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Hawaii Enjoys Financial Boost from TV Show

'Hawaii Five-0' helps state attract TV and film productions

"Hawaii Five-0" stars Scott Caan and Grace Park film on location on the beach.

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Heidi Chang

For years, Hawaii has been a popular destination for tourists, but now it’s making a name for itself as a TV and film production hub.

A reboot of the 1960s police drama "Hawaii Five-O," which helped develop the state’s movie industry decades ago, is once again boosting its economy.

When the original "Hawaii Five-O" premiered in 1968, it was the first television series to shoot on location in Hawaii, providing a shot in the arm to the state's TV and film industry, as well as its number one economic engine - tourism.

About 40 years later, in  2010, when CBS began producing a new version of the show, the state began reaping the benefits again.

"Hawaii Five-0" has contributed significantly to Hawaii’s economy, not just in production, but in what they do to help promote the destination. "Hawaii Five-0" is a buzz word everywhere," says Georja Skinner, head of the Hawaii State Film Office, "whether you're on FaceBook or Twitter or you watch broadcast television. For us, it is a huge enormous pump into our tourism economy, as well as our local economy. "

(From right) Alex O'Loughlin, Grace Park, Scott Caan and Daniel Dae Kim of the CBS series
(From right) Alex O'Loughlin, Grace Park, Scott Caan and Daniel Dae Kim of the CBS series "Hawaii Five-0"

According to Skinner, production companies spent $400 million filming in Hawaii last year, making it the state's best year ever.

Hawaii has also been getting good publicity from several recent movies which were made here.

"I think the whole "Pirates of the Carribbean," "Soul Surfer," films like "Just Go With It," these are big feature films that have really showcased Hawaii in a great way," Skinner says. "And we’re very excited about "The Descendants," a film based on a book by a Hawaii writer, Kaui Hart Hemmings, and that film will be coming out this year. It is the first time that people will see Hawaii in a different light than they’re used to seeing it."

"The Descendants" director Alexander Payne (left) with star George Clooney during filming in Hawaii.

"The Descendants" stars George Clooney as a man who learns devastating information about his comatose wife as she lies dying.  

"Shooting in Hawaii is one of the reasons I wanted to make this film and not just for the obvious reasons; the sun and surf and all of that," says Alexander Payne, who directed the movie. "My previous visits to Hawaii had taught me that there's a very interesting and complex social fabric there that I wanted to get to know a little bit more, as much as I could, and try to represent it faithfully on screen."

While luring film productions hasn’t been easy, Skinner says tax incentives passed five years ago have helped.  

"Some states will allocate funds that they give to productions to lure them there. We don’t do that here in Hawaii. The most important thing about the credit that is in our state, is that it requires a workforce development component. And the studios, and all the productions, whether they’re from locally based projects or national or international, they all use local labor."

To qualify for a tax credit in Hawaii, productions must provide internships or contribute to the state’s public schools through funding, equipment donations or education programs.  

"We compete more with global destinations, so New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico, often other tropical locales," says Skinner, "but we’re much more than just a tropical location."

According to Skinner, the ABC TV drama "Lost," which premiered in 2004 and ran for six seasons, showed the world that Hawaii could double for places like Korea, Iraq, England, Africa and even Russia, covered in snow.

Now, she says, the new "Hawaii Five-0" is also reviving interest in the Hawaiian islands as a vacation spot.

Star Alex O'Loughlin (right) celebrates the second season premiere of
Star Alex O'Loughlin (right) celebrates the second season premiere of "Hawaii Five-0" with fans in Honolulu on Sept. 10.

About 10,000 people turned out to kick off the premiere of season two at a special screening on Waikiki Beach. Fans traveled from as far away as Europe and Australia to see the "Hawaii Five-0" cast, including Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin, who plays Detective Steve McGarrett, head of the crime-fighting team.  

"I’m from Germany," said one fan along the red carpet, "and I came here for sunset on the beach and to see Alex."

Another fan came from Australia. "I’m from a town in New South Wales. It's my first time overseas. I got a passport for this very occasion. So I’m here to see Alex and the cast and I’m so excited about it."

For "Hawaii Five-0" executive producer Peter Lenkov, filming in Hawaii lends a certain authenticity which can't be recreated on a sound stage.

"You know it’s "Hawaii Five-0," so I think you couldn’t shoot this show anywhere else," he says. "What gives it an edge? I think it’s just the people, the location. It’s just unique."  

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