Hundreds of Beavers


I haven't had a chance to watch this indie film yet, but it sounds like fun!

In October 2018 while sharing beers in a frigid Milwaukee bar with his soon-to-be leading man Ryland Tews, director, visual effects artist and editor of “Hundreds of Beavers” Mike Cheslik conceived the film based on three simple elements: his After Effects skills, familiarity with snow and Tews’ uncanny ability to fall over.

“We knew that the image of a guy in a mascot costume falling down was fundamentally funny,” Cheslik explains. “And if that is in every shot, even if our gags aren’t working well, we have the fundamental comedy of mascot animal. Is that right, Ryland?”

“Absolutely,” Tews says in response. “We just wanted to make a movie that looked like nothing else.”

This would begin the five-and-a-half-year journey to the theatrical release of one of 2024’s most successful indie films. Entirely self-distributed, “Hundreds of Beavers” has managed to double its $150,000 budget in theatrical grosses in a matter of months, a significant feat in the aftermath of global pandemics and industry-wide strikes.

“Hundred of Beavers” is a black-and-white, silent-era slapstick comedy that follows the life of Jean Kayak, a drunken applejack salesman who turns to fur trapping after a pack of vengeful beavers burns down his distillery. Over the course of the movie, Jean creates zany traps to kill the beavers — hilariously played by actors in oversized costumes. The film drew inspiration from a wide array of sources like Buster Keaton, the “Mario” games, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and a snowy form of slapstick comedy coined “snowstick” by the filmmakers.

“Three Stooges, Disney, Fleischer, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, all of those have snow episodes,” Cheslik says. “The wintertime has its own physical principles of slapstick comedy that touches pies and bananas, but in the winter there are icicles, ice and snowballs.”

As the story unfolds, Jean masters the ways of trapping and falls in love with the daughter of a fur trader. Not impressed by Jean’s clumsiness, the trader challenges him to collect “hundreds of beavers” to win the hand of his daughter. This sends Kayak on a journey through the forest to collect the pelts he needs, ending with an epic chase through the beavers’ wooden mega-fortress.

“I like it when a movie delivers a big climax and I think every movie needs a third-act castle infiltration scene,” Cheslik says. “I’m sometimes disappointed. I’ll go see a Noah Baumbach movie that I really enjoy but then at the end, Greta Gerwig should be infiltrating a castle, and there’s just nothing. So that’s a disappointment for me.”

Armed with storyboards and a two-page treatment, the six-person crew shot the film in 12 weeks over two winters. Nine of those weeks were spent in the negative 10-degree weather of Wisconsin’s northern woods. Even the moments shot on green screen, of which there were many, were filmed outdoors.

“A lot of the green screen shooting was just outside…on a green tarp,” Tews says. “We did some green screen days, like in an actual studio. But a lot of the green screen stuff was still in the frigid cold.”

Almost every shot included After Effects compositing or green screen effects, with some frames requiring “five or six elements” all shot at “different times and locations.” As for the beavers, Cheslik and Tews recruited anyone they could to don the mascot costumes, and the two even played a few of the beavers themselves.

“There are scenes in the movie where it’ll be one scene, but there’ll be three shots of a beaver. Even though it’s the same beaver in the scene, it’s played by three different guys,” says Tews.

“Over two years,” Cheslik interjects.

After two more years of editing and post-production, the film was complete. But it still needed distribution, and according to Cheslik, “history is written by the distributed.”

In 2022 “Hundreds of Beavers” premiered as part of the Burnt Ends program at Fantastic Fest in Austin. It then made stops at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal that July, the Sitges Film Festival in October 2023 and many smaller festivals in between. Although it won plenty of awards along the way, it was still not getting any attention from distributors.

“We believed that, in order for a film like ours to have a fighting chance of getting out into the ecosystem, it needed to be in theaters for a while,” says producer Kurt Ravenwood.

So, they booked a slew of theaters across the midwest for one-night screenings and took the film (and the beavers) on a 12-day, vaudeville-style road show from Minneapolis to Toronto. “Ryland wrestled beavers in the audience and Mike did a roast-style Q&A,” Ravenwood recalls. “We were excited to find out that we sold out about 80% of those screenings.”

After word got around, “Hundreds of Beavers” secured screenings at the IFC in New York and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, which led to cinemas across the country begging for the beavers. And now, moviegoers everywhere can experience the film at their local theater.

“It started from this very small kernel of an idea. And it just started to balloon out of control,” Tews says. “[We were like] like, ‘Oh, we’ll make a small little black-and-white movie in the wintertime with mascots and it’ll just be a fun little thing.’ And it turned out to be this monstrosity.”

Heard about this when it popped up at the local art house a while ago. Definitely a movie for a certain moment at a certain time.

"Definitely a movie for a certain moment at a certain time" is definitely a phrase that should be on a blurb for at least a moment at a certain time.

Saw it a week or two ago. It is indeed a very fun and clever film. It's as if they threw classic silent film slapstick with some Loonie Tunes in a blender, sprinkled it with video game mechanics and voila! There are a lot of effective visual gags and running jokes that work. However, the film has no business being more than 100 minutes. It does start to feel a bit tedious as it gets into its third act, but I still enjoyed it.
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This is destined to be a college dorm room classic for the afternoon wander.

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I saw it late last year and it was hands down my favorite film of 2023. Then, just a few months ago, I was able to interview director Mike Cheslik and star/producer Ryland Tews. These guys knew exactly what they were going for and I absolutely loved it!
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So, given that this one has been a bit of an (indie) hit, could we look forward to a sequel, possibly named Thousands of Beavers?