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Film Duo Sheds Light on ‘Invisible’ Homeless Veterans

Crystal Pyramid Productions owners Mark Schulze and wife Patty Mooney shoot events for “Access Hollywood” and “Inside Edition.” They film training videos and commercials. But a gig in 2007 made an impression they couldn’t shake.

Veterans Affairs hired them to make a short film for the 20th anniversary of Stand Down, an annual three-day event that provides homeless veterans with medical treatment, meals and a place to sleep.

“They had three days of relative luxury, where they could get a haircut, three square meals, showers, even medical help,” said Mooney. “Then they’ve got to go back to the street. It really affected me. I thought, ‘What can we do?’ ”

They decided to tell the story in a meaningful way, and for the next 12 months, immersed themselves in a documentary project about the 200,000 homeless veterans in the United States.

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The result is a 43-minute film entitled “The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans.” It features stories from veterans, congressmen and advocates. It also folds in footage from America’s wars and photographs going back to the Civil War.

“There’s no voice-over. The people themselves are talking: people helping and the homeless combat vets,” said Schulze.


Viewer Accolades

The film, which wrapped up March 3, has won three national awards: a Platinum Ava, a Gold Aurora and an Accolade Award of Merit in recognition of its contribution to profound social change. It will be featured in May at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in New York. And Schulze and Mooney are planning its premiere for Memorial Day weekend on the USS Midway Museum or in Los Angeles.

“It’s fairly uplifting. It tells you what you can do about the problem,” said Schulze, who is dedicating all revenue from the film to the Veterans Village of San Diego, a charitable organization that provides job training, housing, food and clothing to veterans and sponsors Stand Down.

“In military parlance, when you take a unit off the line, you stand them down from the conflict for a period of days to retrofit. That’s where the term came from,” said Phil Landis, CEO of Veterans Village. “What we’re offering homeless vets in San Diego is three days of respite from the streets, coupled with an array of services.”

It also gives volunteers an opportunity to meet and connect with them, he says.

In July, Stand Down treated 830 veterans inside the San Diego High School stadium.

“Thirty-two hundred volunteers made that happen,” said Landis, who estimates the county’s homeless veteran population between 2,500 and 4,500.

“Part of our mission is to make the public in general aware of what the circumstances are that leads people to homelessness. The film does a pretty good job of that,” he said.

Homelessness is growing among female veterans and younger vets with two wars overseas and the recession, Landis says.

“We’re gearing up for the biggest number we’ve ever had,” he said.

Mooney says she was shocked to learn that so many of the homeless are veterans.

“We figured we’re so knowledgeable about what goes on in the world, but we had no idea that nearly half the homeless are veterans,” she said. “They get shunned a lot. These are war heroes sleeping on the street. People set them on fire or kick them. People don’t understand.”

Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and turn to alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication.

“We need to treat these people nicer. Don’t necessarily give them money, but just talk to them a little,” said Mooney, who suggests keeping Power Bars or sunscreen in the car to give to people begging for change. Some folks give out water bottles.


Pro Bono Work

All of the work for “Invisible Ones” was pro bono: 70 hours of camera footage and hundreds of hours editing at night and on weekends. They found other donating sponsors to cover the DVD replication, music and graphic design.

Crystal Pyramid, which had six full-time employees as of Jan. 1 and reported gross revenues of $622,000 for 2008 and $595,000 for 2007, estimated the cost of making the video at $50,000 to $75,000.

It’s filmed in high definition and is free. Crystal Pyramid requests a donation of $3.95 to cover shipping. It also suggests donations to one of a number of nonprofit charities supporting veterans, at theinvisibleones.org.

Mooney and Schulze plan to turn over marketing of the film to Veterans Village.

“It’s a good topic. It’s well made and it’s not a downer,” said Schulze. “It’s just a reality check that also gives you practical solutions to a problem.”

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