The future is black
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Three of the top creative minds in Hawai'i have joined forces for something very old, something strikingly new, a few things borrowed (and radically expanded) and something ... black?
In a marriage that could only take place in Hawai'i, filmmaker, artist and writer Peter Britos, artist Solomon Enos, and visual effects wizard Kai Bovaird are melding Polynesian history and myth with cutting-edge science fiction in a new multiplatform franchise called "Black Sand Hawai'i."
The new-media initiative kicks off later this year with "Vengeance is Black," the first in a five-part series of graphic novels under the title "Black Sand Hawai'i: Spiral Jungle." This will be followed by a role-playing video game and — fingers crossed — a television series and feature film.
Befitting the project's lofty ambitions and multipronged mode of expansion, "Black Sand Hawai'i" boasts a sprawling narrative that encompasses more than 1,200 years in what Britos affectionately calls "the center of the universe" — Hawai'i.
The project includes "Kilauea," a still-to-be-made feature film set in the 1990s. Britos wrote the coming-of-age story, which was at one time optioned by Hollywood Pictures. (A studio-head shift stopped it from going into production.)
"Vengeance is Black" jumps to the 29th century. It revolves around Alex Kahawai, a character who transforms himself into the avenging superhero Kuka'ilimoku, whom some consider to be an incarnation of the Hawaiian war god Ku. The feature film would be set in the same time period.
"There are film-noir overtones," Britos said. "We're looking at the belly of the beast. We've built an interesting universe, but we want to bring to it the soul of a very personal story."
The proposed TV series would pick up the action in the 31st century; the video game, already under way, is set two centuries after that.
Britos first conceived of "Black Sand Hawai'i" in 1991, when he was a student at the USC School of Cinema-Television.
He continued to develop the ideas even as he progressed through his doctoral studies and a career in film, television and radio.
Then, two years ago, Britos met Bovaird and Enos at a gallery show and struck up a friendship. The three had much in common: local roots, extensive experience in new-media arts, and a strong desire to showcase local-bred talent for the rest of the world.
"We are on the same page on so many levels," Enos said. "I grew up on the cusp, grounded in Hawaiian culture but also into the Dungeons and Dragons, uber-nerd kind of stuff."
After consulting the "BSH bible," a compilation of Britos' narrative and artistic ideas for "Black Sand Hawai'i," the three began brainstorming potential avenues of attack.
"Before, in science fiction, you started (a franchise) with a feature film, like 'Star Wars,' " Britos said.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, shows like "Battlestar Galactica" made television a viable entry point.
And while comics and graphic novels have always been effective in building audiences, these days, it's video games that are laying the foundation for budding sci-fi franchises.
Britos knew a feature film would likely cost in excess of $50 million. A television series would also require serious investment just to shoot a pilot.
"We felt that economically and visually, it would be best to do a kick-ass graphic novel and a kick-ass video game demo first, which we could do for under $300,000," Britos said.
Britos and Enos are collaborating on the graphic novels; Bovaird, founder of the Cause & F(x) special effects and digital animation house, oversees the development of the video game demo.
In addition to Britos, Enos and Bovaird, the core of the "Black Sand Hawai'i" creative team includes Britos' two daughters, Ka'ili, 14, and Malielani, 12, whose made-up role-playing games proved a valuable source of inspiration and ideas.
Ka'ili, a student at Kamehameha Schools, also pressed her father to consider the project a vehicle for representing the culture, morals and ethics of Hawai'i in his story lines.
"I was urging my father to take traditional Hawaiian customs and tie it into the future," she said. "The belief in Ku wouldn't be just history. It would be incorporated into their life. ... (The future society in the story) would practice it as religion."
While the melding of myth and sci-fi is nothing necessarily new, transposing stories of the Pacific to an imaginary 30th-century world holds tremendous untapped potential, Enos said.
"Everybody is familiar with Hawaiian kitsch," he said. "I want to destroy the word 'kitsch.' So little is known about the Pacific, but behind the grass shacks and mai-tais there are millenniums of history.
"In an overarching way, what is important is to tap into the long history of storytelling in Hawai'i," Enos said. "Stories were how you learned to carve a canoe or build a lo'i. They give us a way to give context to culture.
While the narrative duties fall primarily to Britos, the daunting task of imagining what Hawai'i might be like a thousand years from now is shared by the entire creative team, as well as a conscripted think tank of film students and other creative minds.
"We're trying to create a new kind of creative community around this franchise," Britos said.
Enos said the project has stretched his creative powers to exciting extremes.
"I can visualize 2060, but what is 3060 going to be like?" he asks. "We're reinventing the way that we try to guess at these things. Then we scratch it out and try again. We can't imagine it, but he have to try."
An undercurrent of local sensibilities runs throughout.
"If this was developed in New York or Los Angeles, you'd come away with an entirely different concept," Bovaird said. "We want to keep it local. We want the stories and the concepts to feel, in an artistic way, that they might only be fully understood if you live in Hawai'i."
And if "Black Sand Hawai'i" succeeds in bringing a Pacific perspective to popular science fiction, the impact could be profound, Bovaird said.
"People in New York might think they're seeing something dynamic and brand new, but we know that it's based on the history and culture of the Pacific. We're bringing stories that nobody else has — with a spin."
Bovaird, whose visual imprints can be seen in "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Hero," said he hopes the project will draw attention to the depth and breadth of talent available in Hawai'i, while at the same time providing training opportunities to rising artists and filmmakers.
"I want this to be a launch pad for bigger and better things," he said. "We want this not just to be locally based, but for it to succeed globally," he said.
While the actual production of the video game will likely take place in Shanghai or Taiwan, all of the conceptual, narrative and pre-visual work will be done in Hawai'i, Bovaird said.
"The brain trust is here," Britos said. "We're just a bunch of local guys, pounding this stuff out to be competitive in the local market."
The progress of "Black Sand Hawai'i" could very well be realized in other emerging media, he said.
"We are part of an evolving and ongoing conversation to stay on the cusp, not just to meet the demands of existing platforms."
As Enos said: "We want to do something that excels. We're descended from people that kept going. They didn't stop when they reached land. They kept going, and that's what we want to do with the media."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.