A decision to eat a late-night meal in a local Huddle House restaurant several years ago has changed the lives of Bryan Williams and Denton Adkinson, the owners of Bryton Entertainment LLC.
Earlier this month, Bryton Entertainment’s documentary about the famed Tuskegee Airmen, In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen, hit the shelves of Walmart stores nationwide. Walmart has also selected the documentary to be promoted as a featured black history product in February.
“They decided this was a perfect fit for them, in their words, which is just amazing,” Williams said. Eighty-two retailers are now considering the documentary, he said.
The local filmmakers have also been contacted about the possibility of being interviewed on Good Morning America and screening the documentary at the White House, Williams said.
Last weekend, Williams and Adkinson had the opportunity to hang out in Tuskegee, Ala., with director Anthony Hemingway and actors from George Lucas’ new film Red Tails, a big-screen account of the Tuskegee Airmen’s heroic story that stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard. It opens in theaters Friday.
Actors and crew from the film watched Bryton Entertainment’s documentary on the set to prepare for the film, Adkinson said. Hemingway includes a quote stating his appreciation on the documentary’s cover.
The filmmakers also have a framed copy of a letter from Lucas thanking their company for sending the documentary, which he said was instrumental in the production of the movie.
Through their work on the project, they’ve even had a chance to meet with comedian Bill Cosby, Williams said.
“There were so many times that we could have stopped,” Williams said. “We had a trip scheduled to go to New York to interview two of the most famous Airmen, and we didn’t have the money. We had to take money out of our own houses.”
The 91-minute documentary features interviews with 16 Tuskegee Airmen, in addition to rare photographs, archival films and computer-generated re-creations of the military exploits of America’s first black fighter pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Williams and Adkinson stumbled on the idea in August 2007 as they were taking a break at Huddle House after a long, hot summer day of shooting two gospel music videos.
Williams’ wife had suggested for them to make a documentary, but they couldn’t decide what the subject should be. As the Christian filmmakers decided to leave the project in God’s hands, an elderly black gentleman came in the door wearing Tuskegee Airmen insignias on his jacket and hat.
They introduced themselves, and he turned out to be president of the local chapter. Two months later, they began traveling across the country to interview Tuskegee Airmen, including Charles “A-Train” Dryden, Herbert Carter, Roscoe Brown, Lee Archer and Spann Watson. Several of the Tuskegee Airmen have since passed away.
“It was a lot of work, but it really was a labor of love. When we met the first of the Airmen, we were hooked,” Williams said. “For us, it was just fascinating sitting and talking with them. You are literally sitting there with living history.”
They have continued to stay in touch with the Airmen, calling them on Christmas and Father’s Day, Adkinson said.
“We always joke that we have 16 additional grandfathers,” Adkinson said.
In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen was the company’s first documentary, and Bryton Entertainment premiered it at Imperial Theatre in January 2009. They later revamped the documentary for nationwide distribution.
On Feb. 25, Bryton Entertainment will screen the documentary in Atlanta, with 10 Tuskegee Airmen in attendance.