Photos by George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin

Barbara Hudgins, an extra, gets a kiss from Kolohe the baboon as handler Charlene Smetka looks on.

Welcome to Atlantis

The two-hour, $4-million production
gets isle film industry gears
cranking again

By Tim Ryan

DEEP in a misty windward valley wanders a baboon, llama, rainbow-colored peacocks and several horses. Intermingling with the creatures are leprechauns, half animal-half human creatures, and cherub-faced spirits called Sylphens who tend their gardens in this land of Landros governed by the warrior Kyron.

It's peaceful in this village of its rough-hewn wooden huts, colorful gardens and smiling inhabitants.

Out of the forest five people emerge, a man with two teen-agers, an older man with a weathered face, and Widge, a villager leading the group.

"Just where the hell are we!" barks Liam, the older man.

Kyron bows his head, brings his hands together as if in prayer.

"Welcome to Atlantis."

Scott Spring, 19, of Maui and Dewey Caudill, 38, of Waipahu snagged parts in the syndicated pilot, "Atlantis."

"Atlantis: The Lost Continent" is a two-hour, $4-million movie for the Starz!/Encore cable networks scheduled for broadcast next March. The movie will not be seen in Hawaii.

"Atlantis" also will air next August as a two-hour syndicated pilot for MCA TV's "Universal Action Pack," which includes "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," and "Xena: Warrior Princess." If the ratings are good, "Atlantis" will become a Hawaii-based television series, says producer Jim Michaels.

The production starring Jeff Speakman and Tim Thomerson finished filming today, after being on location around Oahu since early September. It's the first film production on Oahu in more than a year and the cast and crew, many of whom are locals and friends from other productions, on this day don't seem to mind wearing heavy robed costumes in the humid weather or lugging unwieldy equipment over rocky trails in Kaaawa Valley.

Kristina Roper, 16, of Hilo plays Katriana, daughter of Kyron.

"It's so wonderful to get back to the work we love," said John Nordlum, Speakman's double. "So many people in Hawaii's film industry have had to leave to find work."

Nordlum, a part-time teacher and president of the Hawaii Stunt Association, has made a career of being a stand-in and double, serving the role for Jack Lord on "Hawaii Five-0" and Tom Selleck on "Magnum, P.I."

Wayne Geiger, of Hawaii Kai and owner of Ye Olde Scrimshaw Company, is Thomerson's stand-in. Geiger also was Lee Major's stand-in on the series "Raven."

"There's always a lot of the hurry-up-and-wait routine like any production, but it's great seeing all the old faces back at work," he said. This day Nordlum and Geiger are doubling up on duties, also working as "villagers."

Isle actors John Nordlum, left and Wayne Geiger are extras.

"Atlantis" producers originally were going to film in Florida to save money, and also considered Mexico, Vancouver, Australia and the Philippines. Michaels kept pushing Hawaii but couldn't see how to do it with a small budget.

When he had a final budget and script in hand he traveled here to meet with union representatives and state and Oahu film offices. The unions agreed to compromise on salaries, the state worked a deal on rent for the Hawaii Film Studio and offices, and he got discounts on hotel accommodations, meals and transportation.

"People wanted to make this work," Michaels said. "And this crew is as good as any we've worked with anywhere including Hollywood."

"Atlantis" centers around a single father (Speakman) trying to balance a busy career with raising three headstrong children. While on a sailing trip to the Bahamas, their chartered boat piloted by Thomerson is caught in a hurricane near the Bermuda Triangle. They end up on Atlantis with its Vikings, Conquistadors, barbarians and a dozen or so "small people."

"Atlantis" is the first film appearance for "small person" Scott Spring, 19, of Maui

"I thought being in a film would be fun," said Spring who hopes to be a drama teacher. "I like the acting but waiting around or being hungry isn't fun."

Dewey Caudill, 38, of Waipahu, is a film veteran with roles in "Five-0" and "Magnum."

"My size is an advantage because I get lots of the small roles when they're available," said Caudill, a civilian worker for the U.S. Air Force. "But I can't tell you how tall I am because my agent says that could limit some roles."

The 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch where Kyron's village is set may be the most filmed location on Oahu. Across the valley is where part of "Jurassic Park" was filmed; down the road, the family home for "The Byrds of Paradise" remains.

Along with ranch cattle and horses and chickens, this day there's also a rambunctious 65-pound, 17-year-old baboon, Kolohe Kalani. The baboon, who plays a villager, is being held by leash and harness by owner Charlene Smetka, who advises passersby to keep their distance.

"He's into harems," she says. "He thinks all women are his, including human. And he's doesn't like men."

Atlantis star Jeff Speakman, right, practices with stuntman Mark Lonsdale for an upcoming scene on the set in Kualoa Valley.

In the scene where the family enters the village, the baboon sits at the end of a cart filled with animal skins, sipping a beverage. Smetka hides under blankets holding onto the animal's leash. When director Strath Hamilton approaches to pull more of the blanket over Smetka, Kolohe Kalani bares his fangs and feigns an attack on the director. Another trainer pours beer into the animal's cup to "calm its nerves."

"I need it more than he does," the rattled Hamilton says to his cameraman.

Jeff Heise plays Kyron, the most prominent role in "Atlantis" for a local actor. "Welcome to my village," a grinning Heise says to a reporter. "I am the chieftain."

Heise, of Manoa, has been in numerous productions, including "Marker," "Magnum," "Jake and the Fatman," "Five-0." Currently, he's the voice of Lexus in the Honolulu Symphony commercial.

"This is a very decent role," he says. "Challenging and something to have fun with. And it's work, my first acting job since 'Marker.'"

Kristina Roper, 16, of Hilo, plays Kyron's daughter, Katriana. It's the first acting role for Roper, who graduated from high school at 15 and now attends UH Hilo.

As another village entry scene is about to be shot, Nordlum as a robed villager walks across the set carrying a basket, staring quizzedly at the new arrivals. After the fifth reshoot Nordlum jokes to a friend "My motivation with my basket is starting to peak. I can feel it. I'm getting in touch with my inner self."

Nearby a stern looking Geiger stands alongside a fruit-filled wagon suspiciously watching the strangers from Chicago. Small person Scott rubs his stomach and wonders aloud "When is lunch anyway!" And Kolohe Kalani downs another partial goblet of Budweiser, then belches.

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