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Do-It-Yourself Blockbuster

San Ramon filmmaker Derek Zemrak capitalizes on the YouTube fame of two Hawaiian teenagers and makes an indie film hit in the process.


Courtesy of Derek Zemrak

Any good parent knows to monitor what their kids are watching on the web. But did you know that it could make you rich? Just ask San Ramon filmmaker Derek Zemrak, who turned his son’s Internet interests into a hit movie.

“My son came home from school saying that all the kids are into Ryan and Sean on YouTube. I had to check it out before I would let him watch,” says Zemrak, who founded the California Independent Film Festival in 1999 and is a vice president of a Danville-based real estate development firm.

Zemrak discovered that Hawaiian teens Ryan Higa and Sean Fujiyoshi made silly videos—think Abbott and Costello meet Beavis and Butt-head—that had been viewed on YouTube more than 45 million times. “I thought, If I don’t make a movie with these guys, someone else will,” Zemrak says.

Zemrak and producing partner Leonard Pirkle brought Fujiyoshi and Higa out to California to film the low-budget Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure in Blackhawk, Danville, San Ramon, and Livermore last year. Expanding on the viral celebrity theme, the filmmakers also cast one of MySpace’s most-followed friends, swimsuit model Bobbi Billard, and popular YouTube entertainment “vlogger” Michael Buckley as characters in the slapstick comedy about Higa and Fujiyoshi breaking into the movie business.

Turns out Zemrak’s instinct for the teen duo’s appeal was right on: When Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure went on sale on iTunes in July, it immediately became the No. 1 selling indie film online and kept that top spot for five weeks.


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