I know everybody’s busy celebrating the unofficial start of summer, but on this Memorial Day it’s important to stop and remember all of the heroes who are no longer with us because of the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.
And that’s just what Justin Moore did with the emotional music video for his 2018 hit “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home.”
If you haven’t seen the powerful video, it serves as a tribute not only to our military, but to our police, firefighters and even teachers who unfortunately went to work one day and never made it back home.
The video was conceived and directed by Cody Villalobos, who at the time was Justin’s photographer and content creator but is now a member of Justin’s management team at L3 Management.
We spoke with Cody about the creative process behind the video, and also got some exclusive behind the scenes photos from filming.
And according to Cody, who is a former EMT and was pursuing a career as a firefighter until he decided to move to Nashville, it was important to honor not just our military but all of the fallen heroes:
“Unfortunately as we’ve just recently been reminded, the list of brave men and women are no longer just in the military. From all first responders to now teachers.
There’s a lot of honor and respect to be paid to all of those who went to work one day to serve, protect, teach or provide, and didn’t make it back home. And this song lends itself to connecting with all of those people.”
And the video manages to tie all of those groups together, people who may have different jobs but are still connected by the sacrifices they make:
“I wanted to show how real and authentic these connections between these brave men and women really are.
From a mother to her soldier son, soldier to his teacher wife, teacher to her students, student to his police officer father, to the brotherhood of policeman and firefighters. The connecting of these heroes from the battlefield to the classroom, is what made this script something special.”
Unfortunately as our country is still reeling from yet another horror in Uvalde, Texas. But Cody said that he came up with the idea for the video while he was with Justin on the way to play a benefit concert for the Parkland school shooting back in 2018:
“Back when I was on the road with Justin as his content creator, we had a long bus ride down to Parkland, Florida to play a benefit concert for the victims’ families of the high school shooting.
It was an emotional trip that makes you really think deeply about tragedies and their painful ripple effect. So en route to this event, it all started to hit me and fall into place. Was almost as if God just laid it out in front of me.”
And when he presented the idea to Justin, he was onboard from the start:
“I sent Justin a text saying I had a sick (haha I really said sick) idea for the video that I needed to tell him. The next day, I told him and he leaned back in his chair with his eyes wide open and just said ‘Wow.’
Then after a pause he asked ‘You came up with that!? I love it!'”
When it came time to film the video, they didn’t call up a casting agency and get actors to play members of the military and police officers. Those are real members of the military, police, firefighters and teachers who are featured in the video, all from Cody’s hometown of Yerington, Nevada.
“The characters were part of what made this video special, as they were mostly made up of real life personnel in their respective careers. I think in the entire video, there were only 2 actors that weren’t in the careers shown.
I think the emotion and energy that each of the characters brought to the table, shined through on the final product. It felt somber at times, but overall felt like we were there to pay respects to those who really didn’t make it back home.
It felt like the whole process was an authentic moment that we just happened to be capturing. From real pyrotechnic explosions, to real firefighting gear, what you’re seeing in the video is what was happening in real life.
Having real military personnel on set helped us keep it as accurate as possible, given what we had. We didn’t want families of a lost loved one to be watching it and feel like it was some cheesy Hollywood rendition of each scene. I’d say the only spot where I leaned a little “fake” was the busting of the door down in the fire scene.”
So what has the reaction to the video been from members of the groups it honors?
“It was humbling to say the least. I’m sure Justin would say the same. Hearing the stories of how people connected to it, or how it got them through their tragedy, was a feeling that’s hard to explain.
I even heard from a soldier that the name we used as our soldier character was the name of his fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home, and the day we released the video was related to him in some fashion.
Stuff like that makes you wonder if there really was a greater power at work here with this video.”
Once the video was finished, it went through several revisions with Justin’s label – before ultimately coming back to the first version that Cody put together. And while the video ended up topping several charts, it never won, or was even nominated, for any awards – although that’s something that doesn’t really bother Cody or Justin:
“Honestly, hearing the stories, reading the comments, feeling the connection and meaning it brought to people’s lives is more fulfilling than any award. I’ll take that over an award any day, and I’m sure Justin would too.”
And not only were they able to honor our fallen heroes with the video, but after the song was certified gold by the RIAA, Justin, Cody and his team presented those heroes who were featured in the video with gold plaques as a thank you for their help – and their service.
I know too often it’s easy to think of Memorial Day as another day off work or the kickoff to summer, but the only reason we’re able to celebrate today is because of the sacrifices of so many heroes who go to work and sometimes never make it back home.
So to “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” – thank you, on this day and every day.