Outtakes: Sereno partners with Lakeshore Films

Apr. 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

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BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

Honolulu filmmaker James Sereno has long felt young YouTube viewers and digital distribution were the future of indie movies. Now he’s working with a major studio that believes that, too.

With the acquisition of “Man Up,” which was shot in Hawaii by Sereno’s Kinetic Films, Lakeshore Entertainment put its faith in audiences who are just as comfortable watching a movie on their smartphone as they are in a theater.

20150426_manup“Consuming entertainment with a device will be more and more commonplace,” Sereno said. “All the studios realize that if they don’t seek and connect to this group, they are going to miss out on a big chunk of audience. They are all gearing up to grab them.”

Lakeshore plans to release “Man Up” in June through its new digital division, Off the Dock.

The comedy stars 24-year-old YouTube sensation Kevin “KevJumba” Wu and Justin Chon, the 34-year-old actor from “Twilight” and “21 and Over.” Chon co-wrote the film with Wu and also directed it.

Wu plays Martin, a 19-year-old slacker who gets his girlfriend pregnant. When he turns to his best friend, Randall, who’s played by Chon, the two young men embark on a journey to learn what it means to be a man.

“Man Up” was written for audiences age 16 to early 20s. The pace of the film is what they’re comfortable with, Sereno said.

“They have grown up with digital devices at their fingertips and information at a snap,” said the 49-year-old Sereno. “‘Man Up’ was made with that in mind. It’s a very quirky, upbeat comedy that is made for their sensibilities.”

Sereno hopes Lakeshore was attracted to “Man Up” because it spoke to this younger generation.

“The rhythm and style and tone of the film had a voice that this generation could communicate to and understand,” Sereno said. “It was written and directed and created by their generation.”

This isn’t Sereno’s first project with Wu and Chon. They also starred in “Hang Loose,” a Kinetic Films comedy that was created for the Web but without studio support when it came out in 2013.

Sereno offered “Hang Loose” online, and it did OK, partly because Wu brought an established following to the project. His YouTube channel has more than 3 million followers. Wu began making videos while in junior high school, and he usually pokes fun at himself and what it’s like growing up as an Asian-American male.

“Man Up” is an extension of the philosophy Kinetic Films first embraced in “Hang Loose,” Sereno said. It seeks to break stereotypes with humor — what the filmmaker calls a universal language.

“We are trying to tell our perspective on Asian-American stories,” he said. “Asians are best friends and Asians are nerds. But Asians are also lovers and lead characters, and Asians are also heroes. In real life we are all different kinds of things.”

And it’s no accident that the Internet is the catalyst for change, or at the very least an equalizer.

“People see through color barriers and prejudices a lot more easily and fluidly in this world,” Sereno said. “If you look at the top YouTube stars, most of them are ethnic.”

The current surge in digital distribution will give new life to “Hang Loose” as well as a dark drama Sereno made in 2011 called “Paradise Broken.” Marvista Entertainment will release the comedy in a few weeks and the drama in October, Sereno said.

Sereno said he feels lucky.

“I have talked about this for a long time, and now the world has caught up to this,” he said. “We are in the right place at the right time.”

Lakeshore plans to release “Man Up” in early June but specific details, including the price, are not available yet, Sereno said. But you can find more info about “Man Up” at www.manupfilm.com.
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Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.

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