Commissioner expects increase in film, TV spending for Big Island

  • A scene with actors Matt Dillon and Cole Takiue from the 2018 film "Running for Grace," which was shot entirely on the Big Island. "The Wind & the Reckoning, another feature film from Kona producer-director David L. Cunningham, was shot in November last year on the Big Island and is currently in post-production for future release. (Courtesy Photo)

  • The Cornelia Marie, homeported in Kodiak, Alaska, and featured on the Discovery Channel’s "Deadliest Catch" series, is moored in Kailua Bay on Sept. 4, 2020. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

The Big Island’s film commissioner is optimistic there’ll be an uptick in spending this year from film, television and video and print advertising productions seeking county permits.

“I think things are picking back up, and I think that goes statewide, as well,” Justin Finestone said last week. “Once the Safe Travels program started, it made it easier for productions to get here, rather than have to go through some form of quarantine process. So, we’ve seen a lot of inquiries, and I think the second half of the year will be, hopefully, much busier than the first half.”

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The state’s Safe Travels program, which started on Oct. 15, allowed travelers entering the state with a negative COVID-19 test result in the previous 72 hours to forego a two-week quarantine.

Finestone told the Tribune-Herald in August that county-permitted productions had resulted in just $722,000 in spending on the Big Island at that point. But the second season of “Deadliest Catch: Bloodline” on the Discovery Channel and a feature film, “The Wind &the Reckoning,” which shot in November and currently is in post-production, more than doubled spending to $1.6 million for 2020.

That’s a 78% decline from the $7.2 million in spending county-permitted productions generated in 2019.

“We went from March until August with pretty much nothing. Yes, we did have some things fill in at the back end,” Finestone said. “Last year, obviously, was way off from the previous several years.”

Those figures don’t include productions that obtained permits from the State Film Office and not from the county, nor from those that filmed exclusively on private property, which doesn’t require a permit.

“The Wind and the Reckoning” is produced and directed by Kona filmmaker David L. Cunningham, who brought “Running for Grace” — which was completely shot and edited on Hawaii Island — to the big screen in 2018.

The film, which is set in 1893, the year of the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani by American businessmen, is based on a true story.

It stars Jason Scott Lee as Ko‘olau and Kahiau Perreira as his son, Kaleimanu. Both contract leprosy, but refuse to be separated from their wife and mother, Pi‘ilani, portrayed by Maui-born actress Lindsay Watson, and banished to Molokai. For their refusal to submit to the authorities, the ‘ohana is pursued for years by mercenaries and bounty hunters.

The “Deadliest Catch” spin-off filmed off Kona in August and September but hasn’t aired any second-season episodes yet, Finestone said.

Asked about the near-term future, Finestone said the film office has received “some inquiries, but I’m not at liberty to say what they are at this point.”

Those inquiries, though, include reality television series, one of which is a dating show, Finestone explained.

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Finestone said he’s optimistic about the future of films on the Big Island, and added Mayor Mitch Roth is “very interested in ramping up production here.” He stopped short, however, of projecting 2021 spending totals for Big Island shoots.

“I don’t have any predictions for this year due to the fluid nature of the pandemic and the different rules of opening. It’s definitely wait and see,” Finestone concluded. “I think, given the fact that vaccines are rolling out throughout the country, and we do have the Safe Travels program, it’s safe to say we’ll have a better year in 2021 than we did in 2020.”