Shane Brady was once a local sports celebrity of sorts.
As a 16-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning super fan and season ticket holder during the team’s successful Stanley Cup run in 2004, he was known as the “We Believe Kid.”
“I would paint lightning bolts on my face and hold a giant sign that said, ‘We Believe,’” Brady said. Other fans were inspired to do the same. “I was on the front page of newspapers. I became friends with the players and Phil Esposito,” hall of fame player and the team’s announcer.
Today, the “We Believe Kid” is a 35-year-old Texan and his celebrity is again rising, this time as a filmmaker.
Over the last few months, “Breathing Happy,” a movie he produced, wrote, directed and starred in, won awards at film festivals around the world, most recently the Audience Award for Best Feature at Soho Frights in London, England.
And now, the film is available on Fandor, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and other streaming outlets.
“Breathing Happy” follows a recovering drug addict trying to achieve one year of sobriety alone on Christmas as past demons tempt him to relapse.
It’s “A Christmas Carol” on hallucinogens.
“It’s a Christmas movie, definitely,” Brady said. “But it’s not very festive.”
Most of it was shot in the Tampa Bay area in March and April 2021, primarily in Brady’s Palm Harbor childhood home and exteriors in Clearwater, Dunedin and Belleair Bluffs.
Brady stars as the recovering addict. Esposito plays his grandfather.
The demons include a talking golden door voiced by Tarpon Springs native Aaron Moorhead, director of the MCU’s “Moon Knight” and the upcoming season two of “Loki.”
“I knew that any film he made would come straight from the heart,” Moorhead said. “There’s nothing quite like ‘Breathing Happy’ and being a tiny little part of it makes me so proud. I’ve known Shane for more than half my life. He is incapable of being anything but earnest, and I knew that any film he made would come straight from the heart.”
The movie is indeed earnest, Brady said, with much of it based on his life. “The story began with me experiencing something that happened on Christmas Eve that was so nuts that I wrote 20 pages of a script. A decade later I expanded upon it and wrote this movie.”
That event had to do with a close friend battling addiction, but Brady did not want to divulge more.
But he had plenty to share about other real-life events that made it into the movie.
“I don’t know how to shut up,” Brady said with a laugh.
Both Brady and his character learned magic while recovering from the same brutal finger injury at 8 years old.
“I was going out on a boat with my uncle and stuck my Power Ranger toy between the cup and the ball of the trailer,” he said. “I decided to grab it at the exact moment my uncle gunned on the gas. My finger came right off, and we had to find it on the ground.”
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The right index finger was reattached. Physical therapy included shuffling cards. That led to card tricks and then magic.
Brady’s neck injury is another of his accidents depicted in the movie.
“I was 14 and playing in a 17-and-under hockey league,” he said. “So, I was tinier than some of the big boys. A guy threw me into the boards headfirst and my head rattled like a rag doll and then my head hit the ice.”
He broke his neck, recovered, but never played competitive hockey again.
When the Lightning heard of Brady’s story, they provided him with front row tickets to a game and access to the players. That’s when he met and befriended Esposito.
That experience also turned his family from fans to super fans, he said. They bought season tickets, Section 114, according to news archives.
To make his signs, Brady pasted cutout letters spelling “We Believe” on poster board and then surrounded the phrase with cutout pictures of the players.
During the playoffs, Brady gave his homemade signs to fans. He started with 15. The number rose to more than 100 per game by the Stanley Cup, with each including a note asking for the fan to make at least two of their own for the next game.
Homemade “We Believe” signs were visible throughout the arena.
“I always wanted to be a professional hockey player,” Brady said. “I couldn’t be one after my injury, so didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But I was good at guitar, really good at magic and loved to talk 24/7, so I went to Florida State University for theater.”
He’s found steady acting work, with roles in “Ballers” and “Doctor Sleep.”
But Brady wasn’t getting the meaty starring roles he craved.
“It’s a lot of luck and things aren’t always fair in the acting world,” said Emily Zercher, “Breathing Happy” executive producer. “But things are fair when you are the one in control. He took control.”
For help, Brady called film industry friends who are also from the Tampa Bay area. Jamie Parslow came on as the other executive director and Evan Zissimopulos agreed to become cinematographer.
“When I asked Phil Esposito to play Grandpa Shane, he said no,” Brady said. “Then he said, ‘I will play sexy old guy Shane.’ After I broke my neck, there was a lot of self-pity. But I guess everything happens for a reason. Phil Esposito might not be my friend. I might not be in film. Who knows where I would be.”