BY MARTIN HINTZ | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
If Milwaukee filmmaker Ryan Allsop had a theme song, it would likely be “Climb Every Mountain.” Last November, his 13-minute film, “Mount Liptak: A Little Lie in a Big War,” won best drama short at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards and is now making the rounds at other festivals worldwide.
The movie, filmed entirely in Milwaukee, tells the emotional story of Allsop’s own uncle, Lester Liptak, who served underage in World War II. Liptak went on to explore Antarctica, where a mountain is now named after him. The best part of the project, says Allsop, was talking to his now-85-year-old relative, who regaled him with tales of enlisting in the Navy at age 15. Liptak became his family’s sole provider, lying about his age to get into service — hence the movie’s title.
“Every story, from how he told me his father was murdered for crossing a picket line to Operation Deep Freeze* in Antarctica, was so fascinating and exciting,” Allsop relates.
When his mother, Phyllis, told Allsop that two climbers had scaled Mount Liptak for the first time, he was surprised. “I had no idea people climbed mountains in Antarctica,” says Allsop. “I found it fascinating.” He knew then that a film about his uncle was going to be his next big project.
Allsop subsequently spent hundreds of hours researching and writing before filming commenced last summer. Locations included Greendale’s Trimborn Farm and an antiquated metal factory and cemetery near Miller Park. Allsop partnered with Milwaukee’s Take7 Productions to ensure the movie was 1940s accurate.
One of the team’s biggest challenges — or so they thought — was acquiring multiple World War II airplanes and an airport for a filming site. After reaching out to the Commemorative Air Force Wisconsin Wing, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and flying of vintage military aircraft, and a pilot friend, Allsop had four vintage planes secured within a week. Permission to shoot at Waukesha County Airport followed. “I couldn’t believe it; (the issue) was much more simple than I thought,” Allsop confides.
He is currently exploring additional funding possibilities for expanding his short into a full-length feature, charting his progress on the film’s Facebook page.
The cast of “Mount Liptak” is local — except for Dallas-based actor Chase Pollock, who portrays the young Lester and was selected because of his kid-like looks, skill set and cinema experience; and the film’s cinematographer, Tanner Shinnick of Atlanta. Milwaukeeans, however, made up the rest of the technical contingent. Allsop’s brother, Aaron, was first assistant camera — a highly skilled job that requires its master to focus and refocus the camera lens as actors move within the frame of each shot. “I was lucky to have him on set. It was great having someone you can trust like that,” notes Allsop.
“The crew on this film was the best I could have ever asked for,” he continues. “Everyone was so talented and passionate about making this film.”
Liptak currently lives in Pensacola, Fla., says his nephew, who reports that his adventurous kin is still healthy and has a fantastic memory. “When I was starting to write this story, we would email back and forth,” Allsop says. “I would ask him a hundred questions, and he would respond — and then that would make me have a hundred more questions to ask him.”
Liptak sent Allsop old photos, newspaper articles and books so Allsop could learn more about underage military enlistment, ensuring the script would be accurate. “He is very happy with the movie and has told me how he couldn’t be prouder that I took an interest in his story,” Allsop adds.
Allsop grew up as a movie fan in Eau Claire, where he, his brothers and buddies made small films of each other skateboarding and, well, just plain fooling around. “Looking back now, I bet none of them made sense, but it was so fun,” Allsop chuckles. He went on to graduate from the UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts in 2012 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film and a minor in journalism, and is currently working as a videographer for Milwaukee-based Burton Karstedt Advertising/Marketing Inc.
“I would love to see the real Mount Liptak,” he says, affirming that he is always up for an adventure. “Who knows -— maybe if the feature gets made, we’ll have to go to Antarctica and shoot some footage!”
*Editor’s note: “Operation Deep Freeze” is the code name for a series of U.S. missions to Antarctica, which began in the mid-1950s. The phrase is now used as a general term when referring to U.S. operations there.