News Column

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Outtakes column

November 3, 2013


Nov. 03--That perky actress on the new Web series "Emma Approved" is Hawaii's Joanna Sotomura, and her role has given her a front-row seat to a new form of entertainment.

Not only does her character star in 4- to 6-minute YouTube videos, but also on every social media platform you can think of such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest. It's as if she were a real person.

"It's another level of storytelling," said Sotomura, a 2005 'Iolani graduate. "It's interactive new media."

Sotomura stars as Emma Woodhouse in a modern version of Jane Austen's "Emma." The series comes from Pemberley Digital and the same creative team that won a Creative Arts Emmy this year for its Web series "The Lizzie Bennett Diaries." The "Lizzie" series created a cult following and spawned a Web-based miniseries called "Welcome to Sanditon," Sotomura said.

Sotomura's version of Emma is a confident, strong-willed entrepreneur who owns a life coach-matchmaking business. She creates video blogs full of advice.

"She's bossy and stubborn and a little self-righteous and there is something really fun about playing a character that is bold to a fault," Sotomura said in a phone call from Los Angeles.

The series has 16 episodes completed but Sotomura isn't sure how long it will continue. New episodes debut each Monday and Thursday. (You can find them at

The experience is different from Sotomura's previous roles, especially her feature debut in the 2011 horror film "Madison County," in which she was chased by an ax-wielding lunatic. As Emma, she has learned to turn the camera into a character.

"I think the biggest thing is interacting with the camera, actually having that be a character in the storytelling," Sotomura said. "It's weird to make direct eye contact with the audience."

A SEARCH committee has given Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa a list of four finalists for the county film commissioner job. None of the finalists is being identified but Arakawa plans to interview each of them, then meet with his search committee before his selection for the job that will pay between $60,000 and $65,000 a year, according to county spokesman Rod Antone, who said there's no specific timetable for the selection.

The position has been vacant since Harry Donenfeld abruptly quit without explanation in September. The county received 38 applicants.

"We got some surprisingly good applicants," said search committee member Socrates Buenger, owner of the state's largest soundstage, Maui Film Studios. "Regardless of who the mayor picks, Maui will be better for it."

Buenger is busy preparing for the arrival next year of a five-film project based on the young adult book series "The Order of Ethyrea." The producers said they expect to spend $60 million in Maui County -- and use Buenger's 22,000-square-foot soundstage -- while filming the first installment, the $105 million "Ethyrea: Code of the Brethren."

Buenger said he's also close to finalizing a TV pilot he plans to shoot at his studio before the start of "Ethyrea." A "major cable network" is interested, he said. The soundstage owner is tight-lipped about plot specifics.

"It's an action-adventure, one-hour show based in Hawaii," he said. "We have gone through so many different iterations and so many different writers. But we finally got this writer who is cranking out fantastic stuff."

Casting could begin next month.

"There will be a lot of secondary roles that will be cast locally but unfortunately, the leads will almost all come from L.A.," Buenger said. "If a network is going to be interested in your production, they want a known quantity and that's usually a lead actor that everyone already knows."

AND that's a wrap ...


Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. Read his Outtakes Online blog at Reach him at 529-4803 or email


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