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  • Writer's pictureGena Heelz

George W. Tillman Jr. Is A Historical Film Director And Writer

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

George W. Tillman Jr. a Memphian, is completing “The Lucky Eleven” a documentary about 11 students played football together at South Side High School in Memphis enter the world of Fisk University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the early 1970s the impact is profound both for their lives in college and pros and the other students and players around them. It’s first educational screening with student-scholar awards to incoming Fisk University Students and a donation to the Fisk Athletic department will be on Friday October 20th, 2017.

Mr. Tillman has shown his films in Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia. The development of his unique writing style is a result of a lifetime of musical and film industry influences. This combination together have landed Tillman several awards for his talented writings. George Tillman was born on August 17th 1955.

His filmmaking career started as a young man in high school when he saw the movie Watts Stax, a 1973 documentary film by Mel Stuart that focused on the 1972 Watts Stax Music Festival, for the African American Community of Watts in Los Angeles, this film clearly conveyed the soulful expression of the black experience.

Prior to his interest in the movie industry, he was exhausting most of his time and talent as a high school athlete. In football, Tillman made all Metro Quarterback and later he placed All American in Track and field as a hurdler. Due to his God-given talent, Tillman attended Fisk University on a dual scholarship of Football and Track. His major was Healthcare Administration and Planning. In 1975, Tillman would go on to help his team win the SIAC Football conference catching the winning pass. It was in the same year George and his classmates looked at the movie “Watts Stax” again but this time it, inspired his passion of writing to surface.


There were many musical icons George looked up to during his college career. He was able to study under one of the great Gospel Musical Giants of today. Dr. Bobby Jones, it would be his first encounter with seeing how the production of television shows were made. During this taping he was able to see Ronnie Millsap, Glen Campbell, Jamie Freaky, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight and the Pips along with Dr. Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers. In 1984, Tillman finished his under graduate studies, but prior to that, Tillman attended Tennessee State University and Lemoyne Owen College where he studied Music under Dr. Mildred Green and Jazz Saxophonist Herman Green.


In 1985, Tillman would meet the songwriter George Henry Jackson whose famous writings (One Bad Apple) sang by the Osmond’s (Down Home Blue’s) by ZZ Hill (Old Time Rock and Roll) by Bob Segar just to name a few. This would spike yet another interest for the art of singing and songwriting for the piano.


In 1987, Tillman was watching an interview on Entertainment Tonight about the life and career path of the Film Director Spike Lee, after seeing and hearing about the acclaimed screen writer this would now sparked the beginning of his film journey.


In 1988, Tillman was introduced to Professor Steve Ross at University of Memphis (Director of Film) by Memphis Film Commissioner Lynn Sitler. Professor Ross encouraged Tillman to read the book “Art of Screen Writing” and the rest is history. Mr. Tillman went on to write the screen play the Son of Shaft, Midnight Train to Georgia, and The Last Buffalo Soldier, just to name a few.


In 2004 the famed director of the movie “Shaft” Gordon Parks wrote a letter of recommendation for George Tillman to the film industry. So many opportunities have come Tillman’s way in the last decade, his current project, Pride Poise & Dedication “The unsung story of Coach George Glymph expresses another writing style he possess. This documentary is just the beginning of more to come.


A Synopsis of George W. Tillman, Jr. ln 1974, George W. Tillman, Jr. attended Fisk University on a Track/Football Scholarship. Tillman arrived at new Levinston Hall, with only a suitcase, sixteen dollars, and a harmonica. During his rest moments from football practice and nightly studies, Tillman would blow his harmonica. His favorite song was “Gypsy Man”, performed by the group, WAR.


In 1975, Reverend Edwin C. Sanders introduced the film Wattstax to Fisk's student body. In seeing this movie, Tillman was inspired to write a movie of his own. This was sparked by the singing appearance of the Bar-Kays in the Wattstax movie; as they sang “The Son of Shaft”, he set in motion to write the script for a movie he affectionately named, The Son of Shaft. Reverend Sanders informed the student body of the closing of the legendary recording studio, Stax Records. Consequently, Tillman was deeply moved by the closing of Stax Records.


During that era, African Americans had only three successful million dollar businesses. They were Motown, Stax Records and Johnson products.

The next film to leave a profound impact on Tillman was, The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This would mark the beginning of a great story about a distinguished Fiskite. In 1977, shortly after Tillman helped his team to the SIAC Football Conference Championship, his football career was shorten. Tillman was well on his way to becoming a professional athlete, however, God had other plans. In 1985, Tillman's entertainment career began after meeting the great George Henry Jackson, the famous writer of “Down Home Blues”, “Old Time Rock and Roll”, “One Bad Apple”, just to name a few. lt was through George Jackson, that Tillman would meet Patty LaBelle, Bobby Womack, Johnnie Taylor, Wilson Pickett, and Chipp Moman.


In 1987, Tillman saw Director/Writer, Spike Lee on Entertainment Tonight. This inspired Tillman to write The Son of Shaft. He began the making of the movie The Son of Shaft. Tillman was faced with opposition for the title use of Shaft. He later moved on to write the movie, Midnight Train to Georgia. In 1989, Tillman met Lon Fontain, a great choreographer who assisted him in meeting Gladys Knight. ln 1992, Tillman presented the screenplay Midnight Train to Georgia, to Gladys Knight while in Memphis performing during the Memphis in May. Ms. Knight was very impressed with the script. Tillman's next writing venture was, The Last Buffalo Soldier. After conversing with his cousin from Port Gibson, Mississippi regarding this venture, Tillman received letters from General Colin Powell, Commander Field Potts of The Last Buffalo Soldier Museum in Kansas City, MO.

In the beginning stages of Tillman's career he had the pleasure of meeting James Earl Jones, who was in Memphis, filming The Familv Thing. Tillman played the role of a bartender in this film. Mr. Jones after meeting and conversing with Tillman was impressed by the script of The Last Buffalo Soldier. Mr. Jones encouraged Tillman, and autographed the script. Tillman prepared himself by visiting several horseback riding clubs, and educating himself. It was then that he sought to make the pilot for The Last Buffalo Soldier.


The trend had begun! Tillman then met Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the movie Rainmaker. Since Rainmaker was filmed in Memphis, it gave Tillman an opportunity to have a small role in the making of the film. Tillman then went on to have acting roles in other movies such as: The Client, The Firm, Separated Bv Murder and The People-Vs-Larrv Flynn. Tillman went on to write the movie, Two Sides of the Street. The background for this film depicts a community where LeMoyne Owen College mirrors LeMoyne Gardens, a housing project. His next venture was Down In Soul City, which he wrote and directed.


Tillman wrote a documentary about HIV/AIDS, entitled My Brother, My Friend which previewed at The National Civil Rights Museum on World AIDS Day 2000. Tillman is a graduate of MeHarry Medical College. He has always wanted to give back to the health field. This documentary will afford him the opportunity to bring about awareness of HIV/AIDS and raise money for this cause.

In the summer of 1997, Tillman performed with members from the group WAR. In 2000, Tillman performed with the group again, but this time Lee Oscar was with them. Tillman's dreams were coming true.

Lee Oscar gave him the idea for a short film entitled, The Unknown Film Maker. This was a dream that came true for Tillman. Tillman also met John Singleton at the Universitv of Memphis during Black History Month. Singleton spoke with Tillman and in that same year Singleton produced and released the movie, The Return of Shaft, which was heartfelt for Tillman. George W. Tillman had a critic to call him expressing his desire to view the movie, Down In Soul City, which he wrote and directed. This movie previewed at the Malco Cinema Studio. A sellout crowd was on hand for its viewing.

WDIA radio personalities, Bev Johnson and Fred Moore informed George of the Fisk International Film Festival. This gave Tillman the idea of producing, The Filming of a Fiskite.


Athletic Awards

Messick High School:

1973-runner up state championship 180 yd low hurdles 1973-all-metro high school quarterback 1974- High School All American track and field/ city, regional and state championship 180 yd low hurdles/ Southeast Conference championship track and field 180 yd low hurdles.

College Fisk University 1975- SIAC football champions Fisk University 1976- middle Tennessee State Track and Field Championships indoors intermediate hurdle


For more inquiries about Mr. Tillman click on the links below:


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