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Their hands shot up in the air, each wanting to say something about their films.

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 youth.

"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," Funmaker said.

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.


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 a reservation.

In the movie, Kilmer's character learns more about his Native American side and has a vision to help his people.

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 to sing:

"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" seemed fitting.

Then they broke into a rendition of "Break On Through."

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 productions.

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 interviewer.

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 in classes.

"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 years."

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, graphic arts."

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."