Untapped talents premiered larger than life at the premiere of the “Tucker’s War” pilot Jan. 5, at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema at the Rustic Theatre in Idyllwild. “Tucker’s War” series was created for TV with a twist.
According to its creator Stephen Savage, it will be used as an example and proof of what newcomers to the film industry can do when given an opportunity to learn the creative traits and skills of film making. The idea stemmed from an experience Savage had after looking into the advantages of Alaska’s attractive tax breaks for filmmakers.
While scouting filmmakers, he found that there was no locally trained filmmaking talent; no grips, no electricians, no cameraman, no makeup artists etc. Savage was having a conversation with Native American actress/producer Irene Bedard who will be starring in his new motion picture “Winds of Heaven” about the lack of Native American film crew talent availability in the industry.
Bedard who was born in Alaska, a daughter of an Inupiat Eskimo and a French Canadian/Cree agreed, she had not seen any herself other than directors. Bedard is most famously known for being the physical model for and the voice of the Pocahontas character for Disney’s 1995 animated film of the same name. She is also the Indigenous Peoples spokeswoman to the U.N. and narrated Savage’s new version of “Ramona” in 2015.
From their conversation, the thought of a film school for Native Americans, newcomers or underprivileged youths to the industry emerged and Summerhawk Film Institute was born (ShFI). Savage told the AVO that ShFI’s first summer boot camp teaching the trade of the film industry was taught in and involved the Indigenous Peoples in Alaska. Still in its infancy, the Summerhawk Film Institute idea has now been brought to Southern California and a boot camp was held the summer of 2015 in Idyllwild.
Invited to ShFI’s boot camp was a variety of actors from the Official California State Play “Ramona.” The “Ramona” cast met Savage in early 2015, when he was chosen to rewrite the play based on Helen Jackson’s novel “Ramona.” It was the first time the plays script has been changed in the 91 years since the “Ramona Pageant,” an outdoor play started.
Savage had an idea in mind to film “Tucker’s War,” his original screenplay for a western series created for TV, using mostly unknown talent across the board; there were only six professionals in the film industry used for this project.
Savage told the crowd, “The pilot is tangible proof of what can be done, with no budget, with little time and new to film talent. Others gave to me when I first got started in the industry. I want to give back and help others, that is what Summerhawk Film Institute is all about. We are going to take ‘Tucker’s War’ and use it to get grants and use it to show to Native American tribes and underprivileged kids to show them what they can do if they train for one of the many paying jobs in the film industry.”
At the preview, Savage was asked when “Tucker’s War” would air. Howard Hughes, creator of the Spruce Goose was once asked a similar question, when will it fly? Savage reminded the crowd.
“It was not whether or not it would fly,” said Savage. “It was about bringing together creative minds and discovering new technology.”
For Savage, Tucker’s War was the same, not about whether or not it airs, it is about being a vehicle of change.
One of the famous Ramona Cowboys, a newcomer to film and Anza local, Steve Silkotch Jr, is a real life cowboy; horseman, singer and musician. He plays the starring role of Tucker Hicks convincingly with emotion and convictions of a real western cowboy film hero.
Anza local Michael Thomas is a nice guy in real life. He also is a real cowboy, horsemen, singer, musician, song writer Ramona actor and more. He plays one of the main characters in “Tucker’s War” He is so convincing in his part as mean bad-to-the bone Deputy Otis Huckabee, his longtime friends in the audience stating they were tempted not to talk to him again after viewing “Tucker’s War.”
JR Hall, also a Ramona Cowboy from Anza, plays the good guy Deputy Dick Weeks. (There are so many actors from the Ramona Pageants whose talents are showcased in “Tucker’s War,” or will be that only some are mentioned here).
Also in “Tucker’s War” from “Ramona” is the play’s Director Dennis Anderson who has made the character of Doc Hopkins all his own. His timing in the scene where he takes a swig from a flask after Hicks’ presses him with a question makes the doc’s reaction real and unforgettable. Anderson’s real-life wife and fellow “Ramona” talent, Kathi Houston Anderson, plays Clara Strunk’s (Jennifer Marceau) busybody mother, Mary, setting the scene for things to come.
“Ramona’s” Danny Ferguson plays a main character too. He is the level headed good guy Sheriff Clyde Eubanks. His character always does what is right, as he sees it. Eubanks is a standup guy yet to trusting of his own kind, the other lawmen in his town. Ferguson plays the Sheriff convincingly. He leaves you wanting and waiting for him to discover who has been doing real evil deeds behind his back.
Severiano ‘Eric’ Cervantes, another “Ramona” Cowboy, plays young Hicks’ stepfather in a flash back of Tucker Hicks’ youth. “Ramona’s” Frank Jaramillo plays grown-up Hicks’ step-brother. He has a central role in the pilot’s plot which creates the tough circumstances that Hicks finds himself in. Other “Ramona” talent are Deputies Rick Hodson and Mike Croke.
“Tucker’s War’s” posse is cast from various Anza cowboys including Tom Firth, Steve Silkotch Sr, John Roberts and Greg Bruce. They are hot on Tucker’s trail at the end of exciting first Episode called “A Dangerous Country.”
During the Filming of “Tucker’s War,” writer and producer Stephen Savage wrote on TW’s Facebook page just how he felt about his new talent who would star in “Tucker’s War.” It is a fitting tribute.
“I want to take a moment to thank these fine actors who I met while working on ‘Ramona,’ California’s Official State Play. I was honored to be asked to create a new staged version of Helen Hunt Jackson’s historic novel, which is performed live in the beautiful 5,500 seat Ramona Amphitheater in southern California each spring. These great horsemen and actors made the ‘Ramona’ experience for me all the more amazing. So, to now be able to put these great people in my new western TV series ‘Tucker’s War’ is nothing short of awesome. These guys are holding their own with some very big speaking roles, and they are making this production great fun for me. Michael Thomas, who has made the bad guy role of Otis all his own, Steve Silkotch, who as Tucker Hicks is a true Western Film hero on camera, Danny Ferguson, who brings a feel and energy to my Sheriff Clyde Eubanks that is beyond my greatest hopes, Dennis Anderson eats up the screen with his portrayal of the drunken Doc Hopkins, Rick Hodson, Eric Cervantes, Frank Jaramillo and J.R. Hull, who make up some of the rich and interesting characters, are bringing a life and pulse to the story that even the finest working actors would be proud of. More ‘Ramona’ stars will be appearing in future episodes, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the many characters I have created. Thank you, ‘Ramona’ for introducing me to some of the finest people I have ever met. I’ve been very lucky,” Savage wrote.
“Tucker’s War” Facebook page is the best way to keep up with the series and Summerhawk Film Institute’s progression. According to Savage, there are plans for more episodes that Savage had already written but need the funding, time and support. The plan is to show the series on Netflix, Amazon or another streaming service in due time. Visit “Tucker’s War at www.facebook.com/TuckersWar/.
To read about the Ramona Pageant and Savage visit www.anzavalleyoutlook.com/local/92nd-2015-ramona-pageant-opening-day-new-script-proves-to-be-a-hit/.
For the conclusion of “Untapped talents premiered larger than life at the premiere of Tucker’s War” see the Feb. 3, 2017, issue of the AVO.