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Show biz delivers $407 million to Hawaii's economy

By Mike Gordon


The economy may stink like dried squid, but don't tell the bean counters who monitor Hawaii's film and television industry. By their tally, a record year of production spending was even better than they thought.

They've put the final number for 2010 at $407 million, which is much higher than a late summer estimate of $347 million, said Georja Skinner, administrator for the state's creative industries division, which oversees the Hawaii Film Office. The new tally is a 77.7 percent increase from the $229 million in 2007, the previous record year.

The economic impact, as wages work their way through the community, is now believed to be a staggering $638.9 million, she said.

All that work created about 3,300 jobs, she said.

Three big-budget films — "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Battleship" and "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" — as well as TV shows "Hawaii Five-0" from CBS and "Off the Map" from ABC contributed heavily.

How do you a follow a year like that? Skinner can't say exactly what films are thinking about Hawaii for 2011, but promises business will be good through March.

"The Tempest" brought actors and filmmakers to Hawaii, some for the first time, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that they were smitten by the beauty of the islands.

Alan Cumming had acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, been in a James Bond film — "GoldenEye" — and won a Tony Award for "Cabaret," but the Scottish actor had never been here before director Julie Taymor asked him to play Sebastian. Among his favorite memories: Reading lines while soaking in a hot tub at the Four Seasons Resort on Lanai, and watching a local blessing before an important shot.

"My favorite time was when we were doing a shot coming out of the water, so we could only do it once, and the sun was going down fast," he said in an e-mail. "Julie Taymor, the director, and the assistant directors' faces were hilarious as they were looking at the ebbing light and willing the blessing man to get on with it."

Stuart Dryburgh, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for "The Piano," said the finished film transports him to a magical land. As the film's director of photography, he is by nature given to colorful visions.

"I am reminded of the way those great Pacific swells crashed onto the lava shores of the Big Island," he said. "The way the black lava rock looks like the caramel top of a creme brulee. The warm, wet air of the winter in the tropics. The pines along the shore, the deep green of the swampy estuary, black sand beaches."

Mark Friedberg, an award-winning production designer who has worked on 37 films and TV shows, said he had always been intrigued by Hawaii's lush landscapes — and confessed a secret fixation for surf movies. What he saw on Lanai and the Hawaii island forced him to pinch himself.

"The landscape of these places competes with any on earth," he said. "My most important work as the designer of this film was to resist the temptation to make anything in these places as they are already prefect."

"The Tempest" is now showing in Hawaii theaters statewide.

"Hawaii Five-0" recently moved its production offices from the Gentry Design Center to the old Honolulu Advertiser building on Kapiolani Boulevard, home to a local sound stage it built last summer.

The 250-plus staff of Eye Productions now works on all three floors of the building and a spokesperson said the potential sale of the building to a California developer shouldn't jeopardize the shooting schedule because the show has a lease through next spring.

And that's a wrap.

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at

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