There have been some big-budget feature films shot on the Big Island. They include “Waterworld” in 1994, “Planet of the Apes” in 2001 and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2007.
But the last feature film to come to the Big Island was “Predators” in 2009, and economic activity from film, television and still photography shoots have been down sharply since, said Big Island Film Commissioner John Mason.
There were 49 film, TV and still production shoots on the Big Island in fiscal year 2011-12, which ended July 30, and revenue from those productions totaled $1,657,200. That includes all expenditures on the island. That’s the same number of productions that shot on the Big Island the previous fiscal year, when revenues were $3,692,800, which is still “below normal,” Mason said.
The real difference in the previous year’s higher numbers was the reality TV show “Roseanne’s Nuts,” depicting the life of former sitcom icon Roseanne Barr, boyfriend Johnny Argent and son Jake Pentland as they lived and worked on her 46-acre Honokaa macadamia nut and livestock farm. The cable network didn’t renew the show after one season.
Mason, whose one-person office is part of the county’s Department of Research and Development, said that prior to the past two years, “average numbers of productions have been close to 100 and revenue about $5 million to $6 million.”
“We had some (feature film) activity in ’08 and ’09, so our numbers in those years were actually very good,” he said. “Those two years, revenue was close to $20 million because of those features. And ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ that dropped about $11 million. So when we have something like that, it’s obviously very, very beneficial. We’ve had two kind of disappointing years, but the preceding two years were exceptional. It’s a cyclical business; things go up and things go down. We’re just in a little trough right now.”
Asked if there were any feature films or major television shows lined up to shoot on the Big Island, Mason replied: “No, meaning ‘bird in hand.’” He added that location scouts are constantly coming here, including a seven-person executive team from “The Hunger Games” that recently scouted Honomalino Beach in West Hawaii for a sequel to the hit film.
“From all they had seen, Puerto Rico, everywhere else, this beach here was the one — pop, champagne,” Mason said. “And then they organized a scout — the director, producer, cinematographer, production designer, the whole team. We went out, and then they didn’t like it as much. It took three seconds to see that this isn’t going to work. It was very disappointing, because this was the beach. … Something can slip away, just when you think it’s certain.”
As for television, Mason said he is “courting the ‘Hawaii Five-O’ people very carefully.” CBS recently ordered a third season of the hour-long cops-in-paradise drama.
“Is that going to happen anytime soon? No, but it’s a very active, front-burner type of initiative that goes all the way to the mayor’s office, to get those guys over here to take a look and get some of that action,” he said.
Mason said the NBC reality show “Ready for Love,” which is executive-produced by “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, was recently here to shoot an episode. And the Travel Channel reality series “The Dead Files,” which features a psychic and a retired New York homicide detective who try to solve unexplained paranormal activity, has repeatedly expressed interest in coming here.
He noted that the BBC was recently here for about two weeks.
“They did a long nature documentary type of thing,” Mason said. “They held camp up at the volcano and as part of their activity, they broadcast live back to the U.K. from the Big Island (Hawaii) Volcanoes National Park. That was great for us. Huge publicity, big show, great exposure.”
German automaker BMW was here in the past month for an ad campaign and spent about $300,000, more than all still photo productions spent in the entire previous year, Mason said.
“They were here to shoot stills for a hot classified new car. I didn’t see what it was, and if you saw it, they’d shoot you,” he said.
Mason said that every year, about 40 percent of the money spent on film, television and print productions on the island comes from Japan.
“It’s all low-key, it’s travel-related, it’s a day in the life of, it’s interesting things to see in Hawaii. It’s the typical stuff you might expect,” he said. “It accounts for so much of our business and we don’t do a single thing to promote it. I don’t have any dollars in my budget (of less than $40,000 a year) to go after it. We don’t do any fan tours over there. We don’t invite any producers here. We don’t advertise over there. We don’t do a single thing to go after that business.”