Film office founder sees diverse looks as Hawai'i's strength
Interviewed by Debbie Sokei
Advertiser Staff Writer
Title: Film industry development specialist
Organization: Honolulu Film Office, the central coordinating agency for productions shot on city property.
High school: Waialua High & Intermediate
College: University of Hawai'i-Manoa
Breakthrough job: "It would have been working for the Daily Computer Wire, which was an online newspaper, which utilized both my journalism background and emerging technologies."
Life-changing event: "The most eye-opening experience that helped me put a lot of things into perspective was the opportunity to visit Cyprus Island, where my father was born. To take a trip with him gave me a fuller sense of my heritage."
Q. How long has the film office been around?
A. As the founding director, I feel quite fortunate to have been able to establish the office in 1993 and develop it from the ground up. This year marks the 10th anniversary for the office, and I am very proud of what we've been able to accomplish over the years.
Q. Does running the film office feel like you're running your own business?
A. It's very entrepreneurial in nature and utilizes a number of skills necessary to compete in business. Each film project is like a small startup. The nature of the film industry is quite dynamic. Things move very quickly, so the film office must also be nimble to service the industry properly.
Q. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
A. The absolute best part of the job is knowing that what is being done will make a difference. It helps to create jobs, diversify our economy, stimulate business opportunities and generate worldwide exposure for O'ahu and Hawai'i. That's the end result and the value of the industry here.
Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?
A. At a time like now, where we have three pilots shooting simultaneously and other inquiries, the challenge is making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. We can't afford to do that. One of the ways
I deal with the challenges is to constantly review the way in which the film office does things and look for ways to implement streamlining measures as necessary. Each time you do something it gives you the opportunity to review the process and ask yourself, "Can this be done more efficiently?" Often this involves taking advantage of emerging technological innovations.
Q. How many pilots are shot at any given time?
A. NBC alone will do 30 or 40 pilots this year. There are hundreds of pilots done every year, but only a handful will get selected. Usually, if a community gets one pilot, that's pretty good. To have three at the same time is like hitting the lottery. It's the most that we've ever had.
Q. What attracts production companies to come to Hawai'i to film a movie, commercial or TV show?
A. If you look at the three shows being filmed here now a police-based drama, a hotel-based drama and a jungle-based show they each have very different needs.
Films are shot based on whether it's character-driven or location- driven. We compete with places such as Thailand and Australia because of our tropical nature. A benefit to being here is we have a lot of diverse looks in a very compressed physical space.
Q. Does it cost more to film in Hawai'i versus other places such as Canada or Australia?
A. It's impossible to give you a specific dollar amount because it depends on the factors of each show. There are tax incentives to consider. New Zealand is coming out with a big tax incentive because they realize how important the industry is to their economy.
Q. How big is the film industry here?
A. In 2002, we had a record year with about $147 million in direct dollars spent by production companies. Approximately $114 million of that came from productions done on O'ahu. We want to take the industry to the next level and turn it into a $300 million industry for the state, provided enough incentives and the infrastructure could be put into place. My office and all the other county offices are working cooperatively toward that goal. It takes a lot of people working together to make that happen.
Q. Is there some overlap in what you do and what the state's film office does?
A. We work together in our marketing efforts and we co-opt our marketing dollars. We work very closely together so that we don't do double work. A lot of time we jointly meet with producers because it's much more efficient. ... My philosophy is if it comes to the state, then it's good for everybody.
Q. What portion of the $147 million was brought in by your office?
A. I don't feel comfortable giving a specific number generated by my office because we work as a team.
Q. The film industry is a competitive business and other locations are offering better incentives. What do you think the state can do to make Hawai'i more attractive to do business here?
A. I'm going to dodge that just a little bit because the county doesn't have the taxing authority. But there have been several measures before the state Legislature proposing how we could level the playing field. One is to expand the 4 percent tax credit to make us more competitive. Australia offers 12 percent tax incentive, Canada offers 11 percent and New Mexico is offering 15 percent.
Q. How has the state's Act 221 tax credits helped boost the movie industry?
A. It's not appropriate for me to comment on that because that is a state incentive.
Q. With better tax incentives offered elsewhere, how does it affect your job?
A. It doesn't make it any easier. It just increases whatever you have to do. It always will provide some sort of challenge to get clients here. I don't know if we are ever going to change that. We are not going to be the Kmart of all locations. What we want to do is level the playing field.