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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Another TV series ready to play castaway in the Islands

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

The plot may sound familiar: A plane crashes on a deserted island. Far from home and with little hope of rescue, the survivors must deal with a new world — and learn how to live with each other.

But creators of the NBC/Discovery Kids TV series "29 Down," which begins filming Jan. 3 on O'ahu, downplay similarities between their show and "Lost."

Co-creator Stan Rogow says the script for the tween-based show was developed before ABC's hit began production.

"I think that part of what we had in mind was a bit of inspiration of 'Lord of the Flies,' but extremely lighter," said Rogow by phone from Los Angeles. "... (It's) part 'Real World' from MTV, part 'Survivor' and part 'Fear Factor.' "

"29 Down" is scheduled to air on NBC's Discovery Kids Saturday morning programming block and the Discovery Kids Channel by next fall. It will be shot over three months on O'ahu, primarily in Mokule'ia

The show was created for Discovery Kids by Rogow, producer of Disney's "Lizzie McGuire," and DJ McHale of Nickelodeon's "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" in association with Honolulu-based production company Hawaii Film Partners.

"29 Down," named after the numbers on the doomed plane, follows the adventures of 10 young castaways stranded in Micronesia while en route to an eco-adventure.

New show filming on O'ahu

What: "29 Down"

When: NBC, Saturday mornings

Featuring: Tani Lynn Fujimoto, actress, student at Sacred Hearts Academy

Description: Inspired by elements of "Real World," "Survivor" and "Fear Factor"

"It's really about life lessons for the teens on this island," said Gina Watumull, co-producer with Hawaii Film Partners.

O'ahu actress Tani Lynn Fujimoto, a student at Sacred Hearts Academy, stars as one of the castaways, along with Hallee Hirsh ("ER"), Johnny Pacar ("Boston Public") and Corbin Bleu ("Catch That Kid").

"Tani Lynn is also a singer, so we're also going to try and work in some of her music" in the show, Watumull said.

O'ahu was chosen as the setting both for its physical attributes and for the financial incentives available with state tax breaks, backers said.

"Hawai'i has a tremendous resource in terms of its physical beauty, and we wanted that kind of look," Rogow said.

This is the first production for Hawaii Film Partners, a company created in 2002 to help build a viable local film industry.

"All of the crew — except for our director, who's also the writer (McHale) — they're all local," said company co-founder Rann Watumull, Gina Watumull's husband. "So it's great, and there's a tremendous payroll here." The series' 13 episodes will each be shot over a four-day period and will cost about $300,000 per show.

"It's a very interesting story, how our company got started, and it's a great testimony to the spirit of Act 221, or 215, to encourage activity in Hawai'i," Rann Watumull said.

In 2002, Rann Watumull spoke at a Hollywood dinner on behalf of the Hawai'i Film Office about the state tax breaks offered by the then-Act 221, now titled Act 215. "I represented more of an investor's standpoint. ... My role was to try to educate people in Hollywood about how the act worked and what investors were interested in, and so I just did it as a service," he said.

Through this speaking engagement, the Watumulls were led to David Jackson and his wife, Shauna Shapiro Jackson, attorneys and owners of Showcase Entertainment, an international film distributor.

The wives partnered up, along with local law firm Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, to form Hawaii Film Partners.

The producers say they prefer to back a TV series, because of its continuing return. "Very honestly, if we do a movie, we can take a producer's fee on it, but it doesn't do anything for investors," Gina Watumull said. "They're not going to invest with us again, and we're not going to be building an industry if we're just doing a one-time thing."

Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8174.