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Leo Chu of Davis, executive producer and creator of Nickelodeon's "Supah Ninjas," talks with Big Show, left, of World Wrestling Entertainment and Eric Garcia, executive producer and creator. Courtesy photo

Arts

DHS grad makes good in Hollywood

By June 23, 2011

If you happened to catch the pilot of the new Nickelodeon series “Supah Ninjas” earlier this year — and you’ve spent any time at Davis High School — you might have noticed something a little familiar.

A certain quad, in fact.

Because featured in the pilot of the live-action comedy that follows three high school students-turned-crime fighting ninjas, is a quad modeled on Davis High’s. Why?

Well, Supah Ninjas’ co-creator and executive producer Leo Chu used to spend a lot of time on that quad, and when it came time to design the set for his new series, he returned to his alma mater for a little inspiration.

“I went back there and took a lot of pictures of the school,” Chu says. “The quad in the pilot was inspired by Davis High.”

Chu, who grew up in Davis and graduated from DHS in the early 1990s, has gone on to a successful career in Hollywood, writing and producing not just “Supah Ninjas,” but also the Emmy-nominated series “Afro Samurai,” which starred Samuel L. Jackson and aired on Spike TV for two years.

There have been many other successful projects along the way, and all from a Davis High grad who intended to become a doctor.

“I started as a chemical engineering pre-med student,” Chu says.

But not long after arriving at Stanford University, Chu realized his passion lay elsewhere: specifically in writing. So after some heart-to-heart talks with his parents, Davis-residents Peter and Yusen Chu, he made the switch to communications.

“They were very, very understanding,” Chu says of his parents.

And the switch wasn’t all that surprising: Chu had been very active in the Acme Theatre Company all through his years at Davis High.

“That’s where I fell in love with writing and producing,” he says. “I did a lot of Acme, almost every single show every year.”

He says Acme founder Dave Burmester was particularly inspirational in encouraging him to go into theater.

So after Chu graduated from Stanford with what ended up being a degree in communications, he hopped into a friend’s van and headed to Los Angeles to get into show biz.

“It’s really hard to break into the industry,” he says, but he was clearly in the right place at the right time.

The Internet was still something of a novelty to many, as was email. But not to Chu, who started shooting off emails to all the executives at the various film companies. Chris Lee, at Columbia Tri-Star at the time, was one of them.

“He was so excited when that email popped up on his screen,” Chu says. “He said, ‘What is this?’ ”

After Chu filled him in on the wonders of email, he agreed to meet for lunch — a lunch that ended up lasting three hours and landed Chu an internship at Disney.

“That was my first big break,” Chu says.

There wasn’t a whole lot of glamor in that first job — one of his big duties was supplying food for the meetings and gatherings — but it was a paid internship, and it was a foot in the door. Within a matter of years, Chu was vice president of animation at Disney.

“I was doing stuff I love, working on stories,” he says. “But eventually I hit my 10-year anniversary and decided I wanted to do something else.”

He wanted to write, and create something of his own.

So he paired up with friend Eric Garcia and they got lucky pretty quickly, with two successful seasons of “Afro Samurai” to show for it.

Now they are on a Paramount studio lot with multiple sound stages and hundreds of people working for them on “Supah Ninjas.”

“It’s really exciting,” Chu says. “I’m a show runner, meaning I’m in charge of the show. We have a writing staff, but we end up spending a lot time rewriting, and we write some ourselves. We’re really sort of the vision of the show, and the quality control.

“When you’re a writer, you live this solitary existence, but when you start a show, you become like a CEO of a company with hundreds of people working for you.”

The show itself follows three high school students who are drafted into a secret world of crime-fighting after one of them discovers he is descended from a long line of ninjas. The show airs on Nickelodeon at 8:30 p.m. Saturdays.

The inspiration for “Supah Ninjas” came in part from what Chu and Garcia saw as lacking in television right now: something for boys.

“Nothing really targets boys,” Chu says. “So Eric and I thought, ‘If we were boys, what would we want to watch?’ The answer: Ninjas!”

And so it went.

“It’s a lot of work,” Chu says, “but a lot of fun. There are so few people who get to create a show and also get to run it and we have such a great time doing it. Everybody is so talented and there’s a great family-like atmosphere on the set.”

As for his own family, all are still here in Davis, Chu says, and he returns to town often.

“I love coming back to Davis,” he says. “It’s awesome.”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] and (530) 747-8051.

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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