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By Barry Graham

KAUAI, Hawaii (The Garden Island, Feb. 1) - According to Kaua'i Film Commissioner Tiffani Lizama, fierce competition, a statewide economic downturn and the high cost of doing business in Hawai'i contributed to a decline in major-motion-picture prospects on the island last year.

But she is confident that 2004 will be more productive.

"Even though we weren't selected for a (major) feature last year, we did have many inquiries," said Lizama.

"And a major production fell through at the last minute because of a conflict with the principal's schedules. That project is in turnaround and still may be able to work its way through the studio system and onto Kaua'i."

She added, "I really can't predict the future, but I do know that Hollywood remembers Kaua'i and would always like to return. I hear that often when I'm talking to contacts on the Mainland."

Despite not having a major feature for 2003, Lizama said that Kaua'i was selected for several television productions and other projects.

"We were the backdrop for a few small-budget features that needed that certain look," said Lizama. "One was 'Miss Cast Away,' which was written and directed by Bryan Michael Stoller.

"We were the tropical location for 'Loving Amazon' a low-budget feature that was primarily shot in Los Angeles but focused on Kaua'i for its beaches and mountain scenes," Lizama said.

"When 'Curse of the Komodo' needed that dragon-lair shot, they (the film's producers) chose Kaua'i."

In addition to the aforementioned projects, Lizama mentioned several television productions from cable networks in 2003.

Those included the Food Network (American Festivals), "World Best" for the Travel Channel, and A&E's "Small Town Christmas Festivals," where the Lihu'e Festival of Lights Parade received exposure.

Competition and technology

According to Lizama, over the last few years Kaua'i has received competition from tropical destinations such as Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and the Bahamas for major film productions.

She added that these countries may have an edge in obtaining productions because they provide "huge production and tax incentives.

"These destinations have become our biggest competition," said Lizama, "so we have really concentrated our marketing in the last year to make sure that Kaua'i remains on a radar screen that has become very crowded."

To leverage marketing efforts, the Kaua'i Film Office has worked in a close partnership with the other Hawai'i counties and the state film office in attending various festivals and trade shows as the Film Offices of the Hawaiian Islands.

"We (the film offices) attended and were an institute sponsor at Sundance Film Festival," said Lizama. "We attended the Association of Film Commissioners International annual Locations Trade Show in Santa Monica."

She added, "The Maui film commissioner and I attended the Cinaposium held in San Diego last October, which was a very informative training seminar for new film commissioners and members of AFCI to learn about what's happening globally as well as how to assist production to the fullest when they are in your area."

Lizama feels that improved technology has affected Kaua'i's major-motion-picture prospects.

"Unfortunately, with the use of CGI (computer generated images) and the blue screen in the production world some productions don't necessarily need to be 'on location,'" said Lizama.

"Our message is that Kaua'i's looks can never be simulated. You have to experience it firsthand."

Statewide decline

"The industry is in a slump in Hawai'i, in California, all over the Mainland and overseas," said Beth Tokioka, director of the county Office of Economic Development.

"It's incredibly competitive out there, and even established destinations like Kaua'i are having to compete big time for this business.

"We're going to have to re-establish ourselves and compete with the thousands of other destinations who want the business and are already providing healthy tax breaks and incentives," said Tokioka.

Hawai'i Film Office Manager Donne Dawson believes that competition has hurt Hawai'i.

"The downturn in 2003 had everything to do with Hawai'i's competition from other countries rather than other U.S. states," said Dawson. "We have to be able to provide incentives that bring in major producers and also stimulate the local film industry.

"We have to find ways to help level the playing field. The question now has become, 'How can the state of Hawai'i help us afford to film there?'"

Lizama believes that future legislation could fuel growth.

"The most important opportunity for us is during this Legislative session. If we can revisit the bills put through to increase production incentives so we can compete on a national and international level," the island and state might be in better positions to attract films, said Lizama. "Right now Hawai'i is often priced out of the market."

Gov. Linda Lingle introduced a measure that would boost a separate film-industry tax credit from a rebate of 4 percent to 20 percent on Kaua'i and other Neighbor Islands.

In addition to Lingle, Tokioka believes local officials including Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste are supportive of the industry and its economic benefits to Kaua'i.

"There is no question that the mayor sees the value in maintaining Kaua'i's status as a premiere and established location for films," said Tokioka.

"But it has to be the right kind of project. We've actually discouraged some film projects because they were counter to the image that we want to project as an island," Tokioka said.

"Reality shows are coming out of every nook and cranny these days, and we could probably have a steady stream of them here, but we won't court that business if it's going to risk offending our residents or portraying Kaua'i in anything but a respectful light."

Prospects for 2004 and beyond

Lizama believes that there are a few challenges for the future.

"Our labor pool needs to grow as well as our union pool, so we are investigating on promoting an 'industry day' to promote better communication among local resources," she said. "Some of the locations that were often used on Kaua'i are no longer available, so we are having a challenge offering as many potential locations as we did before."

In addition, airfare and accommodations on Kaua'i are in much more demand, therefore less available for crews. And costs continue to rise.

The upsides, according to Lizama, include Kaua'i's ability to replicate many other locations around the world, and the talent available on the island.

"Kaua'i does have an excellent and experienced labor pool," said Lizama. "We have some of the best location managers in Hawai'i, and have a very diverse and professional casting pool that rivals any in Hollywood.

"Our permitting system is tedious for production, but we are working on incorporating a 'one-stop' permitting system statewide that will alleviate paperwork for production."

According to Tokioka, Lizama has begun several initiatives that could improve the island's future film prospects.

"We haven't had any major film production, but there's been lots of production activity going on all year long," said Tokioka.

"Tiffani is in the process of putting out a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a marketing program that will bring Kaua'i awareness to the people in the industry who are making location decisions.

"It's something she budgeted for this year, and she's been researching the best way to go about it. We expect the RFQ to go out in about a month," said Tokioka.

In addition to the marketing program, Lizama also is in the beginning stages of putting together a "film industry day" on Kaua'i.

"It'll be an opportunity to bring people with an interest in production to come together and identify issues and opportunities to be addressed," said Tokioka.

"Tiffani has worked very hard to make the connections she needs in the state and on the Mainland to draw the kind of business here that'll sustain a healthy film industry," Tokioka concluded.

February 2, 2004

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