Oahu: Hollywood’s Home Away From HomE
By W. KNOX RICHARDSON
please. This is a take. And, action!”
OAHU BEACH — SUNRISE
OVER: Question. What do Equatorial Africa, the Amazon, Costa Rica, Panama,
the Philippines, Micronesia, the South Seas, Jamaica, Tahiti, Okinawa, Taipan,
Viet Nam and the Mediterranean all have in common? Answer: Oahu, Hawaii.
more than a century — with its pristine beaches, rugged mountains and steamy
jungles — Oahu has portrayed the most exotic, inaccessible and dangerous
places on earth, representing myriad diverse locales for major movie productions
— all without ever leaving the city limits of Honolulu. Hurray for Halewood
— the movie industry’s home away from home!
in 1898 the first motion pictures of Oahu were taken for a Thomas Edison
travelogue, Hollywood hadn’t been invented yet. Even the earliest of
filmmakers recognized Oahu offered some things unavailable anywhere on the
continent — urban city scapes, tropical forests, verdant palisades and lush
valleys, crystalline beaches and even sprawling military bases — all within a
few miles of each other.
recently the multi-Emmy-winning ABC-TV hit series “LOST” is a good example
of Oahu portraying other geographic locales. In “LOST,” survivors of a plane
crash find themselves stranded on desert isle some three thousand miles away
from the shooting location on windward Oahu.
the first season, the airplane wreck scenes were filmed at Mokuleia Beach near
Oahu’s northwest tip at Kaena Point. The jungle scenes and lush pastures were
shot at the foot of jagged cliffs in Kaaawa Valley just over 30 miles away on
the windward side of Oahu. Many other productions have been filmed there
including the memorable hiding-behind-the-log chase scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic
Park” (1993) and most of the island fighting scenes in “Windtalkers”
Kaaawa Valley is privately owned entirely by Kualoa Ranch, or just “the
ranch” as movie folks call it. It is arguably the most filmed backcountry on
Oahu doubling as Taipan in “Windtalkers” and as Costa Rica in “Jurassic
Park.” It also served as African locations in “Tears of the Sun” (2003)
starring Bruce Willis, and as Panama, Jamaica and Tahiti in “Godzilla”
Other films shot on location in Oahu but depicting far-off parts of the
world include “Don Juan Demarco,” the Mediterranean; “Mighty Joe Young,”
Africa; “Joe and the Volcano,” Micronesia” “In Harm’s Way,” the
southern Pacific; “Flight of the Intruder,” the Philippines and Viet Nam;
“The Rundown,” the Amazon; and “George of the Jungle,” fantasy Africa.
all films shot on Oahu depict far-off exotic lands or inhospitable jungles. Most
recently, “50 First Dates” (2003), already seen as romantic comedy classic,
was filmed on Oahu’s windward side in locations from ranging from Waimanalo
and Sea Life Park up the coast to the Oaloa fishpond and Kaaawa Valley at Kualoa
Cove — now also called Eternity Cove on the far eastern part of Oahu between
Hanauma Bay and Makupuu Point — is recognized worldwide as the rocky beach
where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr shared one of greatest screen embraces
ever in the 1958 wartime romance saga, “From Here to Eternity.”
around the world for its big winter waves, Oahu’s famed North Shore is no
stranger to Halewood. Surf films have been made there since 1964 with “Ride
the Wild Surf.” More recent features include “The Big Bounce” (2002),
“Blue Crush” (2002), and the big wave shots in “Point Break” (1991).
the obvious attraction of Oahu with its great weather and fantastic scenery,
movie productions come to the island for other good reasons; some are economic
such as the state’s tax incentives. (But that doesn’t explain why the
producers of “LOST” choose Oahu when the production budget for the two-hour
pilot was $12 million, far greater than the cost of most television shows. This
led to ABC/Disney’s firing of ABC Entertainment honcho Lloyd Braun, even
though the show went on to became the network’s biggest hit in years.)
than 70 features and 700 hours of television productions have been filmed on
Oahu, including dozens in metropolitan Honolulu or in hotels and on the beach in
Waikiki. Most notable is “Hawaii Five-O,” the longest running TV crime drama
only to the lush, tropical locations of Oahu is the Hawaii Film Studio built in
the mid-1970s around the old “Hawaii-Five-O” shooting stage, the only
state-owned complete film production facility in the United States.
Incorporating state-of-the-art support facilities and production offices, the
studio lies in the shadow of Diamond Head and is operated by the Hawaii Film
Office, a branch of the state’s Dept. of Business, Economic Development Tourism, more commonly known as DBEDT.
a modern sound stage and a 94,000-gallon water tank, the studio today is home to
the local production of “LOST.” “Like Hawaii Five-O” with its interior
stage scenes shot in the Hawaii Film Studio complex, “LOST” is completely
filmed locally. Last year the sound stage where the cave scenes were filmed was
an old warehouse in near Sand Island. Now vacant again, that Mapunapuna studio
building could be use for other productions if producers can be enticed to bring
their projects to the islands.
government agencies - one state and one county — have missions to persuade and
support filming on Oahu. The Hawaii Film Office works hand in hand with the
Honolulu Film Office to bring productions to Hawaii and Oahu and provide them a
variety of support programs.
state office, run by Hawaii Film Commissioner Donne Dawson, provides overall
state film production incentives, such as managing the state Act 221 income tax
credit program that can provide rebates of nearly 15 percent on certain expenses
to productions that film locally, use a Hawaiian name in the title or employ
Hawaii residents. It also secures production permits for state-owned or
controlled lands. It is estimated that film companies contributed more than $161
million in 2004 to the state’s economy, making it one of the biggest
industries on the islands.
Film Commissioner Walea L. Constantinau runs the Honolulu Film Office and offers
even more hands-on programs such as public location scouting and production
permitting for city & country facilities. She also works with local property
owners to help secure privately owned locations and well as hotel housing and
local crew support.
offices attend mainland film festivals and conferences to make contacts and
pitch the islands as primary locations for safe and economical filming against
new comers such as Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Hawaii competes with
governments that aggressively market and support their local film industries.
Some countries, such as Canada, have government-owned production companies, but
then those governments have different views of free market economies and tax
rates often triple of what is found in the United States.
Lee, the recently resigned founder of University of Hawaii’s Academy for
Creative Media program and former Columbia/Tri-Star studio head, for example,
took his Warner Bros. production of “Superman Returns” to Australia as that
country offered a better overall package, including special effects and digital
postproduction facilities. It is in these areas where Oahu continues to improve
its local offerings but only through private investment.
let not it be said it is just the natural beauty of Hawaii that attracted the
early and current filmmakers. It was also an instant cadre of new actors who
could double as many different nationalities, just as the location sites do.
first to make it big was the late great Duke Kahanamoku, father of modern
surfing, Olympic medallist and famous Waikiki beachboy.
was Hawaii’s first movie star, appearing a dozen movies over his lifetime —
initially in the 1925 silent comedy short, “No Father to Guide Him,” and
finally as a native chief in the 1955 classic, “Mr. Roberts,” with Henry
Fonda and Jack Lemmon.
time Duke portrayed a swarthy Barbary Coast pirate captain in the 1926 feature
“Old Ironsides.” He was later cast as a Persian in the 1928 film “Woman
Wise” and as a South Seas islander in John Wayne’s 1948 captivating sea
tale, “Wake of the Red Witch.”
recently Honolulu-born and raised Tia Carrere has starred in several major
films, including “Wayne’s World” I and II, “True Lies,” “Relic
Hunter,” and as the voice of Nani in the Disney film “Lilo & Stitch.”
Other notable Oahu-born actors include Ernest Abuba, Daryl Bonilla, Bill
Calvert, Matt Corby, Scott Coffey, John Fujioka, Hilo Hattie, Danny Kamekona,
Dayton Kane, Lani Kai, Nicole Kidman (born here, moved later), Clyde Kusatsu,
Jeff Lam, Jason Scott Lee (born in L.A. of Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry) Jason
Momoa, superstar Bette Midler, Punahou-graduate Kelly Preston, James Shigeta
and, of course, Sam Fong and Zulu from “Hawaii Five-O”. Many local
personalities have appeared in feature films playing themselves including U.S.
Sen. Dan Inouye, Do Ho, and Danny Kaleikini, Of course, the late Jack Lord and
Tom Selleck, though not Hawaiian by birth, are kama’aina by anyone’s
standards. Even mainland transplant Oahu Island News columnist and entrepreneur
Wally “Famous” Amos of Lanikai has appeared on the silver screen.
has outgrown many of its past problems, including labor unrest and criminal acts
committed between rival support companies. Filmmaking is a clean, non-polluting
industry that adds value to tourism, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars
into the local economy and spreads the spirit of aloha around the globe.
so often everyone can enjoy the bounty for free as the periodic “Sunset on the
Beach” celebrations host premiers of locally produced films and TV shows shown
on a 30-feet screen on the sands of Waikiki.
this writer knows the real reason why so many productions are made on Oahu.
It’s not just tax breaks, the friendly people, easy access to exotic locations
or even the great weather and natural beauty. It’s because there are no snakes
here. Think about it.
FADE OUT. “And, that’s a wrap.”