On a sunny day in Buffalo, an ex-pat returns for a visit from his home in L.A. He was here not too long ago to work on a film called Marshall as an advisor and personal trainer of the film’s star, Chadwick Boseman. His name is Addison Henderson and he’s a writer, director, actor, and filmmaker who grew up on the East Side of Buffalo. For the last decade, Henderson has been learning and working in L.A., New York City, Atlanta, and Buffalo as a filmmaker.
During his quick return to Buffalo, we sit down to chat about his recent progress, which includes working with Boseman on the upcoming Marvel mega-film Black Panther and the Buffalo-shot Thurgood Marshall biopic, Marshall, writing his own science fiction screenplays, and what it was like cutting his teeth as a director in Buffalo.
I’m introduced to Henderson by his friend, JJ Alfieri, local music promoter for the popular Allentown bar, Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar
The two have known each other since around 2005, when Henderson and Alfieri worked together on a TV pilot.
“We did a pilot with one of the writers of MacGyver on spec for VH1 and Showtime once upon a time called Discs. Addison was the lead in the pilot,” says Alfieri.
“We’ve kept in touch. Our friendship has been rooted in our love for film and making movies and we just developed a genuine friendship over the years. He makes me so proud. He’s been grinding, constantly writing scripts,” he says.
“It’s great when he comes back and I get hear about his progress. Addison makes making movies real. It makes it a real possibility. He inspires a lot of people back at home,” Alfieri says.
My conversation with Henderson starts with Henderson telling me about the success of his writing partner, Kevin Polowy, who recently screened his documentary about the life of Buffalo-entertainer Lance Diamond, titled Diamond in the Buff.
“It was sold out at the North Park Theater about a month ago,” he tells me with a big smile.
As writing partners, Henderson and Polowy have written a science fiction TV script called The Healer, which they’ve begun shopping around.
“It’s about a supernatural woman who’s 167 years old, but they way she looks is 27,” he says. The story goes back and forth to slavery and present times. She works for an agency called the Department of Peace. Through a healing power she can reconfigure the hate circuit in someone’s mind.” The plot follows the woman’s influence on people throughout history as she attempts to “better peace along.”
“I write a lot of science fiction,” he says before launching into the synopsis of another screenplay he’s working on called The Sunder, a disaster pilot of truly epic proportions. Dark matter, gravitational events, black holes, cataclysmic events, and dystopian futures are among the phrases Henderson calls up. By his description, The Sunder is something like Lost meets Battlestar Galactica meets The Leftovers. Both shows also sounds exactly like something just waiting to be binged on Netflix.
With scripts in hand, the next step is to recruit some talent.
“We have talent in mind for both scripts, and we’re sending it out to them to get those people aboard. From there, then we’re going to take the scripts into meetings.”
He’ll leave Buffalo for L.A. after our meeting to begin setting up meetings with potential cast members and start pitching the script around.
It could be a long process, and this is just the beginning. His plan for the scripts is pretty extensive and includes shooting a series of short films, almost micro-films, to promote some of the key themes to potential fans and even producers.
“I came up with this idea to showcase my work, I’m going to do a series of short films, almost like Twilight Zone style. I’m going to release them on social media one minute at a time. So if I have a five minute short film, I’ll release one minute a week or so. I’m trying to get people involved and engaged in me as a storyteller,” he says.
Those films will go up on the website for his recently rebranded film company, Night Owl Republic. Right now if you got to his website, nightowlrepublicfilms.com, you’ll see a message that says “Coming Soon,” but Henderson plans on launching the website with teasers for his series of short films on November 1.
The name of the production company relates to Henderson’s work style. He’s a night owl, he tells me—partially because he’s suffered in the past from sleep paralysis.
“I used to get these visions of owls,” he says. “I don’t really sleep much at night, but I stay up and I write. I get most of my writing done during the night. So that’s where I came up with that name.”
Henderson is clearly very interested in science fiction and bases a lot of his writing and art on the heady concepts found therein, but his inspirations go deeper than the Twilight Zone.
In the early 1970s, Henderson’s father took over the Michigan Street Baptist Church.
“There was one time that they were going to tear that church down. Next thing they know they find out that it was part of Underground Railroad and now it’s a monument and a museum. My father still curates that museum. People come from all over the world to hear him talk. So I grew up around things that became history,” he says.
“I saw my father, what he did. My mother ran for New York State senate and she’s also a very motivational leader-type, so I was always the one putting my friends together, trying to lead the pack and say let’s go do this or that. It was great for me growing up here,” he says. “I have no regrets about growing up here because it filled me with a lot of history.”
Henderson’s film career took off after co-directing the documentary The Forgotten City. He made the film under his production company, Knuckle City Films with partner Korey Green.
Green and Henderson grew up together in Buffalo in the 1990s.
“We would see each other at the basketball court. We became good friends in college, where we played football together. That’s where we formed a bond and a friendship,” says Green.
“Addison started Knuckle City Films in L.A. He went to New York and L.A. to study acting and I gave him the synopsis for The Forgotten City and he pretty dropped everything and came back home,” says Green, who now runs a Buffalo-based production company called Black Rose Production House.
The documentary, which was released in 2006 explores race relations, crime, and politics in Buffalo. It begins with a monologue from Green. “Welcome to Buffalo,” he says, “where there’s more tragedy than just four lost Super Bowls.”
The film won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Awards for “Best WNY Film” in the 2007 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.
Following that, the team went to Ghana, Africa to shoot a film titled The Experience. The film, which features Green as one of the characters, took a year to put together. It was ultimately shown at a variety of film festival and was distributed on the Africa Channel.
“Addison is very passionate about films,” says Green. “Whenever I have a project done or near completetion, I consult with him and we talk about it. We can talk shop for hours when it comes to filmmaking. He has a really good knowledge of the history of filmmaking and a really particular style.”
Green sees great potential in Henderson, but is quick to descirbe the challenges of independent filmmaking.
“Just like a lot of us independent filmmakers it’s about choosing your battles and choosing the right project in the right moment. He’s got great potential especially when he puts his head and heart into it, he says.
“Inbetween being an independent filmmaker, we still have to pay bills and finance and sometimes you don’t have an executive producer to greenlight a project and you have to find creative ways to light the project yourself. Him working with Chadwick and being in L.A. for a while, he’s made those resources. I think this will be the perfect time for him to really bust out and show off his talents.”
Henderson met Chadwick Boseman through their mutual friend Logan Coles. Henderson and Coles have known each other for 17 years. They met at the American Black Film Festival, where they worked together. Coles lived in New York and Henderson in L.A. Seven years ago Coles moved to L.A. and introduced Henderson and Boseman.
“We became like the three amigos,” says Henderson. “Me and Chad started doing a lot of boxing and training together and weight lifting together. We created this brotherhood and from there we started working together.”
He says he’s learned a lot from working with Boseman, whose breakout film was the 2013 Jackie Robinson biopic, 42.
“42 blew him up, and he’s made smart decisions along the way. What I’ve learned from him is that you have to move slow sometimes to go fast. He’s 40. People are surprised when they learn that. He’s been in the game for a long time, but with that comes wisdom and how to pick your roles and what you’re going to do. I’ve learned a lot just working with him; talking to producers, and learning how communicate the message of what we’re trying to do.”
Henderson was on the set of Marshall when it was shot in Buffalo last year. He says the experience was like being a tourist in his own city while showing Boseman around.
“The producers came here to visit and the Mayor stepped in too because he wanted that movie to be shot here, and they just pulled out the red carpet for them. Now look, Buffalo is happening with film stuff. It’s a big deal. Getting them here was great,” he says.
The opportunity to return to Buffalo for three months and to work on a major film with his friend, a rising movie superstar was inspiring.
“I was like, alright cool, we’re coming to shoot in my home town.. We’re both spiritual, so we look at these things like cosmic shit,” he says. “It gave me three months to be around my family. We were all excited to come here. It was cool to just be around everybody and integrate the Buffalo part of my life into what I do now.”
Henderson also worked as Boseman’s advisor and trainer on the sets of Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, which is set for release next year. Needless to say they were very different, yet equally valuable experiences.
“Marshall cost millions of dollars, but [the Marvel movies] are unlimited. I can’t talk about it too much but I can say it just was an amazing experience. You work around people doing big stuff like that and then you realize that what you’re doing, all it is is about opportunity. It’s all collaborative. Making movies is such a collaborative thing. If you can collaborate with the right people and you can get a synergy going, there’s no telling what you can do. It’s such a great thing,” he says. “Everybody has something to give in the relationship, and thats why we all work so well together. It boils down to the camaraderie.”
Henderson has spent some time recently throwing parties in Atlanta for the cast and crew of the Marvel he’s worked on with Boseman. He sees the parties as an opportunity to meet people and network.
For Henderson, the future holds opportunities to sell his screenplays.
“I’ve got these two scripts and I’m going to sell them and I’m going to work on them. For me, as a director and writer, when I sit down and I think about my vision, I really think people are going to gravitate toward it,” he says.. The best things happen when I just give with my soul and don’t hold back. This industry is full of ups and downs and I’ve had my share of down moments, so I think now is a time for me to rise.”