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“24 Hours” with Michael Tanaka may change your thoughts about time, friendship, and making the most out of life

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris Bueller, the iconic 1980s screen-teen, once said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Bueller’s advice resonated with 18-year-old local filmmaker Michael Tanaka. Despite the movie coming out more than three decades ago – and 15 years before Michael’s birth – it still inspired him. 

“Everyone wastes so much time not doing the things they want to do,” Michael says. “You only have so much time. I don’t want to look back and regret the things I didn’t do.” That’s some wise insight for someone who hasn’t yet turned 20. 

LLP 24 hours Michael

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Michael Tanaka, standing at his second home on the ocean

Last November, Michael challenged himself and his friends to find out exactly how much could be accomplished in a day. Turns out, it’s a lot more than any of them imagined.

The results were captured in the movie, 24 Hours, which won a spot in this year’s annual Newport Beach Film Festival under the category OCC Shorts. The five-minute film will screen on Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at the Lido Theater.

Finding film

Michael was only eight when he discovered his first video camera. Because he was homeschooled, he had the time and space to deeply focus on his interests. “I found a VHS camcorder around the house and wondered what it could do,” he says. “I started messing around making home videos, acting, having fun, filming people skating, going to the beach, whatever I could think of.” 

Five years later, Michael got his first GoPro and delved into surf photography and videography. He became obsessed with Clark Little, a renowned Hawaiian shorebreak photographer, studying his skills and techniques. 

“Film has been a passion for Michael from a young age,” says his mother, Kathy Tanaka. “He always spends any extra time he has working on edits, thinking of script ideas, learning new tricks, and filming around Laguna. He loves the ocean. He loves people. And he loves to capture them on film.”

Inspired by Iron Man, and the vast world of action films, Michael soon discovered there are many ways to achieve action on camera. “You can do a lot more to show action than just blowing stuff up,” he says. 

When he invested in his first action camera – a JVC camcorder – four years ago, he returned online, looking for better ways to edit, and watched various YouTube tutorials. “It was a lot of self-learning,” he says. Homeschool prepared him well for that skill. Over time, he taught himself sophisticated video editing. And he took various odd jobs to save up to buy a decent camera – a Sony Alpha A650 – and a MacBook Pro to edit his films.

 “Michael is one of the most creative guys I know,” says James Ferrell, cast member and friend. “He always makes insane edits on his Instagram. I’m so proud of how far his work has come.”

24 Hours: Setting his dream to film

Michael had the idea for the film 24 Hours for a long time, but didn’t have the proper equipment or experience to execute it. He also needed to find just the right cast. “I met some amazing people,” he says. They included Travis Booth, John Hrynkiewicz, Rylan Breneman, Makayla Gidley, and James Ferrell, to name just a few.

LLP 24 hours group

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Crewmembers Rylan Breneman, John Hrynkiewicz, and Travis Booth with Michael Tanaka

“There’s never a bad time with Michael,” says John Hrynkiewicz, friend and cast member. “Being a part of his films, and watching everything come together, is always an extraordinary experience.”

“I met John at Bluebird Beach,” Michael tells me. “John is a legend, a full-sender.” Wait, a what? Full-senders, I learn, are guys who aren’t afraid to go for the gusto and charge the waves. 

As Michael stops to think about it, everyone he’s met has been from the beach, either body boarding, surfing, or just hanging out. That’s where the momentum for the film started to gather. “John and I talked about making a movie for the past few years every summer at the beach. We finally worked ourselves up to the actual execution of it,” he says.

Michael worked through a plan sheet of the schedule, mapping out times, activities and locations. He had to coordinate schedules for everyone who wanted to be in it – a hefty-sized cast. “It was an incredible experience being a part of this film because I got to see the logistics that go into filming a movie like this,” says Travis Booth. “We also had a lot of amazing adventures around Laguna.”

Before dawn, a bunch of guys gathered on the fire roads above the town, skateboards in tow, and the filming began. Together, the cast and crew (technically, Michael is the only crewmember) traversed the fire roads and beaches. They hopped trolleys to move from beach to beach, and crammed in skateboarding, surfing, and – wait for it – cliff diving. 

“The first time I jumped off a cliff, I was 13 years old,” Michael says. It happened at Woods Cove and, according to Michael, the drop wasn’t that far (easy for him to say). Michael still gets excited and animated when talking about it. “It feels like you’re flying for a while,” he says. “It’s just incredible!”

But there was no way for Michael – who directed, filmed, and edited the movie – to also play an on-camera role. He left the action shots to his friends, and they loved every minute of it. “My friends are way more energetic than any paid actor,” Michael says. “Their attitude was, ‘We’ll get the shot, no matter what.’ John was my action guy. He’d say, ‘I’m gonna jump, and you make it look like I’m levitating.’” 

“We got there super early,” Rylan Breneman recalls. “We crammed as much stuff as we could do in one day. I didn’t think it was possible, but one thing led to the next.”

James Ferrell agrees. The 24 hours we had filming the movie was one of the best days I can remember. I’ll never forget how much fun we all had that day.” 

“Michael comes up with the best stuff to do on the spot,” says castmember Rylan Breneman. “He’ll say, ‘Let’s go jump off this cliff.’ Or, ‘Let’s go do some crazy stuff.’ He’s always there with his camera, but he doesn’t do it for his vlog. He does it for fun.”

“We have always had the best times while exploring Laguna, taking videos and photos,” says Makayla Gidley, who also appears in the film. “Michael is so talented. I feel like he has improved a lot with all of his edits and photos. I’m really proud of him for getting to show off his amazing work in the film festival.” 

Dreams of big screens

While enrolled in an Introduction to Video workshop at Orange Coast College, Michael studied with Professor Kristina Haton. “I was only planning to post the movie on YouTube,” Michael says. “But at the end of the class, I submitted it as my final project. Professor Haton said, ‘This is literally the best film I’ve seen. I don’t say this often, but you’ve got to submit this to the [Newport Beach] Film Festival.’” The rest, as they say, is history.

LLP 24 hours two

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Travis Booth stays ready for action while Michael gets to work

Michael plan to finish his studies at Orange Coast College and transfer to a film program at USC or UCLA in a few years. 

Editing to the beat of his own drum

Though his passion lies in moviemaking, Michael has another important hobby that’s proved critical to his success. Like his dad, who’s an avid guitarist, Michael loves music. Specifically the drums. He’s found that film editing isn’t that different from music. You have to find the right beats in order to cut the scenes in satisfying ways. “I have an ear for music,” he says. “Because I played the drums, I know exactly where the beats go, and I can tell where to edit.” 

“Drumming helped Michael make perfect cuts and have his edits flow with the music,” says his mom. “We can see that. Music and design are in his blood and it’s coming out on film.” 

Michael chose Odesza’s song “Meridian” for the movie, which required him to contact the band to secure the rights. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of Michael and his project. “They told me they’d love to have their music in the film, saying they encourage students and upcoming filmmakers, and told me it was an honor to be included.” The two-man band even said they’d try making it to the screening.

Making the most of time

Michael is a man always seeking out new adventures. Laguna is his playground. Whether it’s hiking the hills or surfing the beaches, he doesn’t let many moments get away.

He loves discovering secret spots with his friends. He could tell you where they are but, like Vegas, what happens in Laguna…Suffice to say that our town is full of hidden treasures – concealed caves and clandestine cliffs, secret pools and hidden waterfalls. There’s Suicide Rock and Shell Beach, to name a couple better-known spots. “I really hope it rains again,” Michael says. “There are waterfalls around here people will never know about. Parts of it look like Hawaii when it rains.”

That’s the point Michael wants to make: you think you have all the time in the world to discover these things, but you don’t. “I want to inspire people to get off their phones,” he says. 

Twenty-four hours. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. Every day. How will you spend them?

To find out more about Michael and track his adventures, follow him on Instagram at Michael.Tanaka. 24 Hours will air on Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach. For more information on tickets and other events at the Newport Beach Film Festival, visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com.