the end, you have to consolidate their entire journey into under an hour. Maybe that is why audiences feel so connected -- because they go through nearly the entire pregnancy with these girls. So I think the format also makes it pack this emotional punch.

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Most episodes track the last three months of the pregnancies. How much of that is a production decision, just because you have to find and cast girls who are pregnant, and how much of that decision was made because you thought that was the most interesting trimester?

We want to start as early as possible, but the casting process is long, and a lot of times we don't even meet the girls until they are four, five, six or seven months along. I think we had a couple we met early last season -- we met Farrah at maybe three or three and a half months -- and viewers were able to really watch the physical transformation along with the emotional. But that's just casting. We don't decide to wait and just start filming at six months.

In most episodes, abortion is usually mentioned once and most of the girls say that they never considered it as an option. I'm sure there are a lot of politics involved with the network, but would you ever feature a teenager that is actually looking into abortion?

Well, I mean, we know that it's a choice and a choice that a lot of girls that become pregnant consider and take. But the format, the casting and the production schedules of our show make it impossible to tell that story -- to meet somebody before they make that decision. It's something that is a very tricky and complex process. I will say that we are developing a special that would go a little wider into some issues including abortion.

Are there any network standards regarding how many times abortion can be mentioned in the hour?

Not to my knowledge, no.

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Comments

  • Dick Coppens says:

    Man, Jennifer has slapped her husband so bad he is charging her on courts!

  • Awesome, Lady Gaga was awarded eight VMA awards last night. I'm extremely happy for her wins and I love that Born This Way tune she sang too!

  • jada says:

    i think that u have done a great job with the show.i watch the show 2 remind myself 2 not get pregnant at an early age i am only 13 years old i am not going 2 give my life up for somthing so serious as geting pregnant at 16 years old.u can email me at jgrady6585@gmail.com thank u.

  • SHAUNA MOORE says:

    i am 16 and pregnant.i would love to tell my story but i don't know how.

  • shelly says:

    for morgan j freeman...u ever think that maybe ur shows may have the exact oppiste effect and that u may be untentionally be sending a msg for teens to go and get pregnannt so that they may hopefully be picked for ur show??
    i have also heard that these girls get paid quiet a nice chunk of change...is this true??
    and why dont u have ur msg about how teen pregnancy is 100% preventable be4 and after each commerical break, instead of just once throughout the hour??

  • y says:

    you remember me joeys mom yolanda your show messed my familia up and now with all ths shit going what you nall did to me exposed alot of me for your fukn wallet can get fat hell no man i just relapsed i was clean for 9 months and then all these ppl doww talking me well iam a pill popper i said it proudly so fuk everybody who doubts me you came in my house wanting to let the world know wat i was battling and i did and now i fukn cant stand you i was raised in the barrio not like these others yall filmed and i lived a fuked up life yall dont know half the shit i been thru but im strong and now im on the crazy train again thanks alot morgan i hope you read this .

  • Drake says:

    "It really starts with people who want to take a very challenging situation and turn it into a tool for communication, a tool to teach." Like the couple that got arrested for raising their child in human feces and maggots? Money and ratings...first and worry about the consequences later. Read the comment above mine. CREATE. Stop wasting your talents on this reality show garbage. Next time MTV calls...tell them to go scratch. Young girls probably idolize these 16 year old moms and will copy their every move. Unintended consequences? Who cares? Where is my check? Trash TV has one agenda...ratings=big money. Casting? Are you kidding me? MTV is GARBAGE.

  • Ashlyn says:

    Ok, I am really quite angry with the show because it is teaching kids the wrong doings and hard work of being a teen mom! But the problem is 12 YEAR OLD GIRLS ARE GETTING PREGNANT AT MY MIDDLE SCHOOL! I go to school in Florida and my middle school and high school are connected! There are at least 10 to 13 twelve year old girls who made a pregnancy pact and at least more than half of them are pregnant! They are only 12 to 13 years old! Because of these shows: 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, they think it's cool to get pregnant because they want to he just like these other girls you put on tv! It is dreadful to think that girls are being out on tv to show how their stupidity in not having protected sex can get them somewhere and now since your show aired, the pregnancy level in my school has gone up! Don't believe me? I don't care, five girls in the high school got pregnant within the last two school years, and now 12 year old middle schoolers made a pregnancy pact and are pregnant! How does it make you feel to know that you are showing kids what you think will keep them from wanting to get pregnant, but is actually making them think it is a smart idea!?? In my opinion, it's stupid and I think that you should stop with the show! Thanks for helping kids believe its smart!

  • Ashley says:

    Seems to me that these shows are ruining the values that America once wore proudly. Reality TV is Not Reality Ladies! These Girls are being capitalized on they are rating whores. Its a sad time in our history when exploiting teen pregnancy is acceptable. Exploiting Children is what this show has done, the teen mom's and their babies. How is Jenells son Ever going to able to be a productive successful person? Why would he Ever want to partake in a society that has exploited him since day one, and that really goes for all the kids. You Fuel this girls drug addiction by paying, a Reward for being Stupid, A reward for getting knocked up at 16. What kinda society is this where people only live good if they sell themselves out.

  • Ashley Fields says:

    My name is Ashley I am from Ohio. I was just wondering if u have thought or what u think about making a show for the woman who have been done wrong by their mothers. What I mean is my mother tried taking my babies from the time my oldest was born, I was 19. I was buying a home and my mother never stopped trying to take my babies and destroy me. She finally succeeded 12-18-2010 and I have completely lost it. I got pretty bad on drugs and lives in a tent, my car, at random peoples homes. The courts make it impossible for a mother to do anything. The courts said I was allowed to see my kids but the people who have my babies won't let me even tell them I love them. Taking away the only reason I had to succeed and try does not seen human. We'll maybe it's just too human, people enjoy hurting other people so how much more human could my life get. I have an apartment and I am trying but I can't get past this pain. Why can't good things happen for good people?

  • CeCe Alvarez says:

    Mr Morgan,Ms Dolgen I am 66 years old,I can bring a hit to the big screen...16 and pregnant, THE MOVIE !!! Please contact me If interested...cecesopinion@gmail.com I live on Long Island N.Y. All the teenagers will go see it a message can reach so many Teenagers .

  • Cecilia Alvarez says:

    I have a story of a real story in the 60's I'm 66 now. I've written you three times.. CeCe

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