When it was time for the award-winning documentary, "The Entertainers," to be shown for the first time in Chippewa Falls Sunday afternoon, Al Holle had settled into a seat in theater 4 of Micon Cinemas.

It was only natural for Holle. He and his wife, Mary, had seen the film in several other cities, so what's one more time when their son was one of the filmmakers?

They've watched it in Iowa City, and at the film festivals in Madison and the Twin Cities. And Peoria, the site of the national competition that was the documentary's focus. And he admits to having seen some clips before the film was done.

Holle said that in all of the public showings he's attended, the theater audience has reacted in a way he has never seen before.

"In every single case the audience actually claps for the performers. At first I thought that's just Madison, but it's happened everywhere," he said.

That audience involvement hasn't gone unnoticed. The movie has garnered several awards, including the audience award for best documentary at the Wisconsin, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis film festivals.

It's another success story for Nick Holle and a handful of other high school friends who have managed to turn a childhood interest into the actual making of another movie, and a critically-praised one at that.

Holle co-directed the documentary with Michael Zimmer, a friend he made while going to graduate school at USC.

Paul Hogseth, who graduated from the Chi-Hi Class of 1997 with Holle and roomed with him through college at the University of Wisconsin, worked on this movie as well, along with Seth Hedrington and Derek Keyeski, who were both a year behind the others in school.

The second venture of Holle & Crew is a film that follows six performers to the national ragtime competition in Peoria, Ill.

Holle was initially skeptical that it would make the good subject for a film. But five years ago he took in the scene, and the whole atmosphere combined with the quirky characters that populated the stage won him over. 

"It was really infectious to hang out with them," he said. "We liked every single one of them, and we wanted people to meet them."

Holle was glad to introduce the film Sunday to a Chippewa Falls audience. There is a second showing Monday at 7 p.m.

"This has a real Midwestern feel, and a humanity that reminds me of people from here," said the Madison resident who works full-time for a staffing company and makes films in his spare time.

The first movie, "The Illegal Use of Joe Zopp," was filmed in Chippewa Falls, and led to the ragtime picture. But the two were completely different to make.

For the first one Holle put what he learned from his screenwriting classes to use, with the bulk of the work being up front. Holle still wonders how it all came about.

"We're very close friends and we all had this big creative spirit," he said of the group that pitched in to make the movie happen. They weren't much into the party scene, and instead spent a lot of time playing sports, going to movies and hanging out at parents' houses trying to make each other laugh. And eventually coming up with the idea of making a movie on their own.

"It was an absurd idea at the beginning, but we just started doing it. We definitely enjoyed the process every step of the way."

For this documentary, they shot 250-300 hours of film, and then primarily Holle and Zimmer had to put it into a cohesive story and whittle it down to around 90 minutes.

"That was a mammoth task. Editing was really a chore," Holle said, noting that instead of building on what they learned from making the first movie, this was an entirely new proposition.

"All of a sudden we were doing everything for the first time ... again."

Another challenge was securing rights to use the music in the picture. Fortunately much of it was in the public domain, but not all.

Then there were the challenges of finding time to work together when everyone had scattered across the country. Zimmer and Hedrington live in the Los Angeles area.

"I'll be the only single one," Holle said of the group, which now includes "a lot of young kids." All of that eats into the time that is available to do what is still considered a hobby, with everyone busy with careers as well.

Might another picture be in the offing from this group? Holle's not ready to promise anything.

"But potentially another scripted movie might be in the future," he says.

That's one way for a group of kids who were close more than 15 years ago to stay in touch.

"We always find a way to make time," Holle said. "We are best friends still."


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