The year was 1995. Wayman Tisdale was weeks away from signing the final contract of his NBA career to continue playing for the Phoenix Suns. An unknown producer teamed up with an Arizona con man, and well, fifteen years later, fans of the Hall of Fame Sooner, King, Pacer and Sun, and jazz star, can see it on Youtube.
Before the world saw Wayman Tisdale appear as himself in the 1996 comedy Eddie, he appeared in a gospel film called Witness Protection. The DVD containing never-before-seen footage of his first and only filmed music video performance, along with two director’s commentaries, is now available on Amazon.com.
Though the film was initially intended to launch the producing careers of Cory Parella, in the wake of the releases of low-budget films like El Mariachi, and Clerks, the entrance of then-Motown subsidiary MoJazz, which held Tisdale’s recording contract, spooked the $5,000 film into a production standstill, resulting in a decade-long legal battle among producers. In 2006, Parella met Beverly Hills agent Beverlee Dean, and showed a rough cut of the film.
In 2008, it was released as a 30-minute drama, minus all the music video footage that was filmed in Scottsdale, Arizona at a defunct nightclub called Studebaker’s. In 2009, Parella donated the films masters to the Oklahoma Historical Society, a $10.6 million donation.
After meeting Beverlee Dean, whose current and former clients include Jim Caviezel (The Passion of The Christ, Deja Vu), Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), Frank Rossi (White Men Can’t Jump, Time of Fear), and Jeremy London (Dazed And Confused) , and taking counsel from some of her clients and colleagues, Parella says turning a small investment into a $10 million success was a great help in the healing process. “Also, when I look back on what Steven Spielberg went through on Jaws, there’s no comparison. The experience helped me connect concepts to application in the business world when I got my degree.”
The film itself is not a Tisdale-driven vehicle. The story is about a young man who has a calling to serve God, but to prepare himself, he must choose to break away from the declining suburban neighborhood that is being choked by criminal elements. Tisdale plays a former professional basketball player who disciples the young man, attempting to nurture his spiritual gifts. The film contains no sex, nudity or profanity, despite addressing the controversial topic of porn. “We open with a baptism and have Scripture printed on the screen throughout the film. The film shouts the gospel as loud as one can, considering the challenges of production.”
For fans who want to remember Tisdale as he was, and for Christian youth pastors who are trying to find ways to breach the subject of the effects of adult content on society, Witness Protection is available now. All viewings benefits The Wayman Tisdale Foundation.