Movie on Marshall to be shot in Buffalo, focusing on earlier career

Apr 13, 2016

A film about the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, will be shot in Buffalo beginning next month. A decommissioned downtown courthouse, along with some tax breaks from New York State, led producers to bring the production to Western New York.

Hero Films, Chestnut Ridge Productions and Hudlin Entertainment are teaming to produce the film, which according to one of its producers will focus on the work of Marshall long before he received his historic appointment.

The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall will be the focus of a film that will be shot in Buffalo beginning in late May.
Credit WBFO file photo

"It's 1940. It's a case in Connecticut," said Chris Bongirne, line producer for the film, to be called Marshall. "Mostly, he's working for the NAACP at this point, which was most of his working career. He mostly worked cases in the south. This one happens to be taking place in Greenwich, Connecticut, and it's a criminal case."

It's also a case that, due to varying circumstances, leads Marshall to team up with local attorney Sam Friedman, who helps Marshall represent a black chauffeur accused of the attempted murder of a wealthy socialite. 

Signed to play the role of Thurgood is Chadwick Boseman, who previously played the role of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in the film 42 and musician James Brown in Get On Up. Reginald Hudlin is set to direct the film.

Also playing an important role in the film is Buffalo's Dillon Courthouse. Bongirne explained that the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission and Senator Charles Schumer campaigned to convince producers that the Buffalo courthouse was an ideal and ready backdrop for the court drama.

"One of the keys to coming to Buffalo was we found a decommissioned courthouse," Bongirne said. "It was built in 1934, and it was decommissioned, meaning it's empty. And, it's pristine and looks just like it would have in 1940."

Bongirne says producers also scouted some mansions upon arriving in Buffalo.

In addition to the availability of the courthouse, producers are enjoying incentives from New York State's Film Production Tax Credit. Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development, explained that film makers are eligible for incentives if 80 percent of the production work is done within New York State, adding additional incentives if the work is done in Upstate New York.

"That's had a real impact on Western New York and the rest of upstate, because now it's even more conducive to have these Hollywood films do their business here in Upstate."

According to state officials, the producers of Marshall may spend at least $4.5 million, hiring more than 400 crew and extras while booking an estimated 1,100 hotel room nights. 

Buffalo's film industry has become noticeably busier within the past couple of years and Hoyt suggests the state's tax credit program may keep productions coming steadily enough to keep local film crews working on a regular basis. 

"Success begets success and as we develop this reputation as a great place for the film industry to produce their films, you're not only going to have that stable workforce that is ready for the one film, it's going to grow as more and more films come online and choose Buffalo and Western New York."

According to Bongirne, filming in Buffalo will begin in late May.