Walea Constantinau still remembers the date—June 23, 1993—when film offices in each county, including the one she’s headed ever since, were created.
It happened on Mufi Hannemann’s watch, when the mayor was director of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. The idea was that each county knew its strengths and could best market itself as a location for film and TV projects.
As secretary of the Association of Film Commissioners International, Constantinau has the global picture in focus, but it’s the local scene she knows and loves best. Hawaii’s nascent film industry had its beginnings in 1898 as the subject of three one-minute travelogues and a 1913 silent called "The Shark God," but breakthrough came decades later on the small screen: the original "Hawaii Five-0" series as well as the just-completed "Lost."
Now with the "Five-0" renaissance about to ramp up, Constantinau is hopeful it can keep the momentum going, and she’s as bullish on Honolulu as ever. The film tax credit has raised the island’s profile among producers and location scouts, she said, helping to overcome any misgivings about perceived high costs.
But "Lost" may have contributed something even more valuable: proof that Oahu can itself play many parts. Only four scenes in the series were shot elsewhere, she said, and then only to accommodate an actor’s scheduling constraints. Various spots on the island were stand-ins for an impressive roster of international sites for the series’ famous flashback sequences: England, New York, Tunisia, Iraq, Korea, Micronesia and Iowa. Merchant Street passed for Berlin with the addition of fake snow and fake oak veneer to cover the palm trees, she said.
A little cinematic trickery, along with the very real charms of Honolulu, are proving the city’s potential to the decision makers in Hollywood, she said.
The future seems bright, Constantinau added, if the islands continue to build on that potential.
QUESTION: What kind of projects can Honolulu compete for most successfully?
ANSWER: Oahu is better suited for TV. It has the infrastructure, the crew people. TV works on a different scope and scale. It’s on a continuous basis.
Q: But aren’t we limited by our tropical surroundings?
A: In "Lost," we were challenged. We didn’t know about all the flashbacks and that we were going to have to find all these locations, like deserts. …They found crushed coral quarry that was white. And out on the Ewa plain, where Barbers Point used to be, where the earth was dry and cracked. And out on Diamond Head there were World War II bunkers, and we thought of having that look like it was an old tunnel system in Iraq. It was highly creative, really fun and challenging.
Q: About the "Five-O" remake: I’ve heard a rumor that not very much of it will be shot here. Is that correct?
A: To my knowledge, they are going to shoot the show here. I’m not sure how that got started, but I heard it, too.
Q: What made the original series so important to the local industry?
A: The first was a landmark TV series. It was the first series shot in what was called a "distant location." And "Lost" was also a seminal series. At the time "Lost" was created, drama was off TV; most of it was reality shows. It was really created with the goal of bringing drama back.
Q: Anything of interest on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" production?
A: It’s going to be shot in 3-D. I don’t know if they’ve ever done a movie in 3-D on the water. Technically, you have to have the same frame of reference from multiple points in each shot, with the effect of a ship moving up and down. It’s going to be interesting to see how they do it.
Q: Can you explain the role that the film-industry tax credit, provided under Act 88, has played in recent successes?
A: In 2006 the industry worked with the administration and the Legislature for a credit. Since then we’ve looked at what sort of tax revenue does the state get when (a film production) comes here. It’s proven to be very successful. Within 90 days, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" had decided to come. We always knew the production wanted to be here. … With the tax credit, we began to see this kind of production.
Q: What’s the next step that should be taken to build on the industry success so far?
A: Part of it is workforce development. If you want the industry to go on to the next level, we have to think of these things as a system.
In 2000 we did a survey and found the average age of the union workers is 45. They’re going to start retiring soon, so there needs to be training for people to replace them. "Descendants" (the film starring George Clooney) did a good job with having an internship program. … We need to focus on that kind of production. People need to think of this industry as economic stimulus. There’s a lot of excellent ancillary jobs it produces. When you strip it down to its bare core, it’s hiring people, putting money in the economy.