WSU alum wins regional Emmys for aviation documentary

Adam White’s ‘The Restorers’ spotlights Doolittle Raiders

Filmmaker Adam White, who graduated from Wright State University in 1995 with a B.F.A. in motion picture production, received honors this past spring in Indianapolis at the 43rd annual Lower Great Lakes Regional Emmy Awards for his aviation documentary “The Restorers: They Were All Volunteers.”

Centered on “Miss Mitchell,” a restored B-25 bomber from Minnesota used in the 1942 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders bombing of Japan, “The Restorers” took prizes for writing and technical achievement, recognitions White shared with producer Kara Martinelli. First aired by Western Reserve PBS, the film is the pilot episode in a new eight-episode series, also titled “The Restorers,” currently under development by Hemlock Films, White’s production company.

Future episodes will cover air racing, fly-ins and re-enactors, but the pilot highlights the 2010 appearance of “Miss Mitchell” at the 68th Doolittle Raiders reunion, which drew more than 70,000 admirers at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“Those 70,000 people weren’t just the hard-core, warbird fans, but the general public wanting to make a connection to history, see the planes and meet the Doolittle Raiders,” said White, 41. “It was so nice to know there was going to be an audience for this type of film. It made me feel like all of the work was going to be worthwhile. But I’ve always wanted to do a World War II series. The interest was always there. I remember going to different air shows after graduating college that weren’t solely about the jet teams or roaring engines but older aircrafts and veterans. I heard stories I never heard of before. So I thought maybe there are many stories within aviation not being told in theatrical documentaries or on broadcast or cable stations that people haven’t heard.”

White, who has always had a deep appreciation for aviation history, particularly believes World War II maintains an appeal because the memories still linger. The achievements and sacrifices of the brave men and women continue to be testaments deserving of remembrance.

“We have constant reminders of World War II because it wasn’t that long ago,” he said. “It was total global warfare at the time. There were 18-year-old kids from Iowa suddenly in Paris fighting for its liberation. The Tuskegee Airmen had every right to thumb their nose at the U.S. government but still volunteered for the Army. The conflict of World War II was massive and intense.”

Raised near Chagrin Falls and based in Cleveland, White has worked in the film industry for nearly 20 years. Inspired by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese as well as films like “Empire of the Sun,” “Jaws” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” he acknowledges the perceived difficulty of building a film career in Ohio, especially in specialized fields like pyrotechnics. Still, there are benefits, mainly the financial perks.

“The nice thing about Ohio is that you don’t have to worry about the exuberant cost of living within coastal cities,” he said. “However, you have to adjust the work load. There’s balance in everything.”

Looking back on his years at Wright State, White, who has returned to teach workshops, wholeheartedly values the insights gained from professors such as Charles Derry, Russ Johnson and Academy Award nominees James Klein and Julia Reichert. Although he initially focused on making narrative films instead of documentaries, which he says accounts for only 25 to 30 percent of the films made by students, he remains grateful for the extensive lessons and experiences that steered him on the right path.

“Wright State was very good at teaching film production and film theory,” he said. “It’s a very professional, serious setting. It’s a good model. They expose students to an enormous amount of films from Hitchcock to Eastern European cinema. You also grasp film lineage. For instance, a J.J Abrams film can be connected to Spielberg who can be connected to Francois Truffaut. Spielberg shaped a romantic sensibility with the camera that I try to do with documentaries rather than shaky hand-held camerawork. I want to always give my work a sweeping notion. I want to be a poet with the camera. I don’t want to be vague with my intentions but own the image.”

White also offers sound advice for emerging filmmakers. Attachment is a key ingredient to the productivity of any project.

“When you’re working on a film, it has to be something you love,” he said. “You can’t look at a spreadsheet and focus group a subject you think will work for you because the public may want it. You’ll be married to that subject for at least five years from pre-production to selling it out there in the world, so you have to love it.”

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