Tranquil beaches. Gorgeous sunsets. Year-round beautiful weather. There’s a reason Hawaii is consistently on the top 10 list of domestic tourist destinations.
It’s also why it’s a popular locale for commercial production.
Wrapbook’s Cameron Woodward recently spoke with mainland expat Krista Carella on her move to the Aloha State and work for Island Film Group, a hub for Hawaii commercial production.
Krista grew up in Rhode Island and graduated from film school in Massachusetts before moving to Los Angeles.There she worked her way up from intern to receptionist to production supervisor, largely in the commercial production space.
“That’s my thing. I’ve always done commercials. I love commercials… It’s a piece of me now. ”
However, she found the Los Angeles grind intensely stressful. During her honeymoon in Hawaii, Krista fell in love with the land, the people, and the aloha lifestyle.
“We’re making commercials. This should be fun. Why is it so stressful? Part of the reason for moving was to… bring a little bit of aloha to set.”
She and her husband, Joe, reached out to their contacts about production companies in Hawaii. They eventually crossed paths with Island Film Group and have never looked back. Joe also works there as Head of Post Production.
Hawaii has many advantages for production. Some are expected. Others may surprise you.
Starting with the obvious- Hawaii is stunningly beautiful in a way that you can’t easily replicate anywhere else.
“Obviously the locations are what bring people here… The main hub is Oahu, but there are many other islands, and we shoot on all the islands. We shoot on the big island all the time. There’s a volcano there. Lava rocks. There are totally other-worldly looking places… Every island has its own vibe.”
Surprisingly, Krista does note that Island Film Group has worked on several projects that were filmed entirely indoors! But overwhelmingly, it’s the beautiful and varied landscape of the islands that bolsters Hawaii's commercial production.
Speaking of vibe, Krista makes it a priority to kick off each shoot in a special way… Namely, with a ceremonial blessing of the production before the initial safety meeting.
Krista notes that while not a religious ceremony, the blessing allows everyone working on the shoot to take a moment to connect with each other and the land on which they are filming.
This emphasis on having a positive atmosphere at the outset of a shoot establishes a tone that balances expertise, professionalism, and enjoyment.
Krista notes that filming in Hawaii is no different than shooting in traditional hubs like Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta. Because when it comes down to getting the job done,
“We get it done with smiles on our faces.”
Regarding the business bottom-line of commercial production in Hawaii, the Aloha State has a lot to offer. Specifically, tax incentives.
Krista explains that projects of $100,000 and more can qualify for a 22% tax credit for Oahu productions and 27% tax credit for all other island productions. Payments to vendors that have a Hawaii general excise tax number, as well as all local labor, apply to that $100,000 threshold. Flights. Hotels. Hired crew. Krista states that the tax incentive is a refund, so productions will receive a check.
Moreover, Ricardo Galindez, Producer at Island Film Group, helped to write the legislation for the tax credits, so the company is considered a tax specialist.
When you combine those credits with Island Film Group’s ability to act as a local production fixer – knowing the locations, the people, and the equipment – it’s a resounding windfall for projects that take advantage of commercial production in Hawaii.
Krista also reiterates that Island Film Group is an AICP member and can handle multiple aspects of Hawaii commercial production, including:
Krista amusingly notes,
“I am the commercial production department here.”
As the largest production company in the Hawaiian islands, they’re able to handle almost anything you need from them.
Island Film Group also handles film and television production and is the sister company to the local equipment house Hawaii Media Inc. She adds,
“We can do anything the mainland can do.”
Crew. Equipment. Expertise. These are the things you can expect when you work with Krista and the Island Film Group team.
The enjoyment of getting to work daily in a tropical paradise is not lost on Krista. But she acknowledges that the aloha lifestyle aside, her work still comes with challenges.
Commercial production on the islands often means she is looked to as the local expert. It’s a role that Krista embraces as a producing partner for incoming projects, but it also keeps her on her toes!
No matter where in the world you are, commercials are a fast-paced medium. Krista notes, “You don’t have the amount of time that you have in TV and movies.”
Locations. Permits. Approvals. Pre-production. Often you have to lock in these aspects of commercial production in weeks or even days. That being said, Krista thrives on the energy of the quick turnaround of Hawaii commercial production work and ensures that her clients get what they need on time.
With commercial production in Hawaii, Krista has become accustomed to clients handing her the entire reins to take care of their needs.
“When people hire me, they expect me to take care of everything for them. ‘You know the people. You know the equipment. You know the island. So let’s make this happen.’”
Though it comes with high expectations, being a local fixer for projects shot in Hawaii is what she anticipates and enjoys, as it allows her to give that comprehensive local support to productions large and small.
Not to mention, Krista also could get other locals hired.
Though she expects the director, producer, and DP of a project to fly in for a shoot, Krista can source the remaining crew from her local professional database.
Hiring locally is hugely important to her, as it provides jobs and livelihoods for hundreds if not thousands of people. It’s a win-win for everyone on a shoot, as the projects benefit from the regional expertise and the residents get work.
Krista’s love and respect for her adopted home carries over into her advice for those considering commercial production in Hawaii.
She encourages producers and production companies to work with state and county commissioners. Each county of Hawaii has a film commissioner, so reach out to them depending on where you intend to shoot.
And remember, hire locals! Krista has already made it clear her priority to hire locally whenever possible.
Though she acknowledges that certain crew will likely come from the production company Island Film Group is hired by, she emphasizes that local hires are not only available but also key to the health of the economy.
Krista adds that if someone tries to shoot in Hawaii without using locals,
“You’re not going to get very far. You need those relationships… You definitely need local help. You need people to support you.”
Krista also asks that all Hawaii commercial productions be mindful of the locations and cultural customs. She notes, “It’s a very culturally sensitive place.”
This state is steeped in a great respect for the natural world and the traditions of those who first inhabited the islands. Projects that fail to adhere to that same level of respect will likely find it challenging to have the support of the Film Office and local crew.
A project brought anywhere outside your normal production hubs such as Los Angeles and Atlanta can bring unique benefits to both the locals and those who come for that project.
The importance of bringing jobs to the state through Hawaii commercial production cannot be overstated.
“Bringing in jobs is important to me… I live in Hawaii because I love it here, but I also do care about the land and the people. I want to bring jobs here, and that is my goal. I want to make more jobs.”
She elaborates on how productions – commercial or otherwise – that come to Hawaii can have a sizable impact.
Krista notes that when the TV shows Magnum, P.I. and NCIS: Hawai’i were both in production, they contributed to between 2,000 and 3,000 local jobs. On the film front, the Jurassic Park franchise and live-action Disney films such as Lilo & Stitch and Moana also help to keep Hawaii a lucrative place and Krista wants to keep it that way.
Commercial production in Hawaii also supports eco-friendly practices on set. Krista states,
“We’re trying to build our company in a green way... We have an eco-team on every job.”
Island Film Group focuses on the ocean, the landfill, and the recycling that’s specific to the islands. However, they also serve as an example to both mainland and international productions that you can have a great shoot and a green shoot.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Krista and Joe moved to Hawaii. What has she learned from the last decade of living in the Aloha State? She keeps it simple:
“Slow down… Have fun… Enjoy life.”
And for anyone considering commercial production in Hawaii?
“My goal is to let all the AICP companies know that we’re here... I want everyone to know that I have the LA experience and I will bring that for you to Hawaii.”
Plus, those comprehensive tax incentives.
At the end of the day, it’s all about having an enjoyable experience that makes people and productions want to return to Hawaii.
“We just want people to come back and have a great time.”
With its sizable tax incentives, choosing Hawaii as your next production destination could be a smart budgetary move. Learn more about state-by-state incentives here.
Scouting production locations? We’re breaking down 10 states with considerable film tax breaks so you can get the most bang for your budget buck.
Wrapbook's newest resource is our podcast, "On Production," which features experts in the field and tips on how to navigate the production world. Check it out!