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Hollywood-style get-well greeting for an L.A. cop in Afghanistan

A fellow police officer and his musician friend make a music video, complete with footage shot from an LAPD helicopter, for the Marine reservist injured by a bomb blast.

August 20, 2010|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

Enthusiasm was sky high when Los Angeles police officers decided to cheer up a colleague injured by an Afghanistan bomb blast.

Co-workers and strangers joined to create a music video that aims to boost the spirits of Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins.

In civilian life, the Marine reservist is a police officer assigned to the downtown area.

Cullins, 28, is also an explosive ordnance disposal specialist assigned to a unit in Marja, in Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province.

He was disarming a 15-pound roadside bomb when it blew up July 16. He suffered a concussion in the blast.

When word of the injury reached the Police Department's Central Division, officers decided to send Cullins their best wishes. But instead of just signing a get-well card, they set out to record personal messages to him on video.

Capt. Daryl Russell remembered that one of his officers, David Marroquin, is experienced at producing videos. Marroquin, 28, quickly agreed to record his co-workers' "I hope you're feeling better" messages.

But "I thought I could do a little more for Josh," said Marroquin, a resident of the Pico-Robertson area.

He recruited a friend, actor-musician J. Hunter Ackerman, to write a song to accompany the cops' messages. Then he mapped out an MTV-style music video to go with it.

Ackerman, 32, spent a week writing the music and lyrics, rejecting his first version as too much of a "shoot 'em up, cowboy thing" and tossed out the second because it had the feel of a military recruitment ad. "I finally found something that told a story of support," he said.

It took four more days to record multiple instrumental and vocal tracks at his home studio in Playa del Rey. Marroquin then went about plotting a visual storyline to go with Ackerman's song.

Back at the police station, Russell greenlighted the project when Marroquin explained what he wanted to do. "Let's make it happen," replied the captain when Marroquin asked if he could borrow a police helicopter for a short scene.

Marroquin scouted out locations to use as backdrops. He talked Woody Lovell, a barber at Farmers Market in the Fairfax district, into letting him shoot a scene in his shop and persuaded officials at downtown's 52-story Gas Co. Tower to allow him to stage another one on its roof.

For the two-day shoot, Marroquin rented a high-definition camera and a studio-style Steadicam mount to keep his shots jiggle-free. He and Ackerman spent the first day at the Salton Sea and the second one in L.A.

For the barbershop scene, Ackerman balked at having his head shaved, as called for in the video's script. So Marroquin persuaded Officer Chris Molina to be the stand-in for the shearing scene.

The resulting 4-minute, 40-second music video called "Welcome Home" is the lead-in to the recorded messages from Cullins' Police Department co-workers and his family: parents Barbara and Jim Cullins and brothers Cooper, 12, and Donovan, 16, of Simi Valley.

Jim Cullins said his son has been an LAPD officer for two years and is three months into his year-long Afghanistan deployment. "Taping the message to Josh wasn't easy. You want to make small talk, but you don't want to make them homesick," he said.

The completed two-part video was being posted Thursday evening on YouTube for Cullins and his Marine buddies to see. It's labeled "Hunter Ackerman — Welcome Home."

Marroquin and Ackerman said the skyscraper scene was the highlight of the shoot for them. That's where Marroquin intercut footage shot from the helicopter with views shot from the roof.

"The building's director of security, Dale Wright, said we were good to go as long as we didn't land the helicopter on the roof," Marroquin said.

So he dropped Ackerman off at the tower, raced to the LAPD helipad in a cruiser and hitched a ride with the police pilot. After shootingthe aerial footage, Marroquin returned to the helipad and hurried back to the high-rise with his camera.

Ackerman said he enjoyed the view from the roof and the ride in the patrol car. "To be in a cop car and be in the front seat is moving up in life's station," he said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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