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The Reel Impact: Here’s How the Film Industry Really Affects Hawai‘i

The film industry brings much more than A-list celebrities and road closures.



A scene from Inhumans in downtown Honolulu.
Photo: Courtesy of marvel studios


Movie production means work for a range of industries well beyond the crews and actors. Take Marvel’s newest television series, Inhumans, which employed 150 local residents and businesses when it filmed here this summer. The sequel to Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom, employed about 400 local crew members and 220 vendors, according to the Honolulu Film Commission Office.


Production sets don’t need to be permanent, so, instead of using high-quality materials, many sets are made of foam. Pacific Allied Products, known for producing food containers, provided about $50,000 worth of locally manufactured foam blocks for Inhumans. Debbie Serrao-Kuamo‘o, EPS division manager, says the company provided foam for other movies including Pirates of the Caribbean and Jumanji. Foam was even used to create an entire Greek temple. “These large production companies allow us the opportunities to get more exposure,” she says.  


Many local crew members began in entry-level positions while filming Lost and were hired for Inhumans, says Georja Skinner, the division chief of Creative Industries who worked closely with Marvel.


A main attraction to film in Hawai‘i is the production tax credit, she says. The Hawai‘i Film Office says productions receive a 20 percent tax credit on O‘ahu, and a 25 percent tax credit on Kaua‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i and Hawai‘i Island, provided they spend between $200,000 and $15 million and attempt to hire locally. They must also support education for the local production industry. 


The film industry catches some heat for work in Hawai‘i. The 2015 movie Aloha sparked controversy for white-washing. Emma Stone starred as a quarter-Hawaiian and quarter-Chinese woman, Allison Ng. People also criticized Jennifer Lawrence for her anecdote about scratching her butt on sacred rocks while filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in Hawai‘i. 


Inhumans, Hawai‘i Five-0 and movies such as Jumanji hire Heaven’s Best Carpet Cleaning for janitorial services. Since the company began working with Hawai‘i Five-0 six years ago, it has tripled in size, says owner Jacob Lee. A mother of five he hired three years ago was able to leave her job as a cashier where she was paid minimum wage. “The film industry has allowed us to provide better quality of life for her and her family,” he says. 


Big productions have even larger budgets, and a chunk of each is spent at the filming location. A couple of million dollars into our local economy adds up, even if Hawai‘i only plays a small part in the final production.


Watch Marvel’s Inhumans this month on ABC.


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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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