Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DHS grad finds continued success in Hollywood

From left, Carlos Knight, Gracie Dzienny, Ryan Potter and George Takei star in "Supah Ninjas," a Nickelodeon show that earned its creators, Eric Garcia and Davis High grad Leo Chu, a Writer's Guild Award. Courtesy photo

It’s been said over and over again by Hollywood luminaries when they find themselves in the running for a prestigious award: “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

But it’s true, says Davis native Leo Chu.

When he and his colleague, Eric Garcia, were nominated last year for a 2012 Writer’s Guild Award for their work on the Nickelodeon hit “Supah Ninjas,” well, they were thrilled and honored to find themselves actually mentioned in the same breath as the best writers for television and film.

And when they actually won?

“It was really, really unexpected,” laughed Chu.

The pilot for the first season of “Supah Ninjas” had been nominated in the children’s programming category and was up against some veteran television shows, including fellow Nickelodeon programs “iCarly” and “The Troop,” Disney shows “Zeke and Luther” and “Imagination Movers,” and the venerable “Sesame Street.”

At the awards ceremony last year, the pair were simply enjoying being part of the whole event.

“You’re just sitting there at your table eating dinner, and then you realize, ‘Oh, that’s our category,’ ” Chu recalled. “And then you hear your name.”

He and Garcia looked at each other in shock.

“They just called our name!”

Hearts pounding, they made their way to the stage to collect their awards and say a few words to an audience of fellow nominees that included writers for hits like “Modern Family,” “Breaking Bad” and other top programs.

“It’s a very weird experience,” Chu said.

But there wasn’t much time to rest on their laurels: With season one of the show they created, wrote and produced in the books, it was time to get to work on season two of “Supah Ninjas.”

The live-action comedy follows three high school students who are drafted into the secret world of crime-fighting after one of them discovers he is descended from a long line of ninjas. Under the supervision of his holographic grandfather (played by George Takei), “Mike” teams up with two friends to form the Supah Ninjas, a secret team of ninjas protecting their city from an array of criminals.

Chu and Garcia shot the follow-up season in Pittsburgh to capture a more urban feel. (The first season was shot on a lot in Hollywood).

“The urban setting makes it much more authentic,” Chu explained.

Pittsburgh actually has turned into a hot spot of sorts for filming, he said, with recent movies like “Promised Land” and the latest in the Batman film series being shot there.

For Chu — a Davis High School graduate who earned a degree in communications from Stanford before making his way to Hollywood — spending five months filming in a new city, sharing a hotel with cast and crew, was like a mixture of a summer abroad and summer camp, with a bit of college dorm life thrown in.

But the cast and crew became a whole lot closer, he said.

Now back in Southern California, Chu and Garcia have been putting the final touches on the season, which premiers on Nickelodeon on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8:30 p.m. They are hoping for another successful run, with plans for a third season to follow.

Unlike many who try to make their way in show business, Chu and Garcia found success fairly quickly once they partnered up. Both were working at Disney when they met and soon after — about nine years ago, in fact — decided to go out on their own.

They scored big with their first show, the Spike TV anime series “Afro Samurai” starring Samuel L. Jackson. “Afro Samurai” ran for two seasons and garnered the pair an Emmy nomination. They expanded the franchise when they wrote and produced a television movie, “Afro Samurai: Resurrection,” starring Lucy Liu.

The idea for “Supah Ninjas” arose from their feeling that there wasn’t enough children’s programming aimed at boys.

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

A couple of years later, they know they’ve hit their mark, though Chu said he suspects girls make up about half of the show’s audience.

The entire cast returned for the second season, including 75-year-old Takei, who became famous playing Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” series. Takei has in recent years developed a cult following on Facebook and Twitter, and is known for his sense of humor, something Chu is lucky enough to see on the set all of the time.

“He’s hilarious,” Chu said. “He has a great, wicked sense of humor.”

But Takei is also warm and kindly, a mentor to the kids in the cast and “an eternal optimist,” Chu said.

For his part, Chu returns often to Davis, spending time with his family here and at his favorite haunts, including Mishka’s and Konditorei.

And his alma mater will forever share in Chu’s successes: The pilot that garnered Chu and Garcia their Writer’s Guild award features a high school set that would look familiar to any Blue Devil: It features a quad that Chu modeled on Davis High’s.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy


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