All for a whiff of HIFF
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Each year, the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival serves up a sublime cocktail of Eastern and Western cinema. But forget all that, for the moment. In recent years, the film trailers used to promote the October event have drawn nearly as much attention as the featured films themselves.
Take last year's piece by local director James Sereno. The epic-in-scale short was so impressive that film critic Roger Ebert dubbed it the best he had ever seen, and promptly snatched it up for his own "Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival."
Expectations could be even higher this year. "Lost" executive producer and director Jack Bender is trying his hand at capturing the essence of Hawai'i's longest-running film festival.
Eager to follow up the success of Sereno's piece the last year, festival manager Trevor Tavares tapped local producer Angie Laprete (whose HIFF trailer won a Pele Award in 2001) to head the project.
Laprete was coordinating an episode of "Lost" at the time and approached Bender — who has a reputation for supporting local crews and the local film industry in general — about writing and directing the trailer.
"It kind of freaked us out that he was so excited about doing it," Laprete said.
The trailer follows a Japanese businessman, played by veteran local actor Dann Seki, who falls asleep in his hotel room and dreams of a surreal passage through the nearby ocean. He's pulled up by a young surfer (Riley Tang), who deposits him at Queen's Surf beach, in a dripping wet business suit, just in time for the city's Sunset on the Beach film screening.
"I wanted something that would reflect the legacy and spirit of Hawai'i," Bender said.
The trailer was filmed over four days last week. Bender said he will edit the piece when he returns from Los Angeles next month.
Bender and his crew, including several key personnel from "Lost," took on the project for love — really.
"I love being here and supporting the community, the film industry here, and the film festival," Bender said.
The production boasts some of the best locally based talent, including cinematographer Don King, waterman Brian Keaulana (stunt coordinator) and special-effects expert Michael Rivero (visual effects). Other key crew members include editor Jay Evans, key grip Keoki Smith, first assistant director Norman Kali, costumer Steve Stitt Bergh, hair and makeup artist James Sartain, production coordinator Ashley Smith, prop master Alvin Cabrinha, location manager Marilyn Mick and gaffers Kiwi Kalaugher, Bob Johnson and Dean DesJarlais.
Bender knew of Seki through an appearance the actor made on "Lost." When he saw his photo during a casting meeting, he knew he had the right guy.
"He's an incredibly fine actor," Bender said. "We put him through a lot during the filming, but he couldn't have been more perfect."
In addition to primo product placements for Louis Vuitton, Bender found a way to tastefully integrate the sponsors (via CGI) in the ocean scenes. Filming took place at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, Makaha Beach, Waikiki Beach and the green screen studio at Hawaii Media Inc. One of the requirements of the trailer is that it somehow include the names or logos of the festival's major sponsors.
Perhaps the most challenging shoot took place during the Sunset at the Beach event, coordinated with the help of Waikiki Improvement Association event coordinator Janet Maduli and Honolulu film commissioner Walea Constantinau.
On Bender's direction, thousands of beachfront moviegoers had to act naturally, then turn toward the screen on cue.
"They were great," Bender said.
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.