Outtakes: Hollywood looks to Maui

Apr. 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

outtakes mug aug 2014

BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

A lot of film and TV projects fail early. The timing isn’t right. Financial backers get cold feet. Studio executives change and with them, priorities.

CTY Waihee 02_Land Trust Signs Waihee Deal_Waihee aerial pÉRon Chapple.jpgSo with production scouts from four projects making or scheduling trips to Maui this spring, it’s easy to understand the excitement being felt by Tracy Bennett, film commissioner for Maui County. The neighbor island’s production landscape could change dramatically.

Bennett is wooing two TV shows: a sitcom from a major network he won’t identify and “Chaser,” a new action series from “Baywatch” creator Greg­ory Bonann. Bennett also hopes to land a pair of movies: “Stranded,” inspired by “The Swiss Family Robinson,” and a Korean comedy called “Moderately Low Expectations.”

At the same time, a potential cable TV series set in 19th-century Lahaina has Bennett dreaming even bigger.

“Thy Kingdom Come,” co-written by Maui-based screenwriter Stefan Schaefer and former Hawaii screenwriter Thomas Paa Sibbert, was purchased by The Weinstein Co., and the powerful studio is looking for a broadcast partner.

Schaefer said he pitched the series recently to a pair of former “Mad Men” show runners, and the pilot script was read by Hawaii actor Jason Momoa, who has worked with Sibbert.

Could Maui handle three TV shows at the same time?

Movies have been shot on Maui, but a TV series would be a first for the island. Although TV pilots were shot there — “Crowfoot” in 1995 and a revival of “Fantasy Island” in 1998 — no scripted series has been based there.

“We’ve never had that situation on Maui before, so we would have to cross that bridge when we got to it,” Bennett said. “I can see us being able to handle two for sure and utilizing everything we have on Maui, and whatever we don’t have, we would bring in from Oahu.”

But Maui lacks a key selling point in its quest for a TV series: a soundstage.

“It’s a necessary component of what’s needed on Maui,” said Hawaii state film commissioner Donnie Dawson. “If you want to have a TV show based on your neighbor island, having a working film studio and soundstage facility is an extremely important piece of the puzzle.”

That didn’t seem to be a problem two years ago, when Maui Film Studios touted its 21,000-square-foot soundstage as the largest in Hawaii. A year later it shut its doors. Jerry Embree, whose investment firm helped build the soundstage in a beverage warehouse in Kahu­lui, would not say what happened, citing pending litigation.

Embree said he wants to build a new one but offered no timetable.
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Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.

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