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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.

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