Costumes, comedy and cabins: The Wisconsin roots of the critically acclaimed film ‘Hundreds of Beavers’

By Evan Casey | April 30, 2024

  • Ryland Brickson Cole Tews (right) co-wrote and starred in "Hundreds of Beavers," a film about an alcoholic fur trapper. (Courtesy of SRH)

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews (right) co-wrote and starred in "Hundreds of Beavers," a film about an alcoholic fur trapper. (Courtesy of SRH)

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There’s been a lot of excitement over the slapstick comedy “Hundreds of Beavers,” with movie fans and critics leaving theaters around the globe in awe. It was filmed in northern Wisconsin and its star and writer, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, is a Whitefish Bay native. As WPR’s Evan Casey tells us, the 33 year-old has always been obsessed with making movies.


Ever since he was a kid growing up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews had a camera in his hands. 

“I always enjoyed performing,” Tews said. “I think movies really stuck with me because once I learned the power of editing and being able to compile footage and make your own little mini movie — like a real movie — that was kind of a profound thing.” 

Tews started making homemade movies with his siblings and friends in his backyard with his dad’s bulky camcorder, trying to recreate what he saw on the big screen. 

“We would shoot a lot of stuff around the house and around the neighborhood,” he said. “Then we let our imagination do the rest.” 

Some of his finest early work includes a remake of “Gladiator,” complete with ketchup for fake blood and plastic toy weapons. 

“It’s just us in our backyard on the freshly mowed grass and you could see like, ‘Oh, there’s a lawnmower in that shot and there’s a hose in that shot,'” Tews said laughing. “We would sort of be able to imagine it in our mind.”

In middle school and high school, he made videos for class projects. He also made a promotional video for his high school with his best friend, Mike Cheslik.

After high school, Tews decided to try to make a living out of his hobby. After attending film school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tews made his first feature length film with Cheslik. Tews was still working as a pizza delivery driver at the time. 

“I just sort of cashed in all my favors with my friends and family,” Tews said about bankrolling the film. 

That movie? A fictional tale about a sea monster lurking deep in the waters of the Great Lakes, titled “Lake Michigan Monster.

“I think its total budget was about $7,000, and it shows — it’s a pretty cheap movie,” Tews said. “But it’s a lot of fun. (We) just did what we could with what we had — and that was cheap costumes, cheap props, cheap camera.” 

The making of “Hundreds of Beavers”

After finishing “Lake Michigan Monster,” Tews and Cheslik wanted more. They decided to move onto their next project, a film about fur trappers. That film premise idea was dreamed up at a bar, “as most great ideas happen,” Tews said. 

“(It was) sort of this combination of let’s make it like an outdoor winter movie with no dialogue, because no one else is trying to do that. And, let’s do a story with mascots,” Tews said. “So it started as a small kernel of an idea that ballooned and got bigger and bigger and bigger.” 

“Before we knew it was like this big epic,” he added. 

That epic is “Hundreds of Beavers.” 

The film, written by both Cheslik and Tews and directed by Cheslik, focuses on an alcoholic fur trapper, Jean Kayak, who goes from ’zero’ to a ’hero’ by the end of the film. It was filmed in the northwoods of Wisconsin during the winter of 2020.

“We just wanted to make this very accessible movie for everyone around the world, while also making it pretty Midwestern and something that Wisconsin can be proud of,” Tews said. 

Movie poster for “Hundreds of Beavers.”

Unlike many movies today, it’s a silent, black and white film. The film’s website describes it as a “supernatural winter epic.” Kayak, a drunken applejack salesman played by Tews, becomes “North America’s greatest fur trapper by defeating hundreds of beavers.” 

The film has several inspirations, including early slapstick favorites like “Looney Tunes” or “Tom & Jerry,” as well as video games like “Super Mario Galaxy 2.” Some of the influences are clear to see — the film’s poster is a nod to the classic film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” 

Tews said some of his inspirations include Monty Python, “The Simpsons” and Jackie Chan movies. 

“It’s just many, many different influences, and when you combine all this stuff together, you get ‘Hundreds of Beavers,'” Tews said.

The movie is “do it yourself” in every sense of the word. Much like “Lake Michigan Monster,” Tews and Cheslik kept production close to home — several family members and friends worked on the film with them.

Some of the filmmakers' friends suited up in beaver costumes to help make the comedy, "Hundreds of Beavers." (Courtesy of SRH)

Some of the filmmakers’ friends suited up in beaver costumes to help make the comedy, “Hundreds of Beavers.” (Courtesy of SRH)

“For the most part, it was just four or five guys in the woods,” Tews said. “There were a few actual film professionals on “Beavers,” but more or less it was just buddies from either grade school or high school or college who were willing to go out in the snow with us and lug heavy equipment and props and whatnot into the woods. (They would) freeze their butts off playing beavers or bunnies or any number of different animals.” 

The film crew stayed in a tiny cabin in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. Many of the scenes were filmed in empty Wisconsin fields in places like Boulder Junction, Black River Falls, Iron Mountain and Hurley. 

“The great thing about shooting a movie in the wintertime in northern Wisconsin is there’s just no one up there,” Tews said.  “You just go out in the woods and just start shooting and there’s no one up there to bug you.” 

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews and Olivia Graves starred in the film, "Hundreds of Beavers." (Courtesy of SRH)

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews and Olivia Graves starred in the film, “Hundreds of Beavers.” (Courtesy of SRH)

Tews said they weren’t completely isolated.

“If there are people who ask questions, they’re just kind of enamored —  I mean weirded out — by the fact that you’re making a movie in the middle of the woods with mascots,” Tews added. 

Another person enamored with the film is Tews’ father, Wayne Tews. The Whitefish Bay musician has written and performed songs for his son’s films, including “Hundreds of Beavers.”

“We came up with a bunch of different ideas,” Wayne Tews said. “Then I went to the file cabinet and looked under ‘F’ for Trapper songs, and we came up with one and messed around with it for a while,” Wayne Tews said. 

“I think the proudest part is in both songs from ‘Lake Michigan Monster’ last year and from ‘Hundreds of Beavers,’ I was able to get the word ‘fart’ in both songs,” Wayne Tews said laughing. “So I think it really is a … testament to my ability as a songwriter.” 

Wayne Tews said he’s proud of his son, and happy he gets to live out his dreams. 

“We (his parents) didn’t know that he was going to stick with this and make a thing out of it,” Wayne Tews said. “But people seem to like it.” 

Many of the scenes in “Hundreds of Beavers” were filmed in empty Wisconsin fields in places like Boulder Junction, Black River Falls, Iron Mountain.

A ‘furry fracas’ of acclaim

Since its 2022 release, the film has mesmerized audiences, film festival judges and critics alike. 

The “Los Angeles Times called it an “onslaught of retro slapstick.” 

The “AV Clubdubbed it a “furry fracas.” 

The “New York Timessaid it was a “madcap genre-hopper, mixing silent film performance styles with hand-drawn animation, slapstick comedy, Looney Tunes-like sound effects and stop-motion graphics.” 

Mike Cheslik (middle), who is also from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, directed the film “Hundreds of Beavers,” which was shot starting in the winter of 2020.

Meanwhile, the film has also received critical praise and the screenings have been anything but normal.

Tews, Cheslik and a traveling assortment of friends and family in the movie travel around the globe and  wearing beaver costumes. They tackle each other in the crowd before, during and after screenings of the film. 

It’s caught a lot of attention.

“During one of these screenings, I was tackling some beavers in the audience and I threw a couple (beaver) heads into the audience and unfortunately one of the spectators took the beaver head and was never to be heard from again,” Tews said. “So we just lost the beaver head in Toronto … (we’re) still looking for it.” 

Looking back on the past few years, Tews said the main goal of making “Hundreds of Beavers” was to bring joy to the audience. 

“Its sole purpose for existing is just to entertain, just to be a big joke,” Tews said.

“It’s just a big entertainment picture. It’s a movie for all ages, creeds and nations,” he added. “If you just turn your brain off and allow this movie to just unfold in front of you, you’re going to have a good time.”

“Hundreds of Beavers” can now be streamed online.

The film "Hundreds of Beavers" was written by Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews and focuses on an alcoholic fur trapper who goes from ’zero’ to a ’hero’ by the end of the film. (Courtesy of SRH)

The film “Hundreds of Beavers” was written by Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews and focuses on an alcoholic fur trapper who goes from ’zero’ to a ’hero’ by the end of the film. (Courtesy of SRH)

Evan Casey

Evan Casey

Evan Casey is a general assignment reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio, covering Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin. He’s from Racine, Wisconsin but lives in Milwaukee now. Before working for WPR, he was a freelance journalist, and also worked as a “Shepherd Express” digital editor and with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Now News...
2024-04-30T13:59:02-05:00Tags: , , , , , , |

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