The surprising benefits of filming in Hawaii
Hawaii’s reputation as a tropical paradise is well deserved. Boasting the bluest skies and oceans and the greenest of mountains, Hawaii’s locations are recognised globally in shows such as Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum P.I. Unsurprisingly, current remakes of these shows have proved popular. But from a film production standpoint, Hawaii offers other benefits that may come as a surprise.
"Over the years, a large roster of local crew members who are able to handle multiple productions at once has emerged."
The fact that Hawaii is part of the US provides certain advantages. No translators are needed here because everyone speaks English, Hawaii uses U.S. currency and the banking system is connected to all major international banks, and the infrastructure is top notch as all major highways and road signage are all up to federal state and standards. GPS also works just fine in the islands. All of this provides some level of assurance and familiarity.
Of particular interest to incoming productions, the visa waiver program allows international crews to work in Hawaii without a work visa. Foreign crew working on film, television and commercial projects set for distribution outside the United States may qualify for the waiver.
But importing large crews is not a necessity. Hawaiian crew members rarely, if ever, travel to the mainland for work. As a result, they work on all types of projects in the islands, from student films to studio television series and feature films, and everything in between. Over the years, a large roster of local crew members who are able to handle multiple productions at once has emerged. In addition, the chapter of IATSE is a mixed local, so sourcing members skilled in various facets of production is simple. On top of this, crews are generally familiar with each other, forming a close-knit production community.
In terms of locations, Hawaii’s doubling potential can sometimes be underestimated. Many will be aware that the television series Lost was filmed in Hawaii. Few people, however, realise that almost all of the foreign locations depicted in the various episodes were filmed entirely in Honolulu. From Seoul, Korea to London, England, the plains of Africa or snowy Buffalo, New York the production team never left the island of Oahu. While Honolulu may not be the first choice to double for a metropolitan urban location, shoots that call for diverse locations may want to keep Hawaii in mind.
Productions filming in Oahu, where Honolulu is located, are rewarded with a 20% Refundable Production Tax Credit, while those filming on any of the outer islands receive a 25% tax credit. The tax credit applies to above and below the line expenses. The process of claiming the tax credit requires certain filings to be made with the film office and tax department, as well as the filing of a tax return. Local production companies provide tax credit administration services, and can finance the credit in certain situations.
"While Hawaii may feel isolated, in reality it is a gateway between Asia and America."
While Hawaii may feel isolated, in reality it is a gateway between Asia and America. Only a five-hour flight to Los Angeles, and an eight-hour flight to Tokyo. From New York, direct flights to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines lasts about the same time it takes to enjoy three movies and a meal.
In terms of climate, due to cool trade winds blowing from the north, average temperatures range between 23C and 27C throughout the year, while there are some hotter days.
In respect to products and services, visitors should expect to find the same standard as any large mainland city. From a production standpoint, the islands are fully equipped. Local vendors represent camera brands such as Arri, Red, Sony and Canon, stabilised heads, remote arms/pursuit vehicles, Fischer and Chapman dollies, Super Technocranes, drones, private soundstages and production offices. In addition, partnerships among local vendors can allow you to enjoy a one-stop-shop experience to serve all your production service needs.
Finally, Hawaii has a strong sense of culture and custom. A big part of that culture is the Aloha Spirit, a generous feeling of giving and sharing that local people extend to one another, and to visitors. Hawaii is home to a proud Native Hawaiian community that perpetuates its history and culture through language, songs and chants as well as traditional arts like hula. However, productions will encounter a warm melting pot of culture and customs because the islands are home to a large number of families whose ancestors came to Hawaii as missionaries, or field hands from Japan, China, Portugal and the Philippines and there are thriving local communities from Korea, Laos, Vietnam and Samoa. The resulting melting pot has created a distinctive culture incorporating various customs from these diverse ethnic groups - such as leaving your footwear outside the front door, or overloading flower leis on someone celebrating and birthday or graduation. Local crews come from this diverse ethnic mix, but they all share the same Aloha Spirit.
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