Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Lee Cataluna's ready for her close-up, and ready for Hollywood.

Cataluna tells tale
of tenderhearted
repo man

The former KHNL anchor
comes home to tell all, and
make a movie

Da kine, casting call, ladat

By Burl Burlingame


OF all the rumors that explained why KHNL TV personality Lee Cataluna abruptly quit her job and vanished several months ago, her favorite is that she had run off to become a Hollywood starlet.

"Oh, that was out of my system the first time I saw 'Da Mayah' on stage," says Cataluna, of her breakthrough play.

"I wrote one of the parts with myself in mind, naturally, but the people who have played it have been so good that I really can't imagine myself acting anymore. Or ever. I really learned something about myself."

So, back to the drawing board. Actually, the keyboard. She did run off to Hollywood, but it was for the low-profile and relatively underappreciated job of screenwriter.

She's back, with a film producer and director in tow, casting for her first feature, "Ho'olawe: Give and Take," the tale of a tenderhearted repo man, which will probably begin shooting this fall.

Sitting in a 24-hour hors d'oeuvre suite at the Outrigger Prince Kuhio, flanked by partners director Michael Wurst and producer Jack Past -- both of whom are a head taller than she is -- Lee Cataluna brought us up to speed.


"It might have seemed like a sudden departure to those who were external to the KHNL building, but it wasn't a surprise inside," she said.

"I liked working in news. I loved the stories, of getting out and meeting people. But my hobby of writing ... it just sort of demanded that it become a real career. And the opportunity came up."

She credits the Maui Writers Conference for the impetus. "It pushed up my development in the profession of writing by two or three years. It was amazing."

She also met Wurth there, an experienced film technician who was trolling for properties. Like jigsaw-puzzle pieces, they clicked together into that favorite Hollywood concept, the "package." Wurth had the expertise to channel Cataluna's talent. Wurth, Past and Cataluna then formed Ovid Pictures, dedicated to small comedies.

"I started writing A LOT," she said. "I had thought one play or screenplay a year might be fun, but that isn't a career. To do it right, it's a full-time job. I'm a storyteller. I want to tell stories. Doing them in a minute-30 on TV every night -- if you're lucky, a minute-45 -- wasn't cutting it."

"Comedies that are truly funny are a very rare thing," said Wurth. "Almost impossible to find. Doesn't matter where they're set. Lee also is a great collaborator, remarkably easy to work with, very open to suggestion."

She read about a Hawaiian repo man in a newspaper story, and that was the spark, the "diving board" as Cataluna puts it, for "Ho'olawe."

And then in February, as she was debating whether to jump ship, Cataluna's grandmother died.

"She was 92, but it sort of shook things up for me," said Cataluna. "She used to write children's stories for us. There was one about a little bird that sat on a tree branch and wondered where the sun went, and one day the little bird went out to look for the sun. I felt like that."

So, she jumped.

"What's interesting to me about Lee's work is that it's so 'Hawaiian,'" said Wurth. "Past films made in Hawaii are not about Hawaii, they're just set there.


More information about casting for "Ho'olawe: Give and Take" is available from the Ovid Pictures office, (310)-745-1556. The company has a web site:

"Or they assume that audiences can't access the lives of local people without a guide. So shows like 'Byrds of Paradise' and 'Beyond Paradise' are really about outsider-haole reactions to Hawaii. They aren't from the inside out."

Past points out there are many successful small films set in "foreign" cultures that make no excuses for being there, such as "The Full Monty," "The Commitments," "Waking Ned Devine" and others.

Cataluna wrote one, two, three drafts of a script and then "Michael took a pass at it, turning it into a real shooting script," said Cataluna. They'll share screenwriting credit, and Wurth's fine-tuning brought the budget down to under $3 million, typical of an independent film.

Like the other foreign comedies he named, Past will release "Ho'olawe" slowly, to film festivals, allowing word of mouth to build, playing it smart.

Local kine

"We want to use as much local talent as possible; we want to source the music here, certainly," said Wurth. "We'll see about post-production and editing services."

"Outrigger Hotels have been great," said Cataluna. "People have been dropping off resumes and head shots for a week and they just store them for us! I'm getting really upbeat feedback from the film community here. My mother's PRIEST is excited!"

Has Lee Cataluna fallen under the spell of Hollywood hipsters? Will the local girl do good in the big city? Will Lee Cataluna become a ruthless filmmaking tyrant? Only time will tell, and other cliches. Stay tuned.

More importantly, Lee, is it cool or weird to be staying in a Waikiki hotel?

"Oh! Mostly cool, but kind of weird too. We got here, I went right into the ocean. You know us local kine, only come to Waikiki on business. I don't think I've been in the water in Waikiki since I was 8 years old.

"You know, it's a REALLY nice beach. I think they're on to something here."

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