Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Filmmaker explores shadows of Waikiki underworld in 'Broke'

By Mike Gordon


To most of the world, Waikiki is a shiny tourist destination with combed white-sand beaches, gentle surf and room service.

Not so for filmmaker James Sereno and novelist Chris McKinney, who have teamed up to create "Broke," a dark tale of failed dreams they are filming in and around Waikiki.

Their story of Ray and Misha will take audiences into an alley of local life rarely told on the big screen. Sereno views it as a universal story in which hopes crash like waves on a reef and the reality of Hawaii's high cost of living tempts people to do things they know are wrong.

"It's a very dark world," Sereno said. "This is a young couple living in Waikiki trying to survive and make a life and they get caught up in drugs and prostitution and this spiraling-downward world that seizes their life and sends them out of control."

Sereno is known around town primarily for his work in TV commercials and short productions he made through Kinetic Films. A graduate of the University of Southern California School of Cinema/Television, Sereno has created fictional narratives that explored Hawaii through the lens of culture.

"Broke," which has been in the making for a year, is Sereno's biggest project to date. He hopes to enter the $200,000 feature in film festivals. It stars Dante Basco as Ray and Nadine Heinmann as Misha.

"It's part of my mission to try and tell authentic local stories," he said.

McKinney was a natural choice to breathe life into Sereno's vision. The author of "Tattoo," "Bolohead Row" and other works has often explored the subterranean, gritty world of drugs, strip bars and gambling in Hawaii. An English instructor at Honolulu Community College, he's also worked with prison inmates and homeless teenagers in Waikiki.

"My thing has always been realism," McKinney said. "To get everything right and make sure everything is believable."

That philosophy extended to the set recently when the cameras set up in a real massage parlor.

"It was important that it was set in Waikiki because that is the picture-postcard image of Hawaii," he said. "I imagine this as looking at a well-furnished house and in the basement there is some crazy stuff going on. Waikiki has a basement that even people from here are not aware of."

WHEN HER CLASSMATES at the University of Hawaii ask Kelly Shinn how she spent her summer vacation, she'll have a better story than anyone else on the Manoa campus: The 20-year-old nursing student from Mesa, Ariz., was one of 20 contestants on the CBS reality show "Survivor: Nicaragua."

While her friends were hanging out at the beach and eating plate lunches, she was living on a diet of crabs and rice and trying not to starve.

CBS won't let Shinn say how far she made it in the competition or even how much weight she lost, but she did say the experience was brutal.

"I would say this took a toll on everybody," Shinn said. "Whether you are the first person out or the last person, everyone was affected personally. Your body goes into a state you can't imagine. When you are so hungry and so worn out, it's a crazy feeling."

Being selected for "Survivor" was a surprise. Shinn surfs and snowboards, and was a cheerleader in high school, but she isn't much of a camper, so she was pretty startled when a CBS representative stopped her last April at Ala Moana Shopping Center and asked whether she was interested in the show.

And yes, she thought it was "super creepy" until the story checked out.

She said she's a better person for the experience.

"People in Third World countries live like survivors every day," she said. "This opened my eyes as to how fortunate we are. Now when I sit down to eat a meal, I am thankful I have this meal before me. And we have cold water and ice cubes and ... a toothbrush."

"Survivor: Nicaragua" premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday on KGMB.

And that's a wrap.

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at

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