Star-Bulletin Features

Norris brothers may base
action series in Hawaii

By Tim Ryan

It's not something you often hear from a Hollywood producer, but Aaron Norris -- who with brother, action star Chuck Norris, is working with state and county film commissioners to bring a new hourlong action TV series to Hawaii next March -- emphasizes he's not promising anything he can't deliver.

"Chuck and I never ever make false guarantees and get people's hopes up," says Aaron, 50, from his Santa Clarita home just north of Los Angeles. "It's still a long shot for us to do a series in Hawaii. I'm very much in negotiation land, but we're working very hard to make this happen."

From Houston to Honolulu, those who have met and worked with the brothers insist their word is their bond.

"Aaron and Chuck are two of the nicest people, filmmakers or otherwise, that I've ever met," said Donne Dawson, Hawaii Film Office manager. "They're incredibly warm-hearted and love Hawaii.

"It's refreshing to see someone come here wanting to do something for the industry and become part of the community," she said.

Aaron Norris has wanted to produce a series In Hawaii for more than a decade.

"Right now there are powers above me, the money people, who are looking at this," he said. "As soon as that issue is resolved, which I believe will be very soon, we can start making commitments."

Those powers are Tribune Entertainment Company, distribution partners with Norris Brothers Entertainment for the series, whether or not it's shot in Hawaii.

"I worked in Texas on 'Walker, Texas Ranger' for about nine years and one thing that made the place unique is the Texas people," Aaron said. "They're friendly and supportive. Hawaii is the only other place I've been that has the same attitude. We like to work with people we enjoy."

The Norrises, and their two L.A. entertainment attorneys -- Henry Holmes and Steve Katleman of Greenberg Traurig -- visited Hawaii last month for meetings with Joe Blanco, Gov. Cayetano's executive assistant, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau executives Tony Vericella and David Preece, Big Island Film Commissioner Marilyn Killeri, and Dawson.

Accompanying the Norris team was long-time friend, director/producer Albert Pyun, who's shooting five films on the Big Island. Aaron and Pyun have known each other for 25 years since meeting at Cannon Films.

Norris singled out the Big Island as a "definite" shooting location, citing its beauty and ruggedness.

"The place has 10 of the world's climate zones; how could we not show that," he said. Film commissioner "Marilyn Killeri has been just super in helping us, really incredible help."

The deal with Tribune would be for a full 22 episodes -- at just more than $1 million each -- and no pilot would be necessary, Aaron said.

The series still has no title or storyline, although some sources said it might have Chuck heading some kind of de facto rescue team.

"We're in the beginning stages of bringing it all together," Aaron said.

The production likely will be based on Oahu because the Hawaii Film Studio and most crew are here, he said.

Since the deal with Tribune will not specify Hawaii as the series' location, the state may have to provide some assistance to offset the higher costs of filming here. That could include qualifying the production for Act 221 investment credits.

Blanco was not available for comment.

A TELEVISION SERIES is a gold mine of publicity for a location and allows local crews consistent employment for at least half a year, Dawson said. The series would employ 50 to 60 local crew members.

Films are more a flash in the pan, generating lots of publicity at first -- unless it's a "Lilo & Stitch" phenomenon -- then flickering out. But a successful series like a "Hawaii Five-O" or "Magnum P.I." keeps attracting attention.

The Norris brothers have another enticement up their sleeves.

"We like to keep our crews working, so during hiatus we would do a couple movies of the week or a feature film," said Aaron, who will visit Honolulu again this month for more discussions, including a meeting with Cayetano.

During the June business meetings at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Aaron joked how he would occasionally watch the surf.

"I'm a water guy," he said. "The meetings were 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 4 to 8, I was surfing."

Aaron has directed several of his brother's movies, was executive producer of "Walker, Texas Ranger," and has worked as a stuntman and fight coordinator on several films.

The show starred Chuck as modern-day Texas Ranger, and aired on the USA Network, as well as on weekends in syndication. The show ran from April 1993 until May 2001.

Chuck Norris, who has made more than 20 motion pictures, was born Carlos Ray in Ryan, Okla., to an Irish-English mother and a Cherokee father. After graduating from high school in Torrance, Calif., he joined the Air Force and held the rank of airman 1st class. He was first introduced to the Asian martial art of Tang Soo Do during a stint in Korea.

Norris became the first professional world middleweight karate champion, a title he held onto until he retired, undefeated, in 1974. In 1969, he earned the Triple Crown for the highest number of tournament wins and was named Black Belt Magazine's "Fighter of the Year." He is a black belt in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwan Do.

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