Kauai has starring role in film
LĪHU'E, Kaua'i — Hollywood filmmakers have long used Kaua'i as a stand-in for Vietnam, Mexico, Tahiti and other tropical locales.
But Kaua'i has been starring as itself for the past month during the filming of "The Descendants" — a movie about the wealthy progeny of Hawaiian royalty and American missionaries starring George Clooney.
"It's portraying Kaua'i for Kaua'i, Hanalei Bay for Hanalei Bay, the St. Regis for the St. Regis," said George Parra, co-producer of "The Descendants."
The film, set for release next year, is based on a novel by Hawai'i author Kaui Hart Hemmings. Clooney plays the lead role of Matt King, a Honolulu attorney who travels from O'ahu to Kaua'i with his two daughters to search for his wife's lover.
Parra gushed about the warm hospitality the crew received on Kaua'i, especially in Hanalei, a "sleepy little town" on the island's north shore.
"We were taken aback" at being welcomed with "open arms," Parra said by phone from O'ahu, where the final weeks of the movie are being shot.
Titus Kinimaka opened up his heart and surf shop to the cast and crew and can be seen as an extra in some of the beach scenes filmed on Hanalei Bay, said Parra.
Parra praised the St. Regis Princeville Resort, where Clooney and others also stayed and where part of the movie was filmed.
He also lauded the Westin, where 100 members of the cast and crew stayed.
The Westin extended its bar's hours to accommodate the late filming schedule.
To compensate for lacking meeting space, the resort created ad hoc offices for the production crew by removing furniture from three villas.
"Particularly, everybody in Hanalei were super warm and welcoming," said Parra, who has been in the film-making industry for 25 years and has filmed in Hawai'i for 20 years.
Art Umezu, the county film commissioner, said the movie would boost the island's economy, noting the cast and crew stayed for several weeks and frequented local businesses.
The film hired upward of 200 to 300 Kaua'i extras. About 45 appeared in scenes filmed at Tahiti Nui restaurant in Hanalei. Between 30 and 40 are in beach scenes on Hanalei Bay.
Of the film's total budget of $20 million, Parra said up to $15 million may have been spent on Kaua'i, a figure he won't be able to verify until filming has been completed.
The island's tourism industry may also get a lift once the movie is released.
"People are going to see that on the screen, they're going to look at that and say, 'Where is that?' and 'I want to go there,' " Parra said.