Hilo teens become a Web video sensation
By Kelli Miura
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Kelli Miura
Two Big Island teens have become one of the most popular draws on YouTube by creating tell-it-like-it-is video rants, innovative parodies and simple comic skits. Now their sense of humor is bringing them to the big screen — in a small way.
Hilo native Ryan Higa, who graduated in May from Waiakea High School, and sidekick Sean Fujiyoshi, a Waiakea senior, have been recruited as actors in an independent film that is shooting in San Francisco this month.
"Ryan and Sean's Not-So-Excellent Adventure" will be a parody of several films, including "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Dumb and Dumber," said co-producer Derek Zemrak, who was attracted to the duo's ability to make people laugh and has been working with them for the past six months on the script.
Zemrak, a San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker whose movies include "Bikini Plant" and "Ice Scream," said this is the first time he has recruited actors from YouTube. But Higa and Fujiyoshi made themselves hard to miss: Their homemade videos have become among the most-watched comedy entries on the big online video site.
"I think they both have some really raw talent," he said. "Their facial expressions, their acting ability (and) their improv is really good, and they're funny."
Being tapped for a movie is the latest measure of how much attention Higa has garnered for his YouTube videos. In the bare-bones productions — shot in his parents' house with over-the-counter video gear — Higa, Fujiyoshi and their friends riff on parodies of popular songs and comedic remarks on topics, including music and the comments they receive, while using minimal or no props.
Higa's videos, under the name nigahiga, have more than 300,000 subscribers on YouTube — No. 2 record on that Web site, as a virtual YouTube "medal" on Higa's home page attests.
Higa started posting videos of himself and friends lip-synching to songs by the Spice Girls and Destiny's Child in July 2006. He has posted more than 50 videos to date. His most popular video, called "How to be Gangster," earned more than 12 million views and more than 50,000 comments since its debut in Nov. 2007. The video spoof stars R-Dizzle-Fo-Shizzle-My-Nizzle-Off-Da-Hizzle-Drizzle, aka Higa, and Mike, played by Fujiyoshi, marketing a fake DVD containing steps to become a gangster. Tips include swearing in every sentence, using hand motions, creating a cool handshake and mixing raps and ballads.
Viewers from Hawai'i, the Mainland and Singapore are among the thousands of subscribers who are notified every time Higa posts a new video on YouTube.
Among the newest videos on the site: "How to be UFC Fighter," with mixed martial-arts warrior B.J. Penn playing along in person. In one shot, Penn has Higa in a headlock.
Higa and Fujiyoshi say each video clip takes at least 10 hours to write, film, sing and edit.
Most of the videos run three to five minutes long. Many are filmed at his house — yes, even when his parents are home.
The chance to star in a movie came unexpectedly, said Higa, 18.
"We never expected other people to like our videos, and we definitely didn't expect to get this far, said Fujiyoshi, 16.
Higa and Fujiyoshi might be budding stars in the YouTube video universe, but they're also up-and-comers as students. Both of them maintain GPAs between 3.8 and 4.0.
Higa's interest in science has led him to pursue nuclear medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he will be a freshman this fall.
Meanwhile, Fujiyoshi, who enjoys math, has one more year of high school and hopes to become an engineer.
Higa said they're planning to continue posting videos on YouTube, even though he will move to the Mainland for college.
"We're thinking probably more of them (the videos) are gonna be by ourselves, but we're trying to get some collaborative videos — like (Fujiyoshi) sends me some clips of whatever he does, and we'll combine our clips together," Higa said.