Marshall’ film director shouts ‘action’ at old Batavia courthouse
BATAVIA – If you happen to be in a movie theater late this year – or possibly in the fall of 2017 , depending upon the release date – watch intently as Chadwick Boseman in his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall climbs the 17 steps to a 1940s Oklahoma courthouse door. Here’s some insight: It was filmed around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Batavia.
The crew of the feature film “Marshall,” about 70 strong, shot a trial scene and an entrance scene on Wednesday at the old Genesee County Courthouse at the intersection of Routes 5 and 63 in downtown Batavia.
The movie focuses on a pivotal case in the career of Marshall, an attorney for the NAACP who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall, who died in 1993, served on the nation’s highest court from 1967-1991.
In the first shooting, Boseman – who starred as Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get on Up” and T’Challa in the Marvel Studios film “Captain America: Civil War” – walked up to the courthouse door with a bounce in his step, showing that he was ready to defend his client in the Choctaw, Okla., courtroom. In the second, he had to walk past five “locals” who formed a wall in front of the steps.
Director Reginald Hudlin said he wasn’t sure which scene would be used, saying he shot the second one after something told him to try a different angle. “I’m leaning on the first one,” said Hudlin, who said the crew’s two days in Batavia, as well as their time filming in Buffalo, has been a tremendous experience.
The scenes from the Oklahoma trial are a very small piece of this story – about three to five minutes covering a case Marshall defended while traveling across the country for the NAACP.
“This courthouse was fantastic. In fact, we have been to so many great locations in the Buffalo area,” he said. “Everywhere we go people have been welcoming and cooperative.”
Hudlin said filming is expected to take place through this month.
Producer Jonathan Sanger (“Elephant Man”) said he was brought into the production by Paula Wagner, who also is producing the film, and both of them knew that Hudlin was the right person to direct the movie.
“He knew an awful lot about the subject,” Sanger said. “He’ll also wind up getting a producing credit with this. He’s a scholar; very bright.”
Sanger, who looks much younger than his 70 years with his head band and light gray beard, said the film is based on a true story.“It’s not a biopic; it’s a story of one of his (Marshall’s) major trials,” he said. “These are the types of projects I like. I’ve done a lot of movies based on real people.”
Filming a major motion picture brings together executive and assistant producers, construction workers and technicians from throughout the country, including Western New York.
Kameron D. Wood, a production assistant, said he travels back and forth between Buffalo, his hometown, and the New York City area. A film program graduate from SUNY Purchase, he called it an “extraordinary project.”
“When the opportunity opened up for me to be back home, it was great,” Wood said. “We’re involved in everything … we’re the thread, the wire that helps make the production happen.”
Five tractor-trailers along with cargo trucks, production trailers and equipment circled the area around the courthouse, which is across the street from the new Genesee Court Facility. Boseman and a couple dozen extras stayed in the St. Mary’s Church hall on Ellicott Street, a stone’s throw from the old courthouse.
Filming ended late Wednesday night at a house that burned down on Oak Orchard Road, north of the city, for a scene that ties in with the trial at the Old Courthouse, Sanger said.
The production company agreed to make a $1,000 donation to Genesee County for the use of the courthouse and to pay for overtime costs for a Batavia city police officer and Genesee County sheriff’s deputy who provided security during the filming.