When Sgt. Amy Feltzin and Spc. Jayme Roth of the Oregon National Guard’s 1249 Engineer Company were on convoys in Afghanistan, the dream of working on the set of a major film production seemed a long shot. However, less than six months after returning from their deployment, they found themselves doing just that, thanks to a program designed to find veterans jobs in the film industry.
“Operation Hollywood,” the brainchild of producer Suzanne DeLaurentiis and the Oregon National Guard’s Joint Transition Assistance Program, is providing soldiers opportunities to work in the film industry while still meeting their National Guard obligation in Oregon, said DeLaurentiis.
Actress Erica Christensen, who has had major film roles in “Traffic” and “Swimfan,” and currently plays Julia Braverman-Graham in the television series “Parenthood,” is one of several Hollywood actors who work closely with Feltzin on the set of DeLaurentiis’ new film “How Sweet It Is.” She said she is honored to be working with the veterans.
“I think it is really cool that they feel special being here,” Christensen said. “But we feel special having them here; it is an honor both ways.”
Feltzin, who is working wardrobe and makeup on the set, said she is having an amazing experience.
“The whole experience of being on the film set, and the demands there are, is so parallel with what the military asks of us time-wise and energy-wise,” Feltzin said. “Getting to work with these guys is just awesome.”
DeLaurentiis met the Oregon citizen-soldiers during a visit to a career and benefits fair in Oregon, which was put on by the Oregon National Guard’s Joint Transition Assistance Program. The team helps veterans and their families with employment, healthcare and education.
She said the veterans on her set are brave men and women who are wonderful people and even better employees.
“The great thing about hiring veterans is they’re always on time, they know how to multitask, and they’re very accustomed to taking direction,” DeLaurentiis said.
DeLaurentiis, who frequently visits wounded veterans and donates much of her time in support of veterans, said she was inspired after viewing the documentary “This is War: Memories of Iraq” at one of her film festivals. The film, produced by independent Oregon filmmaker Gary Mortensen, follows several Oregon Army National Guard soldiers during their 2004 deployment to Iraq.
One of the soldiers featured in the film is Master Sgt. Vinnie Jacques of the Oregon National Guard.
Jacques, who is a member of the Oregon National Guard Joint Transition Assistance Program, helped launch what is considered the premier reintegration program in the nation for veterans and their families.
“Suzanne has given an incredible opportunity to our troops to come down here and work on a film set,” Jacques acknowledged. “I told Jayme: ‘Suzanne has opened the door for you and that I am ecstatic to hear how well you are doing.’”
When DeLaurentiis met Jacques, they said they formed mutual admiration sharing similar values and an interest in working together to help veterans.
Since then, DeLaurentiis’ efforts have resulted in accolades and recognition from the very organization to which she has dedicated herself. Thus far, she has received the Oregon Commendation Medal (an award rarely bestowed to civilians), a written letter of appreciation from Oregon’s adjutant general, and an engraved plaque of recognition from the Oregon National Guard.
“Operation Hollywood” is her most recent effort to help veterans. DeLaurentiis said she is scheduled to visit Oregon to look at possibilities that would lead to jobs for Oregon soldiers on a film set in the state. “Operation Hollywood” will support the National Guard obligation for soldiers in Oregon by finding ways to provide affordable transportation and lodging for jobs on film sets out of the state, she said.
Feltzin said she is proud to be a part of something bigger than just herself.
“This is such an amazing honor because we get the chance to pave the way for “Operation Hollywood,” so other service members can come and do this too,” she said.
Larry Litton, assistant director for “How Sweet It Is,” said the veterans are picking their jobs up quickly. Roth is doing transportation, mechanical and medical work on the set.
Litton said her military training is an advantage in each of those areas.
“So far they are doing great, they show up on time and are willing to do what needs to be done,” said Litton. “Being willing to learn and paying attention is half the job.”
Alex Burns, the transportation coordinator for the film is Roth’s supervisor. Burns has worked on sets of multiple major motion pictures and said he has been very impressed with Roth.
“She’s excellent, she’s knowledgeable, she retains, she is a very quick study, and definitely an asset,” Burns said. “Whenever we do another film, she is the first person I am calling.”
Roth said working on the film set has been hard work — involving 12-hour days, early mornings, and grave yard shifts, much like being in the military — but she is thankful for the opportunity.
“I’ve watched movies, but I’ve never been behind the scenes and it is an amazing experience,” she said. “It is hard work — you’re ways moving, always running.”
Alex Adams, a production assistant for “How Sweet It Is,” is also a former Marine. He said the ability to think ahead gives veterans an advantage on a film set.
“Military being on set is a very good thing because we’re already trained to take orders and we’re good at lot of different things,” he said. “There are other former military on this film set and we’ve all talked about a common sense factor that military experience brings to the set.”
Actor Joe Piscopo said he has also been impressed with the Oregon National Guard soldiers on the film’s set. The former “Saturday Night Live” star has been in many films and says he has done multiple USO tours while frequently supporting the New Jersey National Guard. His father served in World War II with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“I’ve got the chance to see some of what the military goes through and we are very humbled by that, and I’d like to thank Suzanne DeLaurentiis for doing this,” Piscopo said.
“How Sweet It Is” stars Piscopo, Christensen, Paul Sorvino, Michael Pare and Eddie Griffin. It is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2012.
Courtesy Story, Oregon National Guard Yellow Ribbon
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