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Heroes Rising: A New Hope

Students produce film about heroin addiction

By Angie Landsverk

Area students are producing a film to teach their peers how to make choices and be leaders.

“Heroes Rising: A New Hope” is a story about superheroes who help solve the heroin/opioid epidemic and build hope in communities.
“The film, when complete, will be about 20 minutes long,” said Kathy Fehl, of Wega Arts.

Wega Arts and Helios Addiction Recovery Services, of Neenah, are working together to produce the narrative.

Other partners in the project include Good Drugs Gone Bad and Rise Together.

They look to release the film on Oct. 13, in a Fox Cities theater, said Jesse Heffernan.

Heffernan, of Helios Addiction Recovery Services, is a certified recovery coach and consultant who has 15 years in long-term recovery from substance abuse.

Earlier this year, he facilitated several meetings in Waupaca as people in the community work to address issues related to heroin.
After those planning sessions, Waupaca resident Bill Lipschultz put Heffernan in touch with Fehl.

“He said Kathy wants to do a film project about heroin and youth,” Heffernan said.

Both Lipschultz and Fehl are members of the Waupaca Breakfast Rotary Club.

“At Rotary, I kept hearing about heroin. It was the first I heard about it being an escalating problem here and in the country,” Fehl said.

Fehl and her partner, Ian Teal, wanted to teach youth about the narrative film process.

Several years ago, youth were involved in the filming of their documentary, “Getting to the Bottom of Lake Weyauwega.”

“People wondered if we could do something civic with this,” Fehl said of the heroin issue. “Most of what has been done about heroin have been documentaries. I wanted to attack it from another angle.”

When Fehl met with Heffernan, she learned he loves comic books.

They agreed using superheroes would be a great way to communicate with youth.

State Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette, agrees.

“I think incorporating the kids in it, other kids are more likely to listen to the message when it’s coming from their peer group,” he said. “I think it’s very important.”

Nygren took a side trip back to Marinette from Madison and stopped at the Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega to talk to the students involved in the film project and do a radio voice over for the film.

“We talked about their roles in the movie, a little about addiction and what they are seeing where they live,” he said.

Nygren openly talks about his 27-year-old daughter’s battle with heroin addiction.

“Initially, we dealt with it privately,” he said. ““When we realized it was not just us, it was time to get involved on a large scale. I think it’s created a lot of awareness.”

Nygren said it is not a partisan issue.

“There are lots of advocates out there,” he said.

Heffernan mentioned the film project to Nygren and asked him it he would talk to the students and do a voice over for the project.
Nygren said prescription drugs are the gateway to heroin, and Heffernan said an addiction may happen at any time.

Student experience
The summer workshop for students took place July 11-15 and July 18-22, at various locations in Weyauwega, including the opera house, Crossroads Care Center and on the high school football field.

During the workshop, the students worked with professional filmmakers and equipment.

Heffernan said that through their various contacts, they brought in a number of people to be pack of the project, including Jason Weber.

Weber is the village of Fox Crossing Point Police Department’s community liaison officer and helped with a movie project about youth, prescription drugs and overdoses.

“They put that movie out 1 1/2 years ago,” Heffernan said. “Jason was thinking about doing Part 2 of that movie.”

Heffernan asked Weber if he wanted to be involved in a narrative in which youth learn how they can make choices and decisions.

The students involved in the project realized what it takes to produce such a film.

“We’re putting forth an important message. I’ve never been part of something that is entertaining but also has an important theme,” said Nick Jungers.

Jungers, of Waupaca, will be a junior this fall at Columbia College in Chicago.

He is studying comedy, writing and performance and minoring in writing for television.

“I’m learning a lot, not about just performing but about behind the scenes, which I don’t get to do as an actor. I’m getting overall ideas of how everything works,” said Jungers, who portrays Caleb/Captain Solar in the film.

Sam Baumgart graduated from Waupaca High School this past spring and is attending the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and then transferring to UW-Oshkosh, where he plans to study TV, movie and radio production.

“This is what I want to do. It’s a great place to learn,” he said.

Baumgart helped with sound and grip, as well as wtih set up and lighting.

“I might get to help with the editing part of it,” he said.

This fall, Alex Lederer will be a sophomore at Weyauwega-Fremont High School.

In the film, he portrays Scottie, a heroin addict who turns into a superhero.

“He tries hard to do things that his parents would approve of. He tries to make his parents proud,” Lederer said.

Of the project, he said, “It’s a good message. It’s dealing with a very serious problem.”

Being involved in it opened his eyes to what is involved in producing a film.

“It takes an hour and a half to set up one take,” Lederer said.

Alexus Williams will be a senior at W-F High School this fall.

She portrays Merle in the film.

Like the character Lederer portrays, Merle is involved with drugs but in the end, “switches over to the good side and becomes a super hero,” Williams said.

Natalie Keizer will be a high school sophomore this fall.

Her father helped with the sound for the project.

As a result, Keizer met Fehl.

When Fehl asked Keizer about her interests, Keizer said she loves to do hair and makeup.

“Kathy said she needed someone to do makeup. I’m just really glad to be working on this project with everyone,” Keizer said.

Going forward
Once completed, “Heroes Rising: A New Hope” will be used as a tool to create a dialogue about the heroin epidemic in Waupaca and Outagamie counties.

“When we talk about community support, a lot of people say, ‘What can I do?’” Heffernan said.

He said this project is a non-traditional way to deal with the issue.

Not only did they provide youth with a workshop about film – now Weber will help develop workbooks and a curriculum for schools, which they will be able to download for free, Heffernan said.

“Then we will take the cast to schools in Waupaca County, Outagamie County and beyond,” Heffernan said.

He said the workbook will be about youth creating their own super powers and superheroes and how they can use them to be resilient.

“Youth won’t even realize they are being presented with prevention and harm reduction,” Heffernan said.

He said the narrative may be submitted to comic book and recovery conventions.

The cost to produce the movie is about $27,500.

They started an Indiegogo campaign, which is similar to a Kickstarter campaign, to seek donations to cover those costs.

“We need people to go on there and help get it elevated and boosted,” he said.

People may visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/heroes-rising-superheroes-combating-heroin to do so.

“Their donations are going to make a real impact in the community,” Heffernan said. “This is what we need people to really do. They will see the actual movie being shown in high school, this community center. We are inviting people to be part of a project that I can honestly say no one else is doing in the country.”

Fehl said they hope it inspires and educates youth.

“I just want to keep the adults’ focus on where the problems are,” she said.

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