Tuesday, November 23, 1999

State yearns for
lights, cameras,

State officials meet with
entertainment leaders in L.A.
to boost productions

By Tim Ryan


A sure way for Hawaii to attract television and motion picture productions is to make costs comparable with Los Angeles, streamline the process for getting information about producing films here, and form a "partnership" with the entertainment industry.

Led and "hosted" by Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, several state, county and labor officials this month met in Beverly Hills with 14 television and motion picture executives in two three-hour "focus group" sessions.

The meetings were held to discover what incentives studios need, and to begin a "new era" in the state's entertainment promotions.

The California meetings marked the first time such a high-ranking Hawaii official as Hirono has made a trip specifically to boost the state's entertainment industry. The nine television executives were from NBC, Studios USA, Spelling Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Television, MGM Television, Columbia TriStar Television and ABC. The five motion picture honchos were from Mandalay Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Bros. and Universal Studios.

Hirono said the purpose of the trip was to "learn for myself from (studio) decision makers what they need from Hawaii and what their perception is of filming here."

The three-day trip was designed "to kick off a new era of filmmaking in Hawaii" in which several branches of government are making "a cooperative fresh start" to generate more business for Hawaii's entertainment industry, said Georgette Deemer, Hawaii Film Office manager.

"The executives with whom we met are the people the state depends on for a major chunk of its business," Deemer said. "We asked them, essentially, to be our partners in looking toward the future to develop strategies so Hawaii's film and television industry can be bigger and better."

The breakfast and lunch meetings were held Nov. 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. State officials included Hirono and Deemer; Brad Mossman, deputy director of the state Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism; and Muriel Anderson, manager of the Hawaii Tourism Authority office.

County Film Commissioners attending were Walea Constantinau, Oahu; Judy Drosd, Kauai; Marilyn Killeri, Big Island; and Amy Kastens, Maui. Labor leaders at the meetings were Leo Reed, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399; Ken Sato, representing International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; and Brenda Ching, executive director, Screen Actors Guild, Hawaii.

Higher costs

Not surprisingly, the studios' main concern is the cost of doing business in Hawaii, estimated by Deemer to be 20 percent to 30 percent higher than in Los Angeles.

The entertainment industry is "very bottom-line focused," Hirono said.

Studio executives urged Hawaii to look closely at what its competitors -- Florida, Mexico and Australia -- are offering to production companies so Hawaii can be more competitive with its incentives, Hirono said.

"They said if costs are closer to what it is in L.A., then Hawaii will get a great deal more production work," Deemer said.

Hawaii's television and film productions are becoming a $100 million a year industry. Revenues last year were the highest in state history at $99.1 million, largely due to three television series filmed here: "Fantasy Island," "Wind on Water" and the Japanese show "Hotel."

This year's revenues are expected to be in the mid-$80 million range, according to Star-Bulletin figures. Only one television series, "Baywatch Hawaii" -- $22 million budget -- is filming here this year.

With some major films on Hawaii's horizon for next year, film and television revenues seem on a path to exceed $100 million for the first time.

The producers suggested that Hawaii create a Web site to be updated daily listing shows and films in production here, what's coming with specific dates for arrivals and departures, availability of crew members, production equipment and warehouse space, and specific contacts and phone numbers for hotel accommodations, airlines and ground transportation.

The Web page would let productions know exactly what's available on any given day so producers or staff wouldn't have to track down a film commissioner, Deemer said.

Small work force

The availability of crew members here was questioned by producers, she said. Bringing crew members from the mainland can add thousands of dollars in production costs for lodging, meals and transportation.

So state, county and labor officials suggested creating an apprentice program within the industry here that would increase the number of workers available, Deemer said.

"The studios' concern was not the level of talent but the depth; how many would be available if someone else is filming in town," she said.

Most surprising was that the studio executives were not worried about Hawaii's reputation for union or crime problems, or lack of studio space.

"They consider it past incidents that have been resolved and it's not an issue for them," Deemer said.

The trip is part of a new marketing focus by the state to attract productions. County and state film offices are pooling resources to make the most out of what Deemer called "pretty modest promotional and advertising budgets."

Part of the campaign will be a two-page picture ad promoting the state.

The four county film offices have had separate operating budgets, including marketing of $50,000 to $100,000.

Now, the offices have received an additional $40,000 each specifically for marketing in a Hawaii Tourism Authority grant, film officials confirmed.

Marketing campaign

The ad, which features a "killer beach photo," will be published in as many as a dozen entertainment trade publications such as Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Shoot and Locations, beginning with the December issue of American Cinematographer to be distributed at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

"This campaign will have more impact," Deemer said. "When someone wants to film a tropical location they don't think of a particular island unless they want something specific like a volcano. They just think Hawaii."

Hirono and Deemer said the studio executives' requests are "quite doable" in helping the state to become more focused in its marketing.

The state this week expects to receive a findings report of the meetings. That will be followed by a series of meetings here between state and county film officials on how to start some of the suggested ideas.

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