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Making Movie Magic On Maui

Presence of film and television industry throughout Maui County offers a “reel opportunity” to stimulate the local economy. “… we will continue to develop relationships with producers and market our strengths …”

June 23, 2011
Sarah Ruppenthal

It really should come as no surprise that this location would be a filmmaker’s dream come true. Whether it’s a major motion picture, television series or music video, the ethereal beauty of Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i can rival (and quite possibly surpass) any Hollywood soundstage.

But the effort to bring lights, cameras and action to Maui County isn’t just about earning 15 minutes of fame on the silver screen or rubbing elbows with the glitterati—the film and television industry can also reap substantial economic benefits for the local economy.

So, how does one set out to create movie magic on Maui?

Article Photos

Olivia Wilde, who received Maui Film Festival’s Shining Star Award, is more like a stage actor than film actor—erudite, educated and socially committed. Brought to Haiti at age 3 by her mother, 60 Minutes producer and journalist Leslie Cockburn, who covered a story on the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, Olivia fell in love with the country.
“Even at three, it stuck with me in a very strange way,” said Wilde. “Every time I had to illustrate something [in school], I would always draw Haiti, and it became this memory that was very present in my mind,” Wilde said.
Wilde returned in 2008 and met Father Rick Frechette, who runs the local organization that Wilde’s Artists for Peace and Justice was formed to support.
“It was a perfect way to go to Haiti and be effective and helpful, and to see the other side of the country, the more difficult side—a really compelling side,” said Wilde. “We supported primary schools’ basic healthcare, and then, after the earthquake, we provided funds for emergency medical care. We provided surgeons and all sorts of equipment, and broke ground on the first free secondary school in Haiti.”
“So now that’s been running for a year, and I go down every few months to check on it and help raise money for it and just continue the programs as they expand,” added Wilde. “I love the country. I love the Haitian people. I love Haitian culture. It’s a very unusual mixture of French and West African, and the Creole culture has a lot of depth and mystery—very artistic. So as an artist going there, it is very rewarding and fascinating.”

Interview and photo by Paul Janes-Brown

According to County of Maui Sports, Recreation and Entertainment Specialist Brianne Savage, in order to set up shop here, filmmakers would need to secure a county permit, state permit or national park permit, depending on the nature of the project. She said the process of securing a film permit is “as simple as making a phone call to our office and having adequate insurance.”

The role of the county is to coordinate the film permitting process. “As the Maui County Film Office, we function as the first point of contact and walk people through the process based upon the locations they would like to film,” she said. “We process the [county] permits in our office and funnel them in any additional direction they may need to go for approval (i.e., Parks, Public Works, Police, Fire or Planning Departments).”

Savage said the Film Office is also responsible for gathering relevant information regarding a particular project to determine which department(s) must issue approval of a permit application. If a project passes its “screen test,” the Film Office will then sign off on the permit—and that’s when the cameras can start rolling.

Savage, who works within the Office of Economic Development, agrees that the film and television industry is a potential economic driver for Maui County, but in order to create a truly viable “film industry,” the county would need to develop infrastructure, establish a strong workforce development program and offer a competitive credit.

“In the meantime, we will continue to develop relationships with producers and market our strengths on Maui,” Savage said. “Those include an all-inclusive 20 percent tax rebate, the opportunity to film year-round and all of the various locations that a film crew could ever need: deserts, jungles, agriculture, ocean, moonscapes with lava, forests, beaches, luxury homes, hotels and bungalows.”

In addition, she said, “Maui also has excellent base location experts and film services support staff.”

But when it comes to acquiring a film permit, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

“Each permit varies in complexity based upon the needs of the film,” she said. “If you are looking to shoot on the beach and if having the everyday beach activities of the public in the background are acceptable, then it is extremely simple and quick to process.” This is the function of the Maui Film Office, she said. “When those situations arise, we manage all those moving parts while filmmakers focus on making the film.”

And are any spots off-limits? “Historic, cultural and preservation areas are sometimes off-limits, depending upon the request,” Savage said. “If an area is unable to handle the impact of a specific request because it would compromise the integrity of the area or it would be too much of a burden on the public, then filming would not be allowed… however, if that were to be the case, we would find other options and locations to meet the needs of the production.”

In May, Senate Bill 318 (SB318), which proposed an increased film tax credit for two Hollywood film companies and the construction of film studios on Maui and O‘ahu, died in committee during the final days of the legislative session.

But the screen has not faded to black yet, as a “sequel” proposal is expected to premiere in 2012. It may have been disappointing to some, but Savage said the county does not see this as a failure.

“[SB318] generated amazing dialog, and in Maui County we experienced an unprecedented amount of support for the legislation from union groups, business organizations, visitor industry representatives and hundreds of small businesses while elevating the public’s awareness to the film industry,” she said. “Our Maui legislative delegates did an amazing job working on this legislation, and we are all looking forward to the next session when the issue can be revisited.”

Until then, many—particularly those who see it as a shot in the arm for the local economy—hope that the film and television industry will continue to thrive across the state. Regardless of the outcome in the State Legislature next year, it’s a safe bet that Maui County will always be ready for its close-up.



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