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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 16, 2004

Hawai'i shows to spend $100M

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

With three TV shows filming in the Islands and another one slated to start in September, industry officials are predicting production spending this year will top $100 million for only the third time in history.

Key grip Scott Hillman, left, and gaffer Roger Sassen were part of the production crew filming NBC's "Hawaii" last week at Fort Street Mall. The TV show is one of at least three this year to film on O'ahu.

Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

The four shows helping drive the recovery in spending are Fox's "North Shore," NBC's "Hawaii," ABC's "Lost," and WB's "Rocky Point."

"I would say this is unprecedented," said Donne Dawson, Hawai'i Film Office commissioner. "There has never been a time when there were three shows in production at one time. ... There has been steady growth in our industry in the last 10 years."

An estimated $81 million was spent by productions in 2003, with the movies "50 First Dates," "The Hulk" and "Along Came Polly" filming in town, in addition to the television shows "Average Joe Hawaii" (NBC), "Surf Girls" (MTV) and "Amazing Race 4" (CBS).

Production expenditures soared to $147 million in 2002 — a record for Hawai'i's industry — with big-budget movies such as "Blue Crush," "The Big Bounce," "Tears of the Sun" and "Helldorado" filming in the Islands.

The local industry got a boost in 2002 because many production companies were reluctant to go abroad following the

Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They opted for domestic locations, and Hawai'i, home to 11 of the world's climatic zones, proved to be one of the more popular venues.

The decline in spending in 2003 reflected, in part, greater competition from other U.S. and international locations, Dawson said.

This year will mark the first time that three TV shows — one already on the air, two expected to premiere in September — are in production on O'ahu at the same time.

"And these are ... scripted shows, as opposed to reality-based shows," said Chris Lee, chairman of the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and former executive with TriStar Pictures and Columbia Pictures. "They spend at least twice as much on their budgets. ... I think that's extraordinary in itself."

"North Shore"

Network: Fox

Status: Airing episodes at 7 p.m. Mondays

Stars: Brooke Burne ("Baywatch"), James Remar ("2 Fast 2 Furious"), Jason Momoa ("Baywatch Hawai'i"), Kristoffer Polaha and Corey Sevier

The buzz from Fox.com: "Sun, surf, sand and sex. And that's what keeps the staff occupied. At this exclusive five-star resort, The Grand Waimea, intrigue abounds and passions often flame."


Network: ABC

Status: Premieres Sept. 22

Stars: Matthew Fox ("Party of Five"), Dominic Monaghan ("The Lord of the Rings"), Terry O'Quinn ("Alias"), Naveen Andrews ("The English Patient"), Ian Somerhalder ("Smallville") and Harold Perrineau Jr. ("Oz")

The buzz from ABC.com: "Out of the blackness, the first thing Jack senses is pain. Then burning sun. A bamboo forest. Smoke. Screams. With a rush comes the horrible awareness that the plane he was on tore apart in mid-air and crashed on a Pacific island. From there it's a blur, as his doctor's instinct kicks in: People need his help. ... From J.J. Abrams, the creator of 'Alias,' comes an action-packed adventure that will bring out the very best and the very worst in the people who are lost."


Network: NBC

Status: Premieres Sept. 1; filming

Stars: Ivan Sergei ("Crossing Jordan"), Sharif Atkins ("ER"), Eric Balfour ("Six Feet Under") and Michael Biehn ("The Terminator")

The buzz from NBC.com: "Hawaii can seduce just about anyone ... cops and criminals alike. Murder. Drug-running. Organized cartels. The stories are as gritty as any urban center, despite the idyllic surroundings. Where else would cops discover a smoldering torso at the base of an active volcano? The diverse group of cops and detectives may work against a breathtaking backdrop of jungles and seascapes, but they can never take a vacation from the tangle of local and international criminals constantly crossing their paths."

"Rocky Point"

Network: WB

Status: Scheduled to start production on O'ahu in September

Stars: Billy Campbell ("Once and Again") and Chyler Leigh ("That '80s Show")

The buzz: Created by "Blue Crush" writing and producing team of John Stockwell and Lizzie Weiss, "Rocky Point" revolves around a 19-year-old woman who returns to Hawai'i, where she was born. But her life on the North Shore is suddenly disrupted when her estranged father shows up at her doorstep.

Fox's "North Shore," which revolves around staff at the fictional Grand Waimea resort, has been filming at various locations on O'ahu since April. The show is based at the state-owned Diamond Head Film Studio, Hawai'i's only soundstage. The hotel drama nabbed it because it was the first of the Hawai'i-based shows to get picked up by its network.

NBC Universal had obtained a commitment to use the Hawai'i Film Studio ahead of the other networks, including Fox, for its “Hawaii” series. NBC Universal could have held the facility pending word on the status of its series, but allowed Fox to use the studio because Fox’s “North Shore” had been cleared to air.

The Honolulu cop drama "Hawaii" has been shooting all over O'ahu in July. Crews are retrofitting the former Hopaco warehouse in Mapunapuna, transforming the 45,000-square-foot space into a sound stage and set for the fictional Honolulu metro police department.

And "Lost," a drama that follows survivors of a plane crash, is leasing the former Xerox building on Nimitz Highway. The ABC drama also began filming on O'ahu last month.

Having three shows in production at the same time is both exciting and challenging, industry experts say.

The steady stream of work and revenue is a welcome change to several years of sporadic TV and film productions. Now the state is facing the challenge of supporting three network shows, all needing soundstages, crews, actors and locations that don't duplicate the others.

Adding a fourth show on O'ahu — WB's "Rocky Point" — in September will continue to thin out the available resources.

Abundance of jobs

One tangible benefit of the crop of TV productions has been the boost to the state's industry work force, which hasn't had this much work in a long time.

"We're overwhelmed," said Brenda Ching, director of the Hawai'i Screen Actors Guild, which has about 700 members. "We've had a lot of people working. ... There's an incredible flurry of activity right now. People are excited."

About 4,000 people in Hawai'i, including part-time and seasonal hires, are available to work in film and television. Right now hundreds of them — from camera technicians to wardrobe coordinators, from stuntmen to off-duty lifeguards — are working on these shows. There's even a demand for extras.

Margaret Doversola, casting director for "North Shore," said the show hires up to 70 extras every other day, paying $118 to union members or $85 to nonunion members for eight hours of work, not including overtime pay.

"We haven't had this much work here since 'Magnum P.I.,'" said Doversola, who has been in casting since 1976.

Since "Baywatch Hawai'i" wrapped up in 2000, the local industry hasn't had steady work, she said. In the past three years, though several major films were shot here, no TV pilot filmed in Hawai'i was picked up by a network.

"If just one of these shows makes it," Doversola said, "it would be fabulous."

While three, or possibly four, TV shows on one island may stretch the industry's resources, having them here has proven to be a lift for the industry, which for years has struggled to convince lawmakers of its potential in supporting and diversifying Hawai'i's economy.

The Diamond Head Studio, for example, hasn't been fully renovated for decades. Two-thirds of it dates back to "Hawaii Five-O," which aired from 1969 to 1980.

"Right now it's become the most important piece of infrastructure we have," Dawson said.

The film office and studio, both run by the state, have an annual budget of $675,000. In 1993, the state spent $10 million to improve the Diamond Head facility, demonstrating then a commitment to the local industry.

A second round of renovations scheduled to begin in the mid-1990s was postponed. The state finally allocated $7.3 million for the project, which is slated to begin next year.

"If (these renovations) had gone forward back in the mid-'90s, when they were intended to, we wouldn't have had the crunch we had when these shows all came in," Dawson said. "We would've probably had a second soundstage. ... These are long-overdue renovations for that aging facility."

Part of making the state attractive to productions is the development of tax-credit and refund programs, which make it more affordable for production companies to foot the expense of filming in a state thousands of miles away from Hollywood.

Act 221, for example, was established to encourage investment in technology-related companies, including those in TV and film production. It has recently been extended to the year 2010 as Act 215. The credits provide a 100 percent or more tax break for technology investments, and a 20 percent tax break for research and development.

The state has also supported the creation of a film school — the Academy for Creative Media — headed by Lee, a former motion picture executive.

The latest data show there were 1,384 jobs in the film industry in Hawai'i in 2002, a 45 percent increase from 952 jobs the year before. That translated into $32.8 million in total wages, up from $16.4 million in 2001.

Those jobs, though, are still a small percentage of the total number of jobs in the state, which was 558,500 in 2002. That year total wages amounted to $18.2 billion.

"But the film industry has impact beyond just the number of jobs," said state economist Pearl Imada Iboshi.

Valuable exposure

John M. Reynolds, right, operated the microphone boom during taping last week of "Hawaii" at Fort Street Mall. Spending by Hawai'i-based TV shows is projected to top $100 million for the third time in history.

Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

Broadcasting inviting images of Hawai'i's unmistakable scenery and allure to millions of viewers every week makes these TV shows the ultimate marketing tool, say tourism industry officials.

"The marketing exposure benefits, that's almost incalculable," said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority. "Like anything else, the more you're out there, the more you're on the mind of customers, and that's always a good thing."

Experts estimate the free advertising on network television will generate millions of dollars in revenue to the state.

"Baywatch Hawai'i," the last Hawai'i-based TV series, reported to have generated $29 million in annual advertising exposure for the state to U.S. markets, in addition to $40 million in actual production spending in-state.

When "Hawaii Five-0" began airing in 1968, visitor arrivals totaled 1.3 million annually. By its final season in 1980, nearly 4 million visitors were coming to the state.

"The truth of the matter is we couldn't afford to buy that," Haas said.

Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect year for the start of "Hawaii Five-0." Also, there was an omission of NBC Universal's action.