Thursday, January 26, 2012

Producer Shares Insights on “Underground Railroad: The William Still Story”

Gordon Henderson, Producer for WNED’s upcoming national PBS broadcast “Underground Railroad: The William Still Story,” shares highlights and insights from the creation of the film which debuts Monday, February 6 at 10 p.m.


· William Still was called the "Father of the Underground Railroad” in his obituary in the New York Times. Maybe he wasn’t quite the "father" but he was certainly at the center of the action. He was an incredibly brave and resourceful man. I feel honored to help get his name out there and to give him this starring role.

· My favorite scene in the production is when Henry Brown, a slave from Richmond, Virginia arrives at the Anti-Slavery Office concealed as cargo in a crate. Imagine spending 27 hours scrunched in a box, being transported to freedom, and emerging saying: "How do you do, gentlemen?" It's an extraordinary moment and actor Dion Johnstone delivered his lines so effectively, that it came off brilliantly. I was relieved and thrilled. 

· It gives me the chills to think of Sydney Still (William’s mother) having to choose who amongst her children she would escape with. That "Sophie's Choice" moment brings home both the incredible personal drama and the horrors of slavery. The sadness in her eyes haunts me and that's what we hoped to convey through her part of the story.

· To tell this story, we used a method called "direct address" -- actors speaking to camera. It is tricky, but Dion Johnstone did a fantastic job. He became William Still. Some of William Still's writing is formal-- even archaic--but Dion actually made it sound conversational. His experience delivering Shakespearean lines at The Stratford Festival was great training for this role.

· Working with WNED was a joy. They encouraged us to tell the Canadian side of the story. WNED really is a bi-national station.

· I love history and telling important stories and am thankful for PBS. Who else is looking for this kind of quality material these days?

View a clip of this program:

Watch Underground Railroad: The William Still Story Trailer on PBS. See more from Underground Railroad: The William Still Story.

Visit the companion website at:

Gordon Henderson founded 90th Parallel Productions which is based in Southern Ontario and specializes in history, science and current affairs documentary production. Henderson served as a senior producer in the epic documentary series Canada: A People's History.

No comments:

Post a Comment