'Wayman Tisdale Story' Producer on Emmy Win

Illustration for article titled 'Wayman Tisdale Story' Producer on Emmy Win

(The Root) — This year's daytime Emmy winners and prime-time Emmy nominations were recently announced, but what many don't know is that there are different types of Emmys awarded, some of which are regional. Take, for instance, The Wayman Tisdale Story, which won a Midwest Emmy Award for best documentary. The film chronicles the life of Wayman Tisdale, a former NBA power forward, jazz musician and God-loving family man who died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer.


The film was produced by Michael Swanson, who has been a television executive and independent producer for nearly 20 years. He is also the founder of Faith Filmworks, a Los Angeles-based independent production company that has released popular romantic features including 2001's All About You, an indie classic featuring LisaRaye McCoy, Rockmond Dunbar and Debbie Allen, and its 2007 follow-up All About Us. Both films were written and directed by his wife and high school sweetheart, Christine Swanson. Michael Swanson took a breather from work to chat with The Root about Tisdale and his recent Emmy win.

The Root: What was it that drew you to The Wayman Tisdale Story?

Michael Swanson: I got a call one day from the film's writer-director, Brian Schodorf, and he told me about this project he was doing on Wayman Tisdale's life. Then he asked if I would be interested in coming aboard and helping. I had friends who personally knew Wayman, and I'd always heard such cool things about him over the years. Wayman has such a rich and layered story that embodies triumph, perseverance, disappointment and overcoming challenges, yet he still had this unwavering faith in God. I knew his story would connect with audiences and offer hope, perspective and encouragement.

TR: Why do you think the movie resonated with audiences and critics alike?

MS: Well, so many people knew Wayman from his stellar NBA career or from his phenomenal college career at Oklahoma, where he was Player of the Year three times in the Big Eight. He was also on the '84 Olympic team. So basketball fans everywhere knew and loved Wayman.

Then, after retiring from the NBA, he went back to his first love of playing the bass, creating music, writing songs, and then captured this whole new audience on the contemporary jazz circuit.

This movie resonates with audiences because Wayman was a fun, lovable, big teddy bear who loved life, and you could always see that about him no matter what he chose to do. When he was diagnosed with cancer, everyone was shocked, and when he eventually passed away from it, that was even more devastating.


I've heard people ask after some of our screenings, "Why did this have to happen to Wayman? He was the nicest guy." This film resonates because it draws audiences into the intimate world of Wayman Tisdale as he deals with his life's ups and downs.

TR: How did you feel when got the Emmy nomination and eventually won?

MS: When I found out about our nomination, I was honored, humbled, excited, proud, all at the same time. I knew what that meant for the work, most importantly, and I was just grateful that Wayman's story got recognized on this level.


Sitting at the Emmy ceremony through all those other categories before best documentary was very nerve-racking. When they said we won, my initial reaction was that for the rest of my life I can be called "Emmy-winning producer Michael Swanson." [Laughs.] We all shouted, jumped up, hugged everyone on our team, and went up there to get our Emmys. I will never forget that moment.

TR: What's next for you?

MS: Staying busy. I'm a studio production exec at NBC/Universal, and the shows I cover, Parks and Recreation and Community, begin production soon for their new seasons. So I'm preparing for those shows to start up. And [the film's director] Brian Schodorf and I are discussing another sports-themed film. Of course I'm always cooking something up with my wife, writer-director Christine. She wrote a wonderful script that will complete our All About You and All About Us movie trilogy.


The Wayman Tisdale Story is now airing on ESPN and NBA-TV and is available everywhere, including the film's website.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.