Maui Film Industry Reels Up in 2021: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Guy Fieri, HBO, Hallmark and More
Maui Film Commissioner Tracy Bennett, the State Film Commissioner and Mayor Michael Victorino worked to bring major productions back to Maui County after the lockdown over a year ago, approving filming with restrictions in August.
“We’ve done almost $40 million of business since last August,” said Bennett.
Besides the allure of its natural beauty, a benefit of producing films on Maui is the Motion Picture, Digital Media, & Film Production Income Tax Credit, which equals a credit of 25% of the production costs incurred, higher than the rate on O‘ahu, according to the Hawaiʻi Film Office.
There a few conditions to the tax credit, such as the productions reaching an in-island spending requirement of $200,000, making reasonable efforts to hire local talent and crew and donating “0.1% of the productions Hawaiʻi Spend or $1000, whichever is greater,” to the local industry, according to their website.
“This has given us the opportunity here on the neighbor islands to expand our business,” said Bennett. “As everyone knows, O‘ahu’s gets the majority of it because it’s more populated, more infrastructure, more people, more crew, more equipment. For us to get three major productions and a couple of smaller ones since August — we’ve done really well.”
The film industry has impacted Maui’s economy, hiring hundreds of local background artists, crew, extras and hotel employees, supporting catering businesses, ice companies, Lowes and Home Depot, as well as donating to Maui public schools.
“Temptation Island” and HBO’s “The White Lotus”
Two major television productions, “Temptation Island” and “The White Lotus” were filmed during the lockdown.
One of the first productions to make its way to Maui was the reality TV show “Temptation Island”, which made its third appearance on Maui.
The crew was on-site at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort for six weeks in July and had 100% access to both the interior and exterior of the resort while tourists weren’t around, according to Bennett. Approximately 100 local crew were hired for this production, which put 75 Andaz employees back to work.
“Temptation Island” also donated tents to Kīhei Schools so students could have a safe place to study during the pandemic.
Its crew went through nearly 9,000 tests and found zero positive results.
“[That] sort of proved that, as long as we set up the proper protocols, we could successfully bring film and television production back,” noted Bennett.
“Temptation Island” has already released season three and plans to return to Maui for a fourth season, though not at a hotel this time, said Bennett.
“Productions buying out hotels probably isn’t going to happen anymore,” he said. “We were able to take advantage of the situation that allowed them to create their own bubble and their own COVID-free environment while there were no tourists around. We were able to get two of those, which is really great for Maui and Hawaiʻi.”
On the heels of “Temptation Island” came “The White Lotus,” a six-episode HBO limited series filmed in October, November, December and again in February — skipping the month of January due to two positive COVID-19 tests.
“[‘The White Lotus’] was a really big-budget project,” Bennett said. The mini-series bought out the Four Seasons and hired about 125 people — 60 extras and 65 Four Season employees — before the state had opened up.
HBO also donated approximately $22,000 to Kalama Intermediate’s Immersive program.
“The White Lotus” premieres July 11 on HBO.
“Paradise City,” an independent film with John Travolta and Bruce Willis — starring together again for the first time since Pulp Fiction 27 years ago — wrapped up filming a few weeks ago.
Local Maui resident Branscombe Richmond served as production supervisor and an actor in the film.
“We are blessed to be filming in Maui County,” expressed Richmond.
The action-thriller was shot at various locations across the Valley Isle, including Kīhei Boat, Mākena State Park, South Kīhei Road, Makani Olu Ranch, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Fleetwood’s on Front St. and The King Kamehameha Golf Club.
“Usually on a big action movie like [‘Paradise City’], it takes about three months of prep — and they did it in two weeks,” Bennett said. “There were some restrictions on this one because of the short notice where they could not film exactly where they wanted to or what they wanted to so they were constantly re-writing the script.”
The executive producer from “Paradise City” is considering taking another trip to Maui to shoot another film starring Bruce Willis — possibly later this summer.
“Aloha with Love”, “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives”, “One Million Dolla” and More
Actor, production services supplier and producer Branscombe Richmond brought in three smaller movies over the past months that featured a majority of local crew.
“We have the talent here, the infrastructure and we’re providing jobs for those kids — who studied film in their high school instead of moving to the mainland — to have the opportunity to stay here and continue in their dreams,” said Richmond.
One of those, “One Million Dolla,” a film written and directed by Stephen Schaffer, will be released on streaming platforms sometime later this summer, according to Richmond.
Another that Richmond supervised is the Hallmark movie “Aloha with Love,” which stars two of Hallmark’s sweethearts, Trevor Donovan and Tiffany Smith.
“Aloha with Love” had approximately 80% Maui crew, according to Bennett, and wrapped up a few months ago.
Richmond spoke of a third film that he could not comment about at this time.
Richmond said he enjoys making family films with cultural inclusion, reminiscent of the Netflix release he starred in this year called “Finding ʻOhana.”
In an interview with Maui Now, Richmond said he cherished a phone call he received from an Uber driver in Waimānalo on Oʻahu about five days ago. The driver shared that his passengers, a Columbian family visiting the islands, said they “got to experience ‘Aloha’ in the movie ‘Finding ʻOhana.'”
“When you have the opportunity to make somebody’s day… That’s what I was so grateful to be able to experience,” said Richmond.
Guy Fieri returned to Maui with his son to shoot two programs concurrently, Food Network’s “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives” and a new show featuring both him and his son.
Fieri and his crews filmed all over the island, from beaches to food trucks and restaurants. Some of the places he landed were Fleetwood’s on Front St., Maui Fresh Streetery and Fat Daddy’s, according to Bennett.
For future films, another project is rumored to be coming to Maui — “Maneater” — a film starring country singer Trace Adkins, according to Bennett. Another production crew for a zombie show is expected to arrive in August.
Bennett said he knows of two more films that are preparing to come to Maui under non-disclosure agreements.