So many islands, so many filming choices

State's five film reps band together to showcase islands for producers

One state, various islands, five film commissioners. For newcomers to Hawaii production, it can be a tad confusing to sort out where and how to best do business. On the opposite side, state filming reps have the unenviable challenge of putting producers’ best interests above their own natural desire to compete.

That’s why it’s surprising, sometimes, to see the ladies who rep the state, Oahu and its neighbor islands out dining, partying and traveling together in a convivial sorority that seems to epitomize the Hawaiian ideal of ohana, or family.

“It’s not always easy,” laughs Donne Dawson, who as director of the Hawaii Film Office represents the entire state. “You have these five strong-willed women, and considering how stressful the positions are, and how at times we’re each struggling for funding and staffing … we’ve been able to get along remarkably well.”

This year in particular has offered a tough scenario for harmony, with a yawning gap between the record year taking shape on Oahu and the more mundane state of affairs so far on the neighbor islands.

Dawson takes the long view. “I think they’re savvy enough wahine to know that this benefits all of us,” she says of her sister filming reps. “Hawaii is being showcased as a location, and that can create a foot in the door for them in the future.”

Also, she adds, “If Oahu is really cranking on the TV series side, producers will recognize that Oahu’s got its hands full and perhaps consider the neighbor islands more strongly.”

The Big Island of Hawaii saw a revenue spike earlier this year when producers of “Average Joe” brought the reality skein to the island for eight weeks.

“They shot all over, from the volcano to the beaches to cowboy country,” reports county rep Marilyn Killeri of the Big Island Film Office. “The show got 11 million viewers per week, and was really good for our tourist economy.”

Revenues from Japan also picked up for the first time since 9/11. “Five of our 10 productions this past year were from Japan,” notes Killeri. Most were travelogues, along with “Mana,” a small feature film.

On Maui, the action has been confined to travel shows and commercials, “our bread and butter,” per comission rep Benita Brazier. Producers for the Travel Channel, Food Network, Fine Living Channel and Home and Garden Channel have done segs on Maui this past year.

At Location Expo in Los Angeles this year, the surf-themed booth created by the Hawaii film reps was awarded a blue ribbon — remarkable, considering that it was put together on s shoestring budget, per Dawson. In late February, the group also traveled together to L.A.’s American Film Market, a first-time trip deemed valuable enough that a return trip is planned for the inaugural AFM/AFI fest and market this fall.

To cater to the production frenzy currently occurring on Oahu, Dawson had to pare funds from her marketing budget to hire additional support staff. That move is “going to impact us all,” she fears, since marketing for the various islands is done collectively. “But we need the staffing to get the producers back here again and again with other productions.”

In planning a Hawaii shoot, producers typically contact Dawson first for statewide guidance. “I provide information on incentives and permitting,” she says. “Then I put out the call to everyone else, and it’s up to the different county commissioners to step up to the plate with ‘OK, we can do it, and here are some ideas.'”

With its greater resources, Oahu has typically been the clear favorite location.

“The neighbor islands are still building their infrastructures. And once we get those built, we will have an industry that goes beyond just one island,” says the Big Island’s Killeri.


Size: 549 square miles; 33 miles long; 25 miles wide.

Population: 60,000

Airport: Lihue

Locations: Dramatic, verdant Waimea canyon; Polynesian-style green sea cliffs, tropical jungle with waterfalls, cane fields, white sand beaches, desert-like dunes at Polihale Beach, quaint towns.

Facilities: National Guard Armory

Vendors: Ali’i Video, Tv Juice, Wiseman & Co.

Greatest hits: “South Pacific,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Raiders Of the Lost Ark,” “Eight Days, Seven Nights”

Film commish: Kauai Film Commission,

Contact Tiffani Lizama, (808) 241-6386,


Size: 600 sq. miles; 44 miles long; 30 miles wide.

Population: 877,000

Airport: Honolulu

Locations: State capital metropolis; North Shore big waves; Waikiki Beach classic kitsch and Diamond Head glamour; Pearl Harbor and military barracks at Schofield; diverse interior including rainforests, valleys, mountains, villages.

Soundstages: State-owned Hawaii Film Studio near Waikiki includes 16,500 sq. ft. sound stage; 12,000 sq. ft. mill/warehouse, underwater filming tank, production offices, props.

Vendors: Hundreds of practical, technical and talent firms, detailed in “Hawaii Production Index” available from any film office.

Now filming: Network dramas “North Shore,” “Lost,” “Hawaii”

Greatest hits: TV series “Hawaii Five-0,” “Magnum P.I.,” features “Pearl Harbor,” “Windtalkers”

Film commish: Honolulu Film Office,


Contact: Donne Dawson, director, (808) 586-2570,

Services: Honolulu-based office provides state-wide guidance on tax incentives and permitting. Coordinates use of state parks, beaches, highways and other facilities. Acts as liaison to other state agencies, as well as to county filming reps on Oahu and neighbor islands.


Size: 729 square miles; 48 miles long; 26 miles wide

Population: 118,000

Airports: Kahului, plus another in remote Hana

Locations: Sandy beaches, verdant upcountry ranchland, rainforest, tall sea cliffs, historic whaling town, dormant volcano moonscape, multiple climate zones

Facilities: McCoy Studio Soundstage (3,300 sq. ft.), Maui Research & Technology Park (Kihei), Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MAC) offer space for production and post, editing facilities, video and stills libraries

Vendors: Wide range of talent and support firms; see Hawaii Production Index

Greatest hits: “Die Another Day,” “Jurassic Park III,” “Fantasy Island” “Baywatch Hawaii”

Film commish: Maui County Film Commission (includes Molokai and Lanai),

Contact: Benita Brazier, (808) 270-7415,


Size: 4,038 square miles; 12 distinct climate zones.

Population: 150,000.

Airports: Kailua (east coast), Hilo (west coast)

Locations: Active volcano, black lava fields, snowcapped mountains, tropical valleys, vast green ranchlands, rainforest, desert, rocky and sandy coasts

Vendors: Satellite office of HMI (Honolulu-based camera house Hawaii Media), plus dozens of other firms

Recently lensed: Reality show “Average Joe,” scenes from “The Day After Tomorrow”

Greatest hits: “Planet of the Apes”

Film commish: Big Island Film Office,

Contact: Marilyn Killeri, (808) 326-2663 (Kona), or (808) 961-8366 (Hilo)

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