hands shot up in the air, each wanting to say something about their
They are actors, writers, directors and
producers - and some of them haven't even left junior high.
The movies they are talking about are
often funny, with a little bit of the horror genre thrown in. And
sometimes there's no ending at all to their movies. Sometimes, it's
just fun to shoot a scene.
On any given Monday and Wednesday evening,
this young group of Ho-Chunk filmmakers gather at the House of Wellness
near Lake Delton to learn the art of movie making from two people
who have plenty of experience.
And the energy these students have makes
Quentin Tarantino look lethargic.
"It gives me something to do,"
said 13-year-old Sylvia Bissonette. "I guess you could say
it's another way of expressing (ourselves)."
In the summer of 2008, Sherman Funmaker
joined an established theater group at the Ho-Chunk House of Wellness
formed by Chuck Davis, and together they helped create the Ho-Chunk
Players. It's a filmmaking/theater group that has completed 20 short
projects so far with a small feature on the horizon.
"What we want to do is a feature
that's all in Ho-Chunk language with subtitles. It would be like
15 to 20 minutes long. A dramedy. That's our goal," said Funmaker,
who started writing screenplays and doing film himself before heading
to the University of New Mexico in 2007 to work on a media arts
degree. When he returned, he wanted to give something back to Ho-Chunk
"I just volunteered. And they gave
me a couple hours and we started doing these short films."
Their first project was a scene of an
actress trying to interview for a part. It wasn't scripted, but
has had almost 1,000 hits on YouTube.
"These guys are very good at improvising,"
Since there's only a few hours of class
time each week, projects are done quickly, with editing done by
Funmaker and posted to YouTube.
In any given class, between two and 15
junior high and high school students may show up to volunteer for
the next project.
So a short movie - four to eight minutes
- could be shot one week and be posted to the Internet the next.
"We basically have an hour and a
half to come up with something," Funmaker said. "Everybody
pitches in and helps out."
And for the students, reviews of their
films are already in - and another hit is on the way. "Thunderheart"
In the summer of 1992, Val Kilmer found
himself in the Badlands of South Dakota filming a movie called "Thunderheart,"
where he played a Native American FBI agent tracking a murder on
In the movie, Kilmer's character learns
more about his Native American side and has a vision to help his
While shooting a sweat lodge scene, Kilmer
wanted to be respectful of the Native American actors he was working
with. So when it came time for them to sing, Kilmer asked that they
not do any heavy religious song that would make them uncomfortable.
Chuck Davis, who was working as an extra
on the film, got together with the other Native American singers
and chose the perfect song for a serious scene in the film.
When the cameras rolled, they started
"You know that it would be untrue.
You know that I would be a liar ..."
"It was a Doors song," Davis
said, acknowledging they had a little fun with Kilmer who just finished
the film, "The Doors" and the song "Light My Fire"
Then they broke into a rendition of "Break
Davis has a lot of funny stories about
working in his home state of South Dakota on movies like "Dances
with Wolves" - where he helped "beat up" Kevin Costner's
character in one scene - and "Thunderheart" - where he
was in several scenes, including the role of a Ghost Dancer.
"Being an extra, there's a lot of
waiting around for scenes being set up. A lot of extras didn't like
that, but me, myself, I found it interesting to watch the different
aspects of filmmaking."
When he came to work as a youth coordinator
at Ho-Chunk's House of Wellness, he established a theater group
in 2005 to help pass along things he learned working on major Hollywood
Davis also was very involved in theater
and wanted to help the students in the Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo
areas get involved.
"There's issues and barriers that
they live in. I wanted a vehicle for them, a format for them, to
express themselves," he said.
The first group he worked with had the
idea of doing a prevention video that was Native American related.
And the current version of the Ho-Chunk Players eventually evolved
from that one idea.
"I also wanted to develop a native
Saturday Night Live.' As Sherman reflected, there are some
really natural comedians here. And some of them are very animated.
There are potential, promising Gilda Radners." And
perhaps a Chris Farley.
In one short film the Ho-Chunk Players
recently did, Everett Menore interviewed Abby Johnson in their own
version of Farley's famous sketch where he played an extremely nervous
Farley was so good at being a bad journalist,
he even asked Paul McCartney, "Do you remember when you were
with the Beatles?"
Lights, camera, action
Last year, during a youth field trip,
many of the Ho-Chunk Players had a chance to meet Native American
actor Adam Beach, who's been in everything from "Big Love"
to the new Steven Spielberg film "Cowboys and Aliens."
While it was a memorable trip to meet
a star, it was also a chance to meet a fellow filmmaker for inspiration.
It's boosts like that which help push
the Players along, brainstorming ideas for short films.
And this summer, they will have more time
to tackle a larger, more serious project.
"They came up with the idea of doing
public service announcements," Funmaker said.
And they hope to take on their own scripted
film in their native language.
"What we will do is write the script
and have one of the elders come in (and teach them pronunciation).
While many of the young Ho-Chunk Players
can speak some of their native language, they are still learning
"It will take a long time because
we have to write out what we're going to say. We can't just improvise
because we're not fluent in Ho-Chunk," said Myshell Mike, a
15-year-old member of the group who goes to Wisconsin Dells High
School. "And then (Sherman) has to chop it up and it will take
Myshell was joking about production time
because the students get anxious to see their finished product quickly.
While Funmaker and Davis work on production,
they said they are also thankful to the Ho-Chunk Nation for providing
equipment like cameras and a computer for editing.
"I love doing this," Funmaker
said. "This is something I'm really passionate about. First
of all, I like the idea of giving them something to do other than
going to school and doing homework, or getting into trouble. What
I want to do is not only get this film thing going, but have their
own tribal arts. Get kids involved in music, theater, painting,
While there is a lot of joking around
and laughing, the students are appreciative of their opportunities.
"Not a lot of kids are able to get
together and have the (video) equipment we do," said Rita Peter,
a 13-year-old student who attends school in Baraboo. "We're
lucky to have that and we take advantage of that and do films ...
we're just like a team now."
Myshell said she likes that Funmaker and
Davis volunteer time to work with them.
"We're a tough group, but we all
get along. Everybody is a good actor."
Some of the students also have done acting
in other area productions, including a University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/
Sauk County play last fall.
With the feature film project on the horizon,
Funmaker said the goal is to make a good movie that can be shown
at film festivals.
And this summer, the Players will be involved
in the Summerset Festival of Arts in Baraboo where they will show
some of their work and have a panel discussion.
"We're trying to tell a story,"
Funmaker said. "What does this (movie) say, if it says anything.
Sometimes it's just funny, goofy stuff.
"We never try to do reality."