(Reuters) — Hawaii has always been a popular place for location filming, especially since Sept. 11, when filmmakers didn’t want to travel outside the United States. But, more often than not, the islands have doubled as someplace else. In “Windtalkers,” Hawaii stood in for the South Pacific. In the “The Rundown,” it was Brazil. In “Tears of the Sun,” it was Africa. But in Warner Bros. Pictures’ upcoming “The Big Bounce” and Sony Pictures’ “50 First Dates,” the islands will be featured as themselves.
In the case of “The Big Bounce,” the movie was originally set in Michigan, but the setting was changed.
“The director and producers all decided that it would be nice to have a sexy location for the picture, where the background could almost be another female lead for the movie,” the movie’s executive producer Zane Weiner said. “And realistically, a lot of locations in the U.S. are overshot and you kinda get sick of seeing them. But Hawaii hasn’t been Hawaii in a while.”
The production of “Dates” had one person to thank for the Hawaii locale: star Adam Sandler. The actor is such a fan of the state — part of the actor’s “Punch-Drunk Love” was shot there — that he changed the film’s original setting of Seattle to the tropical climes.
And a funny thing happened on the way to Oahu. The productions of “Bounce,” “Dates” and “The Rundown” found out that they were going to be there one after another, so they pooled their resources and saved on rental and shipping charges.
The state offers its own ways to save money, promoting its tax incentives and aggressively targeting film productions. The two main tax programs are the Refundable Production Tax Credit and the Investment Tax Credit under Act 221. The RPTC is more applicable to one-off productions and especially rewards productions shooting Hawaii as Hawaii.
“Currently that rebate is 4 percent of everything you spend in Hawaii, including purchases and payroll and the hotel-room tax, which is currently billed on your hotel room at 7.25 percent,” Hawaiian film commissioner Donne Dawson said.
Producers get that rebate either at the end of production or up to a year after shooting. But in order to qualify for 100 percent of that credit, movies have to shoot Hawaii as Hawaii. If a production uses the islands to double for another location, then it receives only 75 percent of that rebate.
There may be changes in the rebate rate. Dawson says her office is going to the Legislature later this month to see if it can increase the rebate to be more competitive with other states.
“We’d like to see it as high as 15 percent if it’s workable, if we can get the support of our lawmakers and our governor,” she said.
Dawson would also like to rewrite the criteria so filmmakers don’t necessarily have to shoot Hawaii as Hawaii to realize 100 percent of the credit.
“We still do have a lot of productions coming to us to double, and we don’t feel they should be penalized,” she says. “They’re still helping to generate income for the state.”
In addition to its picturesque vistas, filmmakers in Hawaii occasionally encounter idiosyncrasies not found elsewhere.
“Whenever we went to a new location, we had a Hawaiian priest come out and bless the location,” “Dates” location manager Timothy Hillman said. “It was really a beautiful ceremony. We did it to show respect to the native Hawaiians on our crew and on the areas that that we were shooting. It was a way of saying that we were going to take care of the place.”
As for drawbacks, working crews aren’t always able to take advantage of the beach setting. “It’s a beautiful place, but I was still making a movie,” Hillman joked. “I was there for five months, but I was in the water only four times.”