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Maui County: Hollywood of the Pacific

Maui Film Studios is open for business.

May 9, 2013
Paul Janes-Brown - Contributing Writer , The Maui Weekly

On a cool and rainy Saturday in March, the new Maui Film Studios hosted 2,200 would-be employees at a job fair at the state's newest and largest film studio.

The all-concrete, 21,000-square-foot studio in the Maui Lani industrial park in Kahului can facilitate indoor scenes for films that have come here to take advantage of Maui's remarkable locations.

In the past, movies have been shot on the island, and then packed up and returned to the Mainland--often to New Orleans rather than Los Angeles. Now, that does not have to be the case. With this studio, producers will be able to make their entire film here.

Article Photos

Maui Film Studios, the largest facility of its kind in the state, is ready for the cameras to start rolling with 21,000 square feet of space, 5,000 square feet of office space, one acre of paved parking lot and backlot, a 2,700-square-foot mill shop, space for six 40-foot production trailers with hookups, and two 10-ton grip-and-lighting-truck packages.
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The facility also has 5,000 square feet of office space, one acre of paved parking lots and backlots, a 2,700-square-foot mill shop, space for six 40-foot production trailers with hookups, and two 10-ton grip-and-lighting-truck packages.

This means that productions can take up residence on Maui for two to four months and have a world-class moniker on their film--"Made on Maui."

The state increased the tax credit for films made in O'ahu's studios to 20 percent, and gave the Neighbor Islands the right to offer a 25 percent tax break. The Maui Film Studio will be able to charge the same amount as Diamond Head Studios on O'ahu and still give the producer 5 percent more in tax credits than on O'ahu.

Part-time Maui resident Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, announced plans to build several studios on Maui and O'ahu in 2011. However, the legislature did not pass the tax breaks for construction he was seeking. (Asked to comment about Maui Film Studios for this article, he declined through his public relations department.)

"Often it's been said that this industry depends on tax credits to grow and thrive, especially for infrastructure," said Rep. Angus McKelvey. "Well, you can see today that's not the case. This helps me to make the case to my colleagues that the film studio and film industry is important, and by helping to continue to incentivize it, we can get quality work--especially on the Neighbor Islands--going right away."

Socrates Buenger, the CEO of Maui Film Studios LLC, has big plans for the new business.

Buenger, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, started in production when he was 12 years old getting donuts for the crew of the A-Team.

"It was an in," said Buenger. "I got to stand on the other side of the cones. Basically, every Stephen J. Cannell show--when they shot on location--they would come to my hometown of San Pedro and shoot there."

Buenger cut his teeth as a production assistant (PA) when he worked on the set of "E.T." He realized he wanted to be in the camera department, and worked on cable programs and pilots. He came to Maui at the behest of his friend, County Councilmember Don Couch, to help with his first campaign for office, and also worked in Mayor Alan Arakawa's first administration.

The film studio idea came about when Buenger shot a pilot, had a network interested, but could not find a studio in the state in which to shoot the program. So he decided start one himself.

Buenger hopes that a TV series like "Lost" (2004-10) or "Hawai'i Five-O" will move into the studio, which would mean years of work for Maui residents. In contrast, film crews would stay on the island for a few months at the most.

Sen. Roz Baker, former economic development coordinator for Maui, was instrumental in the development of the studio. Also a key player was then Maui Film Commissioner Georja Skinner, who brought the USC Film School of Cinematic Arts faculty to Maui.

"I've been excited for growing the [film] industry on Maui, and I think this is an excellent way to start," said Skinner." If we, at the state level, can continue our production tax credits to help incentivize other things coming to Maui, with this facility, we can go far."

The Maui USC Film School was instrumental in the development of Tiffany Taira, a Lahainaluna graduate who is now director of photography and lead video editor at Pixar. She said she has a feature film that she wants to shoot in the Maui Film Studios.

"This studio is very important for the film industry here on Maui," said Councilmember Couch.

"The Maui Film Studio has the potential to bring a lot of production work to Maui, and the county is very thankful for all the hard work that Mr. Buenger did to open his facility," said Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone. "Projects like this can help Maui County to become the Hollywood of the Pacific, with a true film industry that creates some much-needed jobs, provides training and other opportunities for our community. We look forward to working with Socrates and others in the industry to make this dream a reality.



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