When veterans return from deployment, they often feel disconnected. They’ve come from a close-knit community to a place where few can understand their experiences. This isolation is one of the most common triggers for suicide among veterans but one that, fortunately, has a clear solution: organizations that promote camaraderie. For veterans in the entertainment industry, Veterans in Film and Television provides just that.
VFT brings together creative and technical workers with a military background — everyone from grips and cameramen, electricians and builders, to the actors and actresses we see on screen. The group also provides a way for members to use their military background to advise on military aspects of films and TV shows.
Jennifer Marshall, a former aviation storekeeper petty officer with the U.S. Navy, is at VFT’s helm (if you’ll excuse the nautical pun). After hearing about the organization through a friend of a friend, she’s found it to be a great resource in her personal and professional life.
“Veterans in Film and Television is important,” Marshall explained, “because it connects veterans working in the industry to not only other veterans, but to some amazing opportunities. It also has helped me, and many other members, recapture the camaraderie that so many of us missed once leaving the service.”
While working in film or television might not seem to have much to do with the military, the skills translate well, Marshall said.
“When many of us leave the military, we leave with the skills the military has taught us,” she said. “Unless we worked with the Public Affairs Office or in a journalism related field, many of the specific skills needed in television and film are not obtained during military service.”
“That being said,” she added, “many of the non-specific skills we learned — time management, strong work ethic, attention to detail — have served veterans quite well in a variety of career fields, including TV and film.”
Military service also means that members missed out on years of networking in the business, but VFT can help with that, too.
“VFT connects veterans to other vets in the business, job opportunities, seminars, roundtables and leads on projects,” Marshall said. “Even though we are an educational and networking nonprofit, we have also been able to create a friendly place where vets can go and hang out, reconnect and have the social time so many of us miss from our time in the service.”
Marshall knows firsthand how VFT can change lives.
“The government provided the G.I. Bill for me to go to school following my discharge, but anything after school meant that I was on my own,” she explained. “Before I found Veterans in Film and Television, I was trying to navigate this enormous and often confusing field with no clear direction and very few connections.”
VFT provided Marshall with mentors who had years of experience in the industry and a network of people she could turn to for advice or brainstorming.
“Los Angeles can be a harsh and isolating place without a support system and VFT has given that to many people,” she said. “Most of us don’t have family in Southern California so knowing there are so many other veterans in the same predicament who are chasing the same dreams is a comforting and uniting.”
Many VFT members have had real success chasing those dreams, including roles in “American Sniper” and the latest film by Ang Lee. It’s not just for those in front of the camera, though. Directors, writers and crew have all found work and community through the organization.
Marshall’s story is typical among VFT’s members. “Moving to Los Angeles three years ago without any connections, I immediately — literally three hours off the plane — became involved with volunteering for VFT,” said Jennifer Crandell, a camera woman who served in the Marine Corps from 2004 until 2008. “Five days later, I landed my first of many jobs on a network television show, ‘Body of Proof’ staring fellow veteran, Mark Valley, all because of the connections VFT created as an organization.”
For actor and screenwriter Rory O’Connor, a Vietnam-era veteran of the U.S. Navy, VFT provided numerous casting opportunities and connections, including “six well-paid acting jobs recently.”
“They also aided me in obtaining professional screenwriting training, retreats and a travel scholarship,” O’Connor said. “The camaraderie and support of the members both professionally and socially is wonderful. We are all military brothers and sisters, and thanks to VFT our military service is not forgotten and continues to benefit us and others around us.”
When veterans return home from deployment, having a community waiting that provides not only practical support but camaraderie means everything.
“Seeing veterans obtain opportunities they otherwise would not have is an everyday example of success within VFT,” Marshall said. “VFT is here to give motivated and inspired veterans a hand up in the industry and to unite those who are working in the field with other veterans.”
Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.