By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 13, 2007 at 5:12 AM

OK, so you’re obsessed with hockey. High school hockey. In Wisconsin. What’s your dream? Right, get in a van with your friends and go from town to town watching the state’s best teams skate to victory.

If you’re Peter Rudy and Erik Moe, you make a fictional movie based on your obsession. That film, “No Sleep 'Til Madison,” was made in 2002 and stars Jim Gaffigan, who is no stranger to fans of “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

“No Sleep 'Til Madison” is the story of Owen Fenby, a 30-ish guy who lives for his annual jaunt around America’s Dairyland with his old friends, who fly in from around the country, to watch high school hockey. Despite his friends’ growing interest in things like careers and families, Owen continues to eagerly craft a detailed itinerary and this year, he’s brought along a cameraman to document the trip.

Produced by Ivo Knezevic and written and directed by Moe and Rudy, “No Sleep 'Til Madison” was named best comedy at the Santa Monica Film Festival, best feature at the Wisconsin Film Festival, best feature at the Empire State Film Festival and nabbed the best ensemble cast honors at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. The feature was also successful a couple years back at the Milwaukee International Film Festival.

Now, five years after it was made, “No Sleep 'Til Madison” is out on DVD, thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment’s Reel Indies series. We asked Rudy about making the film and the life it’s had since.

OMC: Can you tell me a little about the genesis of the story? Is it based on someone you or Erik know?

PR: I’ve long since given up trying to explain to people why Erik and I care so much about Wisconsin high school hockey. I’m sure it has something to do with the loss of innocence -- and our respective hairlines -- but I can assure you the obsession is real. We’ve even gone so far as to organize an annual Wisconsin High School Hockey Tournament Pool & Blog that draws curious participants nationwide.

So when I called Erik about 10 years ago and proposed an impromptu return to our hometown in Wisconsin for a high school hockey game, the idea wasn’t as unappealing as it sounds, at least to us. Our wives, sadly, had a different opinion. Plan B was to create a documentary of our trip. But they saw right through that charade, too. So we really had no choice but to write a screenplay.

OMC: Was it hard to write a screenplay long-distance?

PR: Considering Erik was in Los Angeles and I was in San Francisco, the writing was remarkably easy. There were lots of phone conversations back and forth, and we had a fairly solid outline put together by the time I joined Erik down in LA for two separate weekend writing marathons. We holed up in his office on the Universal Studios lot and took turns manning the typewriter while the other acted out scenes. It was a remarkably productive and focused time. I think that was when people (including us) first realized we were serious about the project.

When we were done with the first draft, Erik showed it around to some people in L.A. and we received a good reception. Our biggest fear was that our admittedly obscure obsession wouldn’t appeal to a wider audience. So getting people to read the script was just the first, but certainly not the last, time we had to convince someone that "No Sleep" was not a “hockey movie.” It was encouraging to hear that people who didn’t know a puck from a panda still responded to the story. One agent offered to shop it around, but we decided that if we were ever going to make a film ourselves, it had to be this one.

OMC: The film has really gotten a good reception since it was released. Were you surprised by that?

PR: I think what’s most surprising it that we got the film made at all. The favorable reviews are just icing. I’ve always maintained that a film about the making of "No Sleep" would make for even a better story than "No Sleep" itself. I could fill pages with tales about all the obstacles the film has had to overcome, from uncooperative weather patterns to the time we left $50,000 worth of film equipment along a busy Wisconsin highway. So to actually sit in a theatre with the end product and hear paying strangers collectively laugh at something you’ve helped create is an incredibly gratifying experience. I still maintain that had some of those studios and networks that initially turned down No Sleep attended such a screening, I would not be the bitter has-been you see before you today.

Bitterness aside, I’m very proud of "No Sleep," warts and all, and I know Erik and executive producer Ivo Knezevic share that affection. Let all the wannabes talk about making a film; we did it. And no one, not even the haters, can take that from us.

OMC: Now that it's arriving on DVD are you gearing up for a "second life" for the film?

PR: First of all, all credit for "No Sleep"’s second life goes to Ivo Knezevic, who rescued the film from the shelves of an incompetent distributor who shall remain nameless and got it into the hands of Chris Sanchez at Mill Creek. Ivo’s tenacity both on and off the set is a wonder to behold, as anyone who has ever received one of his more forthright emails can attest.

That said, we’re thrilled to see "No Sleep" back in circulation, especially with a distributor (Reel Indies) that truly seems to appreciate "No Sleep," and the type of low budget but heartfelt indie film it represents. There is an audience for this kind of film, and I have faith that Reel Indies has the chops to tap into it.

OMC: What are some of the projects you've worked on since this film?

PR: Erik, Ivo and I pursued a few collaborative film projects after "No Sleep," but soon realized that our material needs far exceeded indie filmmaking’s ability to fulfill them.

Erik has parlayed his success with "No Sleep," as well as a hilarious short film called "Young Artie Feldman" into a successful directing career in Los Angeles. He’s always got various projects in the works, many of them involving Ivo, and I have no doubt that I will one day be able to ride one of their coat tails to an early retirement.

OMC: What are you up to now?

PR: Ivo and I are still in advertising. Ivo is an Executive Producer at Draftfcb in Chicago, while I’m a Creative Director at McCann-Erickson in San Francisco. I’m done with filmmaking for now, and these days get my creative fix writing short stories and essays. It’s a lot cheaper and just as lucrative, but I do miss the wrap parties.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.