Though some may think that the adaptation of K-9s into the U.S. military is a recent invention, service dogs have actually been in use for several decades.
Filmmaker R.J. Nevens, Jr. of Kingwood took interest in this subject after viewing a heartfelt picture of a deceased military veteran and his dog.
“There was a picture [taken] some time ago of Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson and his dog, Hawkeye. Jon died protecting our country and [at] his funeral, Hawkeye was laying at the side of Jon’s coffin. Although Hawkeye was his family pet, one thing stood out. He was always faithful. That picture just did something to me,” said Nevens.
This touching moment led Nevens on a journey to create a project to honor military service dogs. After extensive research, he decided to make a film revolving around the WWII era.
“There was so much history made during that time: families still suffering from the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. involvement in WWII and the repatriating of Guam. Many of the dog handlers from that era are passing away now. They started the war dog program and it’s only fitting to honor them as well as their amazing dogs,” said Nevens.
During this time period, under the guidance of the American Kennel Association and the supervision of a group called Dogs for Defense, pet owners nationwide were encouraged to donate their dogs into the armed forces. The donated dogs were then trained and donated into the areas of the armed forces where they were needed the most.
These events inspired Nevens to write his own novel, “Walking Point,” which is “based on true events surrounding the Pacific War,” said Chelsea Nevens, R.J.’s wife.
A novel was not the ultimate goal of the couple, however.
“Last year, we heard about about a re-enactment at the National Museum of the Pacific War at Fredericksburg and we were amazed when we attended it. Inadvertently, we had discovered the location of our filming,” said Chelsea.
The serendipitous discovery of this location sent the Nevenses into a “whirlwind,” as they began the process of fundraising, assembling a cast and crew and filming.
“We were able to raise over $30,000 through fundraisers, and coupled with our own investment and the sacrifice of our crew taking pay cuts, we were able to make this project work,” said Chelsea.
“When we arrived in Fredericksburg to film, we saw an overwhelming amount of support from the local community. Every single meal for our cast and crew, which totaled over 60 members, was provided for. We got significant discounts on housing from generous local citizens. We were simply amazed by this miraculous occurrence. Our project struck a chord with people as they were touched by the story and our mission,” said Chelsea.
Following four days of filming in Fredericksburg, as well as several days of filming in Bokeelia, Fla., in a coconut palm grove to resemble Guam, the movie was finally ready to go into post production.
“We are now finalizing post production with the Budapest Symphony and are on track to have a completed film within the next week. Most of our cast and crew are either law enforcement officers, military veterans, active duty, or have strong family ties to service – something that was extremely important to us when we cast this project,” said Chelsea.
“The plot of ‘Walking Point’ centers around the heroic donated canine, Duke, portrayed by handler Sgt. Ed Soares’ K-9 Duke of the Menlo Park Police Department in California and a young marine, Pvt. John Markle, played by L.A. actor and animal advocate Lou Wegner. Pvt. Markle falls in love with Emily, who is a beautiful Dogs for Defense volunteer trainer, played by the talented Texas actress Liza Wilk. Pvt. Markle and Duke are quickly shipped off to Guam to help liberate the island from the Japanese empire right as their love is blossoming. His goal is to make it back to her and to bring Duke back safely to the patriotic family that donated him,” said R.J.
Chelsea added the importance Duke played in the film and cited his reputation.
“Duke has a huge social media following and is a finalist in the Hero Dog Awards for 2019 in the law enforcement category to be aired on the Hallmark Channel later this year. The most recent issue of ‘Working Dog Magazine’ showcases Duke on the cover and a multi-page write up of him as well as ‘Walking Point’ and the history of military working dogs,” Chelsea said.
Financial gain is not the ultimate goal of this production.
“Our goal is not to make money. Most of the proceeds from [my] book have gone back to various K-9 charities. This film is about bringing to life the story of the Greatest Generation and the dedication and sacrifices made not only by soldiers during WWII, but also by the many families that donated their beloved best friends to the Armed Forces.,” said R.J.
The couple are ecstatic as post production is coming to a finish.
“This film will be used as a proof of concept to pitch as a limited television series or feature-length film. We will be seeking qualification for the Academy Awards at several film festivals beginning in early fall,” said the couple.
If interested in contributing to “Walking Point,” visit fromtheheartproductions.networkforgood.com/projects/51027-shorts-walking-point-the-movie-the-story-of-a-marine-and-his-dogfromtheheartproductions.networkforgood.com/projects/51027-shorts-walking-point-the-movie-the-story-of-a-marine-and-his-dog and make a tax deductible donation. One can find additional information including videos, cast information and more about the storyline by visiting instagram.com/walkingpointthemovie or facebook.com/WalkingPointTheMovie.