Monday, April 5, 2004

Lanai Lookout was overtaken by a film crew last week during the making of a teaser for the NBC series "Hawaii."

Hawaii homicide

TV detectives called to
an oceanside crime scene

It was a grisly scene at Oahu's Lanai Lookout. Honolulu police detectives Danny Edwards and Christopher Gaines, a medical examiner and a half-dozen men in gleaming silver fire suits were inspecting a torso caught on the ledge of an active lava flow.

Though you couldn't see the molten lava, its fiery red-orange glow radiated from a crack in the wind- and wave-swept promontory. A section of the body was recovered and placed, still smoldering, on a gurney.

Edwards and Gaines used their arms to shield their faces from the "lava's" intense heat.

The cast of "Hawaii" includes Ivan Sergei, top, Eric Balfour and Dann Seki. Sergei and Balfour play Honolulu police detectives, while Seki, an audiologist at Pearl Harbor, plays the Big Island's medical examiner.

"How do you know it's a homicide?" Gaines asked the coroner.

"Because his head is missing," the man said. "This guy was dead before he hit the lava."

Before any of the dozens of witnesses could gasp at the sight, director Dan Sackheim yelled, "Cut, print," over the sound of crashing waves.

For hundreds of motorists driving along Kalanianaole Highway Tuesday, the sight of the crowd, equipment, cables and a helicopter perched on the ledge below Lanai Lookout must have looked more like a rescue effort than a television production.

NBC was shooting the plot-setting teaser for the pilot episode of "Hawaii." Filming finishes today at the Hawaii Film Studio sound stage after about three weeks of production that included a car chase scene through Waikiki.

Producers wanted to shoot this scene in the lava fields of the Big Island, but time and budget constraints forced them to settle for East Oahu. (The opening teaser might still include aerial footage of the Big Island, including jungle, high cliffs, lava field and lava flow shots.)

The helicopter was used to bring the two "detectives," actors Eric Balfour (Gaines) and Ivan Sergei (Edwards), to the site. Two extras portrayed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers, and the Big Island medical examiner was played by local acting veteran Dann Seki, an audiologist at Pearl Harbor.

During a break in the filming, "Hawaii" co-star Sharif Atkins, formerly of "ER," sat on a lava rock wall overlooking the set, smiling and eating an ice cream bar.

"Everything is good, great," he said. "I've been having one great time on this show and in this place. I sure hope we're coming back."

The network will decide in May whether "Hawaii" will be picked up as a 13- or 21-episode series. NBC officials reportedly like what they've seen so far, which means "Hawaii" likely will become the second series to get the green light for Hawaii filming. The other, Fox Television's "The North Shore," begins filming 12 episodes here May 1 and is expected to pump at least $12 million into the economy. A green light for "Hawaii" would at least match that amount and possibly double it. Past Hawaii series have typically cost $1 million per episode.

Each series also uses at least 65 local crew members.

"Hawaii" crews filmed the pilot in more than 30 locations, including the greatest number of outdoor scenes for a Hawaii-based series in 10 years, a production official said. Observers might have witnessed filmings at the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center in Kakaako (which served as the medical examiner's office), in Waialua and at Aloha Tower Market Place.

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