Pandemic suppresses Big Island film industry

Along with nearly every other industry in the state, the Big Island’s motion picture industry has drastically underperformed so far this year.

In 2019, the Hawaii Island Film Office issued permits to 64 film productions across the Big Island, with producers spending about $7.2 million on those projects, said Hawaii Island Film Commissioner Justin Finestone.

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This year so far, producers have spent about a tenth of that on Big Island projects. Finestone said 18 productions have been permitted this year, with a combined price tag of $722,000.

The majority of the projects permitted during the pandemic lockdown — the Film Office resumed permitting in June — have been small local portrait photography jobs, Finestone said.

However, at least one major project has taken place this year: filming of a second season of the Discovery Channel reality program “Deadliest Catch: Bloodlines.”

The show — an unscripted program chronicling the lives of commercial fishermen — had a mixed film crew, Finestone explained. Much of the film crew was made up of locals, while those from the mainland arrived two weeks ahead of shooting in order to safely adhere to the state’s ongoing two-week quarantine process for out-of-state travelers.

Finestone said some smaller productions, such as commercials, can be tweaked to avoid running afoul of the quarantine requirement: a film crew can be made up of island residents, while clients can view production remotely. However, he added, the quarantine is the biggest obstacle for restarting the film industry on the island.

“As you’d expect, it’s going to be slow for the time being,” Finestone said. “Most projects can’t really afford to house a crew to do nothing for two weeks.”

One future project, Finestone said, is scheduled to begin shooting on the island in October, but the producers are waiting to see whether the state will push back the planned date to loosen out-of-state quarantine requirements. Currently, travelers with a negative COVID-19 test will be able to skip the quarantine after Sept. 1, but state officials are increasingly concerned about doing so during a surge of cases on Oahu.

However, regardless of whether the state loosens travel restrictions, Finestone said he predicts the industry will bounce back sooner rather than later.

Other mainland filming locations with looser restrictions are already receiving high demand, Finestone said.

An agreement between British Columbia unions and U.S. film studios has allowed filming to resume in Vancouver, while Finestone said a third film in the “Jurassic World” franchise — whose previous two films were partially shot on Oahu and Kauai — has begun filming in London.

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“By its nature, there’s a lot of ingenuity in the film industry,” Finestone said. “I believe the film industry is able to operate safely.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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