Former Navy SEAL Brett Jones stars in the lead role in a new independently produced film about veteran homelessness called "Once a Hero."
With the film now completed, Jones spoke to Connecting Vets about his experience and why he made the film in which he plays Bradley Johnson, an ex-Navy SEAL who ends up homeless on the streets. According to Jones, the genesis of the film was in a documentary he worked on called "Homeless in Huntsville" in which he lived as a homeless man on the streets. The documentary saw some success on a local level, and the idea occurred to him that maybe they could repeat that on a national level with a feature film.
"I wrote the first draft and it was quick," Jones said, having read a few books about how to write screenplays. "I did it really quick like a month or two. Then the revisions -- we had a group of us working on it. I found the value in collaboration during the creative process."
Little did Jones know at the time that he was embarking on a project that he later described as akin to scaling a mountain.
"Pre-production was a nightmare with no money, working on nights and weekends," he said. "We had to get our shit together, raise some money and start production."
The film follows the trajectory of Bradley Johnson who saw combat with the Navy SEALs before trying to transition into civilian life with a wife and son. Nothing goes as planned, and seemingly small problems and frictions compound upon one another in his character's life. Playing the lead role hits close to home for Jones, as he is a former SEAL and Global Response Staff (GRS) contractor who worked for the CIA. Jones is also a homosexual who while openly married today, served in the Navy during the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" years. All of these experiences were brought into the character of Bradley Johnson.
Jones was in some dark places when he wrote the script, and had to revisit those aspects of his life for the role. While he enjoyed the creative process of making the film and being around like-minded people, playing Johnson was not a happy experience for him.
"Even afterward it was a process to put it all behind me. I didn't enjoy that at all. I wasn't eating right, I was drinking," Jones said. He lost forty pounds for the role as well so that he would look the part of a homeless man.
The real miracle of the film was, "how it was made from nothing, so many people were passionate about it that volunteered their time and resources. That is the real victory in this movie. It would never have been made anywhere except here in Huntsville where people care about veterans," Jones said.
The film was shot entirely in Huntsville, Alabama. All but two or three actors are from Huntsville. The composer of the score lives there and so does the cinematographer, the cameramen and audio technicians.
"The people here in Huntsville did something special."
Jones says the next step for "Once a Hero" is to screen it at film festivals around the country.
"I feel like it can shed a lot of light on veterans and on transitions," he said of the film's message. "It can put a spotlight on this problem. If it does that is a huge win."