Since the beginning of July, a group of young people sequestered in a Ninole villa has competed for romantic favors from each other to the delight of millions of daily viewers.
But while “Love Island,” one of the largest film or TV productions ever made on the Big Island, is a hit with viewers, neighbors of the villa are less enamored with the production.
“We are surrounded by ‘Love Island,’” said Ninole resident Michelle Betz, whose home is sandwiched between two major filming locations for the reality show: To the north is Waterfalling Estate, the “villa” of the show, and to the south is a private property where the show constructs weekly “challenge stages” for contestants.
“It’s all happening about 100 yards from our house,” Betz said.
Between the constant bright lights on the estate, the bullhorn-amplified stage directions, the whoops and cheers of the participants, the engine noise and honks of the dozens of vehicles passing between the two properties each day and occasional helicopter overflights, the lives of Betz and her husband, Paul Beighley, have been disrupted.
“I’ve had to skip days at work because of the stress,” said Beighley, a psychiatrist and medical director for the state Department of Health’s Adult Mental Health Services on the Big Island.
The couple has lost sleep since the production started, and Betz said their two dogs have been affected by the filming as well. Meanwhile, she said, the narrow road connecting the villa, the challenge property and her own home is woefully inadequate for the sustained traffic and has begun to deteriorate.
Retired psychologist Thomas Bearden said heavy filming traffic has “beaten our road to death.” Bearden lives next to another of “Love Island’s” filming locations, the Royal Palm Estate in Ninole, which serves as the show’s “Casa Amor,” a secondary villa housing a different group of participants.
“They came in at 5, 5:30 in the morning and drove their trucks up and down all day long to build their sets, and then when they were done, they left the lights on all night long,” Bearden said.
Bearden said his wife, a teacher, has lost sleep from the endless noise from Casa Amor.
Meanwhile, the sharp increase in traffic to the villa at one point overwhelmed its cesspool, requiring a rotating supply of trucks to pump out the sewage 24/7.
“This wouldn’t be an issue if it was just a three-week shoot,” Beighley said, noting that Waterfalling Estate was previously the shooting location for an MTV reality show — 2018’s “Ex On the Beach” — which lasted for only a few weeks. “But we’re dealing with this for months.”
More than their own discomfort, Betz and Beighley said they are concerned about the environmental impact of the production. They believe the bright lights of the villa have the potential to disrupt the habits of local wildlife.
“I saw this egret flying back and forth over these bright lights, and it was heartbreaking,” Betz said. “It was clearly very confused and distressed. … It didn’t understand what was going on.”
The first time Betz learned of the production was when a friend notified her of properties in the area being scouted for possible shooting locations. She offered her home as a potential location, and was visited by an entourage from production company ITV Entertainment, which made a perfunctory examination of her property in April before leaving.
After that, Betz said the next time she heard of the upcoming show was in the local news.
When asked whether the production had offered her or Beighley any notice of the planned filming schedule, she simply laughed.
“There was no outreach at all,” Betz said.
“The first we heard about it was when the trucks were rolling up the road,” Bearden said.
Betz said she spoke with state Film Commissioner Donne Dawson in July about the various noise and lighting complaints, with some success. After a helicopter shooting B-roll footage buzzed over Betz and Beighley’s residence for hours, Dawson was able to prevent another overflight after Betz’s complaint.
“We’re working with the property owners, and we’re very responsive to their concerns,” Dawson said. “But we are in the midst of that process, and it hasn’t all been resolved.”
Betz said some ITV representatives visited her home after learning of her complaints to discuss them with her. That conversation, she said, was cordial, but hasn’t seemed to make a direct impact yet.
“They did bring us some cookies, though,” Beighley said.
Dawson said she is working with ITV to minimize the lighting and noise complaints going forward.
But Dawson said there’s only so much her own office can do. The permits for shooting were arranged between ITV and the Hawaii County Planning Department through the Hawaii Island Film Office, and it falls on the county to enforce standards, such as the state’s coastal lighting law.
Hawaii Island Film Commissioner Justin Finestone, who made those arrangements with ITV, retired shortly before production began. His interim replacement, Princess Agina, did not respond to requests for comment.
County Planning Director Zendo Kern did not directly respond to questions, either, although Mayor Mitch Roth issued a statement on the matter after being directed those questions by Kern.
“Our administration is aware of the community concerns associated with the filming and production of ‘Love Island’ here in our county, and we are working diligently with the production crew to assess and mitigate each of them,” Roth said in the statement. “As the first production under our administration, there have been teachable moments, which we look forward to learning from and addressing in future productions.
“That said, the production crew has been incredibly responsive to community and county demands and continues to be a good partner, both on and off set. We are extremely supportive of the film industry and the incredible support they provide to our local small businesses during their time here. Our island is beautiful and can be shared in a way that respects local culture and communities. As we move toward a more sustainable Hawaii County, where viable jobs and careers are made available to our keiki, we thank the community for their support of new industries that will continue to supplement our community’s economic vibrancy for generations.”
However, at least one planning official was displeased with the production. County planner Alex Roy — along with Agina, a representative from the Department of Research and Development, and a representative of Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball — met with Betz, Beighley and Bearden via Zoom last week to discuss their concerns. During the call, Roy was critical of the process by which the production was initiated.
Roy said during the call that Planning had only been informed of some aspects of the production when they were already half-completed.
“We were not given the opportunity to adequately do the job,” Roy said during the Zoom call.
Betz and Beighley’s residence, the villa and challenge stage shooting areas all fall under the Special Management Area, the part of the island closest to the sea that falls under special conservation rules. Betz said she was not permitted to make home alterations as minor as installing a new window, but the villa now features what Betz called a “Hollywood-level soundstage” immediately next to the edge of a cliff — although Dawson said it is more accurate to refer to the structure simply as a film set.
During the Zoom call, Roy said an investigation of the shooting area found some structures that appeared temporary, in compliance with SMA use requirements. “But some, not so much,” he went on.
A representative of ITV said the “’Love Island’ production is delighted to be filming in Hawaii this season, and has complied with all of the filming regulations and parameters conveyed to us by the state and local Hawaii film offices, with which we’ve been in constant contact for many months. In good faith, production has attempted to communicate with neighbors adjacent to filming locations to resolve any issues that may arise, and we welcome continued communication moving forward.”
Too much latitude?
“This is what development looks like on the island now,” Beighley said.
Beighley, Betz and Bearden were told on the Zoom call that, since the production is taking place on private property, there is little the county can do.
“If I wanted to put a toxic waste dump on my property, I think they’d make me stop,” said Laupahoehoe resident Kirk Francis, who also participated in the Zoom call.
Francis, a retired film production sound mixer and winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing (for “The Bourne Ultimatum”), said the county has granted the “Love Island” production more latitude than those states that offer incentives such as tax credits to productions within their borders.
“All those places that offer filming tax credits, they would have made sure to get those permits before they started building sets,” Francis said. “… There’s a lot of pressure on the production companies, and they’ll do anything to get their shoot, they’ll exploit any loopholes they can. So they’re preying on the naivety of the county.”
Meanwhile, Betz questioned how much of the money from the shoot really is going back to the state. Although the estimated total budget for the production is about $40 million, Betz said the filming locations have owners on the mainland, and the majority of the 300-400 crew members also are from off-island.
Betz said she isn’t seeking financial remuneration from ITV, even though she said such an offer was made. Instead, she said, “an apology is what we want, and we don’t want this happening again.”
Bearden said he would like some compensation to repair the pavement on his unmaintained road, which he estimated has sustained $20,000 in damage since the start of production.
“Love Island” continues to air on CBS every day of the week save Mondays and Saturdays. The final episode airs Aug. 15.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.