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Alumnus rolls out film aiming to stir pot with fresh take on marijuana culture

UCLA alumnus Michael Masukawa released the film “4/20,” exploring the importance of the April 20 marijuana holiday on its industry. The comedy follows Joy, a co-owner of a dispensary, and he said it portrays a different side of weed culture than is typically expected in media. (Daniel Leibowitz/Daily Bruin staff)

By Noor Ghatala

May 6, 2020 5:41 p.m.

Michael Masukawa is exploring the lighthearted comedy affairs of contemporary stoner culture in his film “4/20.”

The UCLA alumnus and co-executive producer said the film’s team wanted to emulate the atmospheres of ensemble movies like “Valentine’s Day,” “Love Actually” and “New Year’s Eve.” However, rather than following a primarily white cast through romantic plots, he said “4/20” leans into its comedy, and a multicultural cast aims to reflect modern-day marijuana culture. Masukawa said they filmed the entire movie in December in less than two weeks, and the scheduled release on April 20 was not affected by the coronavirus quarantine.

Masukawa said the film had a successful “4/20” premiere with Vimeo On Demand and is now being sought out for an online release by potential distributors.

[Related: Budding Los Angeles: Intersection of cannabis and educational institutions may soon normalize usage]

The film takes place during the annual marijuana holiday in a dispensary and follows the lives of the married couple who own the store, their workers and their customers as they try to keep the store open. Masukawa said he hopes by intertwining the lives of characters from various socioeconomic backgrounds, a wider audience can relate to the film and understand why the holiday is so vital to the marijuana industry.

“And ultimately, it’s about togetherness and meaning and how humans can work together to achieve a lot more than doing things on our own,” Masukawa said. “So it’s kind of the inspiration behind it, you know, kind of mashing these two different genres together in a unique and fun way.”

Much of the film follows Joy, the co-owner of the dispensary. She is portrayed by Nanrisa Lee, who said Joy is an outlandish and sassy character who becomes the voice of reason, strength and optimism in the film. Lee said Joy ultimately saves the dispensary from collapsing by bringing everyone together despite old rivalries, and the film advocates for unity during difficult times.

[Related: Film student seeks to tell a human story of resilience in crowdsourced documentary]

For screenwriters Andy Bailey and Abraham Nseir, they said this is exactly the message they wanted to send. It was a coincidence that the film resonated during quarantine, Bailey said, as they originally only intended to write a comforting ensemble film.

Bailey said the comedy lent itself to a tone similar to that of “Half Baked” or “Dude, Where’s My Car?” which Bailey sees as movies that are both comforting yet silly and goofy. He said he hopes “4/20” is able to entice moviegoers and cannabis fanatics alike as they balanced the jokes with a contemporary message about the reality of the marijuana industry.

Nseir said they hope the film can show a different side of weed culture than what is often portrayed in the media.

“We wanted to show a side marijuana culture that was more than just a couple of stoners running around,” Nseir said. “(The film) has a really diverse group of people and sort of represented what (marijuana culture) looks like today.”

Now hoping for the film to be picked up by a larger distributing network, Masukawa said he attributes much of the film’s Vimeo success to the release during a time when physical premieres and movie theaters aren’t an available option. While his team didn’t account for the quarantine, he hopes “4/20” can provide memorable laughs for those at home who are scouring the internet and streaming services for fresh content.

“It’s a very difficult time for many people,” Masukawa said. “I hope with this element that people are entertained, that they have a good laugh, feel good and are inspired to reach out to old friends.

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Noor Ghatala
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