An independent film company today asked to film in and around the old Genesee County Courthouse for a movie titled "Marhsall" about the early legal career of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
A resolution recommending that filming be allowed was approved unanimously by the Ways and Means Committee, which met at Genesee Community College this afternoon. The Legislature will have to approve it first however.
The courthouse will be a stand-in for a courthouse in 1940s Oklahoma, when Marshall was working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). At that time, the great grandson of a slave born in the Congo traveled throughout the United States defending African-Americans in often controversial cases. The case depicted in the film to be partially shot here -- for one day, perhaps slightly over that -- is based on the case of a black chauffeur who was accused of the rape and attempted murder of a white woman, according to the film company's location manager, Michael Nickodem, who attended the Ways and Means Committee meeting.
"I think it's a fairly worthwhile project," said Committee Member Marianne Clattenburg.
It will take of lot of work and planning by a lot of people to create historic realism for the film, and our old courthouse may wind up with only five minutes, or less, of limelight in the finished product.
County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens and another county employee are assisting as need be; the state Department of Transportation will need to sign off on temporary road closures and then a crew of about 80 people will descend on Genesee County and the triangular swath of real estate at Ellicott and Main streets sometime in the first week of June. Law enforcement is also in the loop with the project. Parking, including handicapped-access parking, will be temporarily blocked for the project.
Of these crew members, about 40 to 50 people will be inside for courtroom scenes, and perhaps 10 to 20 outside; Nickodem wasn't sure.
There will be about 50 extras, too, Nickodem guesstimated.
"Everybody get out your SAG cards," quipped County Manager Jay Gsell, referencing the Screen Actors Guild.
It will indeed be a union operation, including Teamsters, too.
"Camperland" will be set up close by. That's what they call the grouping of trailers for the stars, hair and makeup artists, etc.
Most of the film locations for "Marshall" are west of here in Buffalo, other places in Erie County, and Niagara County. Genesee County is affiliated with the greater Rochester-area film commission, although Nickodem acknowleged he should call them "because they probably don't know anything about this."
The old Genesee County Courthouse was found by a production designer who works with Nickodem.
"He's got a great eye," Nickodem said. "The challenge for the entire movie is finding places (where) we can shoot."
The location manager told the Ways and Means Committee that in scouting for the stand-in for a 1940s-era Oklahoma courthouse, once they saw Genesee County's building "It spoke to us...it read as more rural." Although it was built around 1843, it was thought to be a sublime choice for this indie film's purposes.
But that will require "adjustments" -- none at the county's expense of course, and anything done will be undone and put back the way it was once filming wraps up. A crew was at the Old Courthouse today and the list of "adjustments" that will be needed include disguising or covering emergency exit signs and lighting, putting a fake door in front of the elevator doors, and otherwise air-brushing out or working to eliminate evidence that it's 2016 -- the view of Wendy's across the street, ditto the Mexican restaurant on the opposite side.
Gsell promised "no action scenes, no superheroes, nobody jumping out of cupolas."
Also, when asked about the impact on regular work going on inside the facility -- in offices adjacent to the courtroom -- it was emphasized that normal operations will not be impeded by the film project.
Nickodem said the historical film is not considered what it is referred to as "ultra low budget," but it is low budget, though he couldn't provide a budget figure. (For indies, it is standard practice to name the production company -- created specifically for the film -- after the movie. Thus, it is known as Marshall Film LLC in Los Angeles, but since a different name is required for New York, they chose Marshall Movie, Inc.)
"Marshall" will probably be released by year's end and then be screened at Indie fests like Sundance in the hopes that it will be optioned by a big motion picture studio.
The star is Chadwick Boseman who played legendary baseball great Jackie Robinson in the Warner Bros. movie "42" opposite Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager Branch Rickey. Other casting is still under way.