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THE GREAT DEBATERS

Recreating 1935
Recreating 1935 in 2007 was no easy feat. Hiring Production Designer David Bomba, who had impressed Washington and Black with his work on Walk The Line, proved to be a stroke of genius. 

Taking advantage of the tax credits afforded to filmmakers in Louisiana, the production opted to shoot most of the movie in small towns outside of Shreveport. Mansfield, Grand Cane, Keatchie, and Belcher, all within a 50-minute drive from the largest city in northeast Louisiana, served as backdrops for East Texas of the Great Depression.

Mansfield turned out to be the main location for the production. Bomba reminds, "The town of Mansfield, Louisiana is our town of Marshall, Texas. Mansfield has a beautiful courthouse in the middle of the square. Two sides of the square have been modernized and updated, while the other two sides were pretty much boarded up. I was able to create a ‘back-lot' situation where you don't interrupt business but have a framework of something to use.”

Mansfield was also the location for the two main homes that appear in the film—the home of the Farmer family and the home of Melvin B. Tolson.

Bomba compliments, "Mansfield has been extremely cooperative and very excited about what we did—kind of giving their city a little bit of a facelift back in time.”

The production shot one day at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, to take advantage of the exterior. Production Designer Bomba reveals, "Wiley College is an established college in the Piney Woods of East Texas, so there were just a few buildings we could use to fit our time period—the President's house and the classical administration building ended up being the ones we could used.”

Costume Designer Sharen Davis had her own set of woes in resurrecting clothing from over seventy years ago. 

She admits, "It was challenging because clothes from the 1930s are so hard to find. I designed all the clothing for the lead characters, but when it came to the background, I called all over the United States to vintage stores and bought out all outfits that I could find from the late 1920s and early 1930s.”

However, she did score a big coup for the wardrobe of Washington's Melvin B. Tolson and Forest Whitaker's James Farmer Sr.

Costume Designer Davis reveals, "Brooks Brothers has been around since the 1800s, so they were nice enough to make clothes from my illustrations for Washington and Forest Whitaker. THAT was a huge help!”

Washington allows, "A lot of the team that was here for this film was on my first movie, Antwone Fisher. Philippe Rousselot, a brilliant cinematographer, Willie Burton, a two-time Academy Award®-winner sound mixer, Sharen Davis, a good friend and one of the top costume designers in the business and my producing partner, Todd Black, whom I wouldn't have made the movie without him.” He adds, "Also I have to give credit to David Bomba whom I worked with for the first time on this movie and is brilliant production designer.”

Now that 1935 is represented on the big screen, Washington discloses, "I'm glad that this group wanted to work with me and create this environment despite the long hours.”

As the movie went into the post-production stage, Washington had the greatest confidence in his team. "It's surrounding yourself with brilliant collaborators and allowing them to do their job. After all, as captain of the ship, I don't have to do every job on the ship—I just oversee it.”

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