Hawaii Film and TV Production Bounces Back With Incentives

Tax breaks, infrastructure and scenery help boost filming in Honolulu and on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island

A U.S. state. A collection of islands. A major destination for filming. A provider of enticing incentives.

All those phrases describe Hawaii, but none does justice to its unique culture and captivating beauty. Production in the Aloha State has undergone ups and downs over the years, and got a boost in April when “Jurassic World” began a six-week shoot on the islands of Oahu and Kauai after a year-long postponement.

In 2013, the state legislature sweetened the tax credit 5% across the board to 20% for shoots on Oahu, which attracts the bulk of production, and 25% on the neighboring islands — a move that will benefit Kauai, the Big Island and Maui. The latter is second home to many showbiz celebs and execs and the site of Hawaii’s biggest film fest.

The legislature also raised the per-project cap from $8 million to $15 million.

“There are no salary caps, and it applies to every cost associated with the production subject to Hawaii tax,” says Hawaii state film commissioner Donne Dawson. “There’s competition from programs in almost every other state, but we’re holding our own.”

Last year, Hawaii hosted a trio of big productions: “Godzilla,” Tim Burton’s Margaret Keane biopic “Big Eyes” and an untitled romantic comedy from Cameron Crowe.

And 2014 is shaping up well, with year-to-date production spend estimated at $212 million, compared to $228 million for the 2013 calendar year.

Shoots Benefit Honolulu Economy

Honolulu film commissioner Walea Constantinau says one of the advantages of Hawaii’s incentive is that it enables productions to use her city as a vacation destination as well.

“Not every storyline can be something that’s situated in its entirety in this locale,” Constantinau says. With the incentive’s low $200,000 minimum in-state spend requirement for all project, “you can do part of an episode or the season opener here and qualify for the credit,” as HBO’s “Enlightened” and “Entourage” did.

But Honolulu’s most valuable customers are the ones that live there full-time, such as CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” (pictured), which serves as a veritable live-action brochure for the state’s $14 billion-a-year tourism industry. And when tourists come to the city, they often get to see the series in action, as happened when producers shut down the main drag in Honolulu to shoot sequences for the season 4 finale and the season 5 opener.

“We had literally hundreds of spectators there excited to by the fact that a little bit of their vacation involved ‘Hawaii Five-0,’” says Constantinau.

Kauai Hosts Jurassic Franchise

In mid-March, 1,500 people turned out for an extras casting call at Kauai Community College. They were told it was for a movie called “Ebb Tide,” but they knew it was really for the sequel “Jurassic World.”

But, for a while, it looked “World” could be a no-go. “In May 2013, they said they were holding back to redo the script,” recalls Kauai film commissioner Art Umezu. “But they said they would start production a year later, and they were true to their word.” He estimates close to 200 people worked on “Jurassic World” on Kauai during the peak of its production, which wrapped on June 9 before heading to Louisiana. There are no figures yet on the size of the production spend.

More Artisans

  • Crawl Movie

    'Crawl' and Other Disaster Movies Pose Unique Obstacles for Production Designers

    The rampaging fires, earthquakes and storms of disaster movies present unusual challenges for a production: On top of the normal work of creating a film’s lived-in and realistic locations, designers must build sets that the forces of nature can batter, flood and ravage into something completely different. Take “Crawl,” in which a Category 5 hurricane [...]

  • Costume designer Michele Clapton

    Costume Designers Fashion a Plan to Fight for Pay Parity in Upcoming Contract Talks

    The Costume Designers Guild Local 892 is gearing up to fight for pay equity in its 2021 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, establishing a pay-equity committee to raise awareness of the scale disparity between the mostly female CDG membership and the mostly male membership of the Art Directors Guild Local [...]

  • This photo shows composer Hans Zimmer

    Hans Zimmer on Recreating Iconic Score: 'The Lion King' 'Brought People Together'

    Composer Hans Zimmer is seated at the mixing board at the Sony scoring stage, head bobbing to the music being performed by 107 musicians just a few yards away. He’s wearing a vintage “Lion King World Tour” T-shirt, frayed at the collar. On the giant screen behind the orchestra, two lions are bounding across the [...]

  • On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los

    On-Location Filming Slides 3.9% in Los Angeles in Second Quarter

    Held down by a lack of soundstage space, total on-location filming in greater Los Angeles declined 3.9% in the second quarter to 8,632 shoot days, permitting agency FilmLA reported Thursday. “Although our latest report reveals a decline in filming on location, local production facilities tell us that they are operating at capacity,” said FilmLA president [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    How 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood' Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

    Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described [...]

  • Just Roll With It Disney Channel

    Disney Channel's Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They 'Just Roll With It'

    The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv. The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), [...]

  • "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" cast

    'SpongeBob' Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

    On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content