Hollywood can’t resist Hawaii’s allure
Vail, CO Colorado
HILO, Hawaii ” Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was reluctant about returning to Hawaii because the islands already served as backdrop for his “Jurassic Park” series and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Following a worldwide search, Hawaii was cast again. This time as a South American rain forest in the fourth installment of “Indiana Jones.”
“We’ve had a lot of success shooting in the Hawaiian Islands,” said Kathleen Kennedy, executive producer of the still untitled film. “I think once we started looking at the various locations and logistics involved in going other places, it just made sense to come back here.”
The state is experiencing a film boom after a three-year dry spell of major motion pictures. Besides Indiana Jones, which is wrapping up production on the Big Island, Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” is being filmed on Kauai. Earlier this year, the romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” filmed in Hawaii.
“It’s been the busiest we’ve had in a long time,” state film commissioner Donne Dawson said.
She said Hawaii’s TV and film industry this year could break the banner year in 2004 when a record $164 million was spent, mostly from the three network TV series. Of the group, only ABC’s castaway drama “Lost” has survived.
Dawson said 2004 was the year for TV, “this is the year for feature films.”
Industry officials say a major reason for the increase in activity is the state’s new tax credit ” known as Act 88 ” which boosted the state’s 4 percent production tax credit to 15 percent on Oahu and 20 percent on other islands.
The tax credit, capped at $8 million per production, was implemented a year ago to compete with other film-friendly states with similar incentives such as New Mexico, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Connecticut.
Dawson said the credits were “absolutely critical” in order to compete.
More than three dozen states have some form of incentive for the film or TV industry or are looking to create them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“It put us in the ballpark with the rest of the states, and other countries,” said Brenda Ching, executive director of the local Screen Actors Guild, who has lobbied for years for the tax credits.
Ching said while big-budget movies are nice, a steady diet of commercials, TV shows and smaller productions are needed, too.
“The small stuff keeps us going,” she said.
A total of 27 productions that are expected to spend $127 million have applied for the tax credits, since the program began July 1, 2006. That doesn’t include “Indiana Jones,” which is spending $15 million here and has hired more than 120 locals. But producers of the action adventure say they will take advantage of the credits.
“That really tipped the balance over for coming here,” said Frank Marshall, the film’s producer.
There were other factors including: access to available hotel rooms, experienced crew, equipment and access to the airport. However, the main selling point was the scenery.
Indy IV’s creators were looking for “old-growth jungle,” and the options were limited.
“After looking in probably 14 or 15 countries, a couple of states, here we are,” said Mike Fantasia, the film’s location manager. “We found a couple of locations here we couldn’t match anywhere else.”
Fantasia said Spielberg wanted someplace “really exotic,” but wanted to go some place different because he used Hawaii so many times.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was shot mostly on Kauai, as was the “Jurassic Park” series. The island is again buzzing with Dreamworks’ “Tropic Thunder,” starring Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. as actors in a war movie who end up having to fight a real war.
Kauai film commissioner Art Umezu said there’s been a lull in filming on the Garden Island in the past few years, but the tax credits helped lure “Tropic Thunder,” as did Stiller owning a home on the island.
“We can’t keep up with Honolulu or the mainland. We’re just rural Kauai,” Umezu said. “One thing we can claim is the fact that we have drawn all these stars, from John Wayne to Elvis Presley.”
Besides jungles, waterfalls, rugged green mountains and miles of palm-lined beaches, Hawaii also offers everything from urban to prehistoric landscapes.
“There are 13 climate zones in the world and we have 11 of them,” said Big Island film commissioner Jon Mason. “If you want swamps or North Pole, we don’t have that. We have everything else.”
In “Lost,” Oahu has filled in for the rural South, Australia, South Korea, Europe and many other places.
But there is a price for a piece of paradise. Production costs are about 20 percent higher in Hawaii.
Challenges include shipping costs and the availability of crew. Indiana Jones has spent $2 million to $3 million alone on shipping everything from trailers and props to generators and lights. They are also using crew members from “Lost.”
“I don’t know if you realize how busy the islands are right now. We’ve had to sort of beg, borrow and steal from any one we can,” Kennedy said.
She noted a local crew base being developed, making it even more attractive to shoot here.
Hawaii also offers the nation’s only state-owned and operated film studio, which was home to two of TV’s longest running hits, “Hawaii Five-O” and “Magnum, P.I.”
There were a few feature films that shot in Hawaii in 2005, but the last big-budget picture that spent several weeks filming in the islands was “50 First Dates,” in 2003.
According to the Hawaii Film Office, the state has played host to more than 200 movies since 1913.
Hawaii Film Office: http://www.hawaiifilmoffice.com/