Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Lanai Lookout on Oahu doubles as the Big Island in the NBC pilot "Hawaii." In the pilot, the helicopter, seen in this shot, brought two detectives to investigate a headless corpse near a lava flow.

Hawaii back in spotlight

Isle workers are excited by the flood
of possibilities from Hollywood

Oahu is going through an unprecedented boom in television production with one series starting to film this week and the possibility of three others this summer.

A crew member for "Hawaii" wears the official shirt for the show.

But the boom is also creating problems for production companies as they scramble for limited studio space.

A series is the Holy Grail for a location because it employs a high number of people for several months -- six to nine depending whether the show runs 13 or 22 episodes -- and spends at least $1 million an episode.

Local crew are ecstatic about the production flood after last year's drought.

"I was unemployed for eight months," one crew member said. "Now we actually can pick and choose when and where we want to work."

Hollywood's renewed love affair with Hawaii is not all blue sky. With few available large warehouses, studios are scrambling looking for sound stages and offices, even to defunct military bases.

Fox Television was first out of the gate this year with its hotel drama pilot "The North Shore," which got the green light this month for 13 episodes costing about $2 million each. The series begins filming Thursday.

NBC's police drama "Hawaii" wrapped three weeks ago, and ABC's castaway pilot "Lost" ended yesterday.

NBC was based at the state's Hawaii Film Studio at least through May, but relinquished it to Fox after state officials got involved. Fox now has the Diamond Head site at least through September when season one is completed. The agreement could be extended if the show is picked up for another nine episodes, then brought back for a second year.

Now NBC is considering the 160,000 square-foot former Costco warehouse in Salt Lake which can rent for as much as $1 a square foot but reportedly may be offered for about $50,000 a month, sources said. It's too much room and to expensive for one network so there've been preliminary discussions of sharing it with ABC's "Lost."

Fox had been so desperate for adequate set space that it also considered sharing the Costco warehouse despite its cost being "infinitely more expensive than in L.A.," said Harry Bring, "North Shore" producer.

"Would we have rented it anyway? Probably. Would (the high cost) eventually send the show back to L.A. with doing junkets here? Very possibly," he said. "That was my fear."

To get NBC to give it up, Hawaii Film Office officials guaranteed NBC it would find them the set space it needed if "Hawaii" is greenlighted.

Crew boss Dale DeStefani of Los Angeles stands atop an L-1011 fuselage section at ABC's "Lost" set in Mokuleia.

Some worry that there may not be enough crew to feed Hollywood's production appetite if the other three pilots, including WB's "Rocky Point," gets the green light. Scott Wong, business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 366 which supplies crews, disagrees.

"There are lots of rumors ... but we've crewed three shows easily: 'Hawaii,' 'Lost' and 'The North Shore,' " he said. "That meant 135 crew for NBC, 125 for ABC.

"Statewide, (IATSE) has about 400 members and another 600 crafts people available in special situations."

IATSE's biggest challenge came about two weeks ago when it provided about 80 carpenters for Fox's pilot to work 24-hours daily building a massive hotel lobby at the Hawaii Film Studio for filming May 10.

"We had the available man power," Wong said.

Producers Bring, and Frank Conway of "Hawaii," are confident there are enough qualified crew to supply three series.

"And as importantly there's depth and talent," said Bring, who worked on the "Hanauma Bay" television show in 1984.

The warehouse space issue is more crucial to Damon Lindelof, an executive producer on ABC's "Lost," which arrived in Hawaii after Fox and NBC were already in production.

"Unlike a year ago when there were no television productions in Hawaii, it's no longer a buyers' market," said Lindelof, who emphasized that its discussions with NBC to share space are in "a very preliminary stage."

"Using a sound stage as a time share is something that has never been attempted before," he said. "It would take an awful lot of good will, even if we were on the same network rather than rival networks."

A sound stage is crucial for a series, even in Hawaii's ideal climate, so to not be at the mercy of weather, changes in lighting conditions, or having to transport sets and people long distances.

"Lost" essentially used exterior sets for its pilot, at Heeia, Mokuleia and Kualoa Ranch where rain made filming "particularly difficult," Lindelof said. "We can't be captive to weather; we have to have a sound stage."

Hawaii's natural beauty has always made it popular for productions, the producers agreed. An ABC executive said "all the networks" get pilot scripts each year set in Hawaii but the shows are never made, "so you don't hear about them."

Filming in Hawaii entered the "Lost" equation early in script development, Lindelof said. Hawaii won over New Zealand which "was a little more woodsy and not jungle-ly enough," Lindelof said.

The original story about a passenger plane crashing on a deserted Pacific island, came from Braun.

If "Lost" goes to series, half of each hourlong episode will be shot on a sound stage; the other half outdoors, with the castaways constructing their own shelters out of aircraft wreckage and jungle finds, Lindelof said.

ABC's series green light for "Lost" would start with 13 episodes, adding another nine if the show's rating are good. If that happens, "Lost" producers could return to Oahu for filming as early as July.

Or not.

"If there are budgetary restraints or problems in finding the right space ... we'd rethink that," Lindelof said. "If we had to leave Hawaii we'd come back ... a minimum six to eight weeks every season."

Like the NBC and Fox shows, ABC likely will apply for the state's Act 221 investment credits. A key to keeping a series here are qualifying for the incentives, the productions' executives agreed.

(Hawaii) "has been dangling these ... carrots at Hollywood for more than two years and now that they're here, they're only getting a nibble," said a local production executive. "If productions don't get these publicized credits, it will make the difference between their staying one year or five years."

The filmmakers also seem concerned about a proposed tax credit cap. Under the bill, Hawaii-based production companies could recoup up to 20 percent of their costs to a maximum $2 million when they film here. The proposal also would increase the existing 4 percent tax credit that filmmakers can claim to 15 percent for costs incurred on Oahu, and 20 percent on neighbor islands.

The bill sets specific requirements for producers seeking to claim the credits. A production would have to spend at least $200,000 here with at least 25 percent of "below-the-line" hires, and unit production managers, location managers and script supervisors must be Hawaii residents.

No more than $2 million could be claimed by a single production, and the total amount of credits by the state would be capped at $10 million. Productions financed through Act 221 would be ineligible for the additional credits.

So just how much could four series spend here? Fox will spend about $26 million for 13 episodes. If ABC, NBC and WB spend $1 million for each of their 13 episodes, that's $39 million. Four series would spend at least $65 million. And that's not counting films and cable TV shows hoping to film here. (See accompanying chart.)

"Act 221 and the other incentives are not what's brought the pilots here," Bring said. "But there's definitely an awareness that the (incentive) programs are out there. Act 221 can negate the cost of doing business in Hawaii, putting it on a level playing field with competing locations."


Many TV and movie
productions court Hawaii

Television and movie projects that are scheduled to or would like to film in Hawaii.

"Lost," ABC

Castaway drama follows a group of people stuck on a Pacific island who are forced to build a new society.
Pilot: March 22 to April 24
Decision expected: May
Filming: July
Main locations: Oahu jungles, Heeia, Kualoa Ranch and Nuuanu; soundstage TBD
Cast: Ian Somerhalde, Jorge Garcia, Evangeline Lilly, Dominic Monaghan, Matthew Fox, Maggie Grace, Harold Perrineau, Malcolm David Kelley, Naveen Andrews, Josh Holloway

"The North Shore," Fox

Hotel drama revolves around staff and guests at a fancy Hawaiian hotel.
Filming: 13 episodes, April 29 through September
Main Locations: Hawaii Film Studio sound stage, North Shore and Turtle Bay Resort
Cast: Brooke Burns, Kristoffer Polaha, Rachel Shelley, Navi Rawat, Corey Sevier

"Hawaii," NBC

Drama centers on a diverse group of Honolulu police officers.
Pilot: February to mid March
Decision expected: May
Filming: Summer
Main locations: Exteriors around Oahu and warehouse; sound stage to be determined
Cast: Eric Balfour, Ivan Sergei, Michael Biehn and Sharif Atkins

"Rocky Point," WB

A young woman living with her friends on Oahu's North Shore reluctantly takes in her estranged father.
Pilot: To be shot in June as a mid-season replacement
Main locations: North Shore
Starring: Billy Campbell

"Hawaiian Dick," New Line Cinema

In development: This is the story of a down-on-his-luck big-city detective who is exiled to Hawaii in 1953. While here, he gets involved in the case of a local girl who is kidnapped and turns up dead.
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, creator of MTV's "Jackass."

"Magnum, P.I.," Imagine Entertainment

Remake of the popular 1980s private detective series that starred Tom Selleck.
Filming: Summer on Oahu

"Cowboy U," CMT

A reality show features city folk learning to be cowboys.
Filming: July on Molokai or the Big Island

Untitled, VanHook Productions

This is Oahu producer Kevin VanHook's story about the discovery of a 42-foot tall mummy.
Filming: June or July

Bethany Hamilton untitled miniseries

This is the story of Kauai's shark-attack victim Bethany Hamilton.
Filming: Summer on Kauai

"Blue Aloha," Carsey-Werner-Mandabach

In development: This is an animated family comedy set in Hawaii, to be filmed on Oahu.


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