November 27, 2023

Island Insights: Navigating Commercial Filming in Hawaii

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Hello everyone, welcome back to On Production the podcast where production professionals share their stories. In today's episode, I'm extremely thrilled to have Krista Carella from Island Film Group as our guest. Today, we're going to explore Krista's background and her journey in the film industry. And then specifically, we're gonna dive deep into the world of filming in Hawaii, discussing the unique challenges, opportunities and experiences that Krista has built and produced in beautiful Hawaii. Krista, how are you today?


I am great. How are you?


Super good. Super awesome to have you On Production with us today. Let's dig in. I'm really curious. Can you tell us about your background and how you got started in the film industry?


Yeah, so I'm originally from Rhode Island, I went to film school in Massachusetts. And then like most I moved to LA, and lived there for almost 10 years, started at Radcliffe media as an intern, and then moved my way up to receptionist and then decided to go freelance. So I worked freelance commercial production for most of my time in LA, and then, you know, made my way from pa office PA and then left as a production supervisor when I left LA and so met my husband at radical media as well. He's also in the industry. So we got married in Santa Barbara. And then we decided to go to Maui for our honeymoon. And when we were here, we were like, You know what, this place is kind of cool, like, and totally dig this place. So we went back to LA, figured out some stuff. And then we came to a wahoo, which is the main hub of the islands where we live now. And we kind of just scoped it out, drove around and didn't know anyone didn't know anything about the place. We just were like, You know what, let's just try it would be like we have no kids, we have nothing to lose, and always come back to LA. Let's just do it. So yeah, we just packed our stuff and had a huge yard sale and Van Nuys and moved to Hawaii. And now we've been here almost 10 years. When we first got here. We emailed a bunch of people, we kind of just tried to ask like, do you know anyone in Hawaii that works in production, like that whole thing. And when we finally met the folks at Island Film Group, they were very impressed. And they were like, We need more people like you like, you know, la work experience. But in Hawaii, where there's a lot going on. And so yeah, just kind of kicked off from there. And now we Robben Island children, my husband and I and our boss, Rick. Yeah, kind of we're at


Krista. So that's amazing. We're gonna dig into what it's like to film in Hawaii and dig into the specifics of Hawaii filmmaking because I think for many people listening or watching, they have a lot of questions around that. But before we do, you know, going back to kind of your early career and what got you up to speed and like, really experienced on film craft? Like, can you describe for us like, maybe some of the key productions or challenges or successes in your early career that kind of built up your capacity to kind of deal with complex productions? Like, you know, you mentioned you worked at radical but like, what kind of projects and experiences did you have early on that kind of brought you to your career in Hawaii?


Well, part of it was not to not to talk about, like the opposite of success, but it was kind of exhausting after a while, like, you know, commercial production is it's one after the other and you go go go go go and, you know, I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't treated very well as a PA in my PA days, there were times where I was screamed at for thing. You know, there's been instances where I was not happy at all. And part of my coming up in the industry was like, I don't want to be that person. I want to treat people with respect. I want this. We should be having fun. We're making commercials here. Like, this has always been our thing. Like we're not. This should be fun. Why is it so stressful? And so my part of moving to Hawaii was to kind of get into that allow lifestyle and, and yeah, bring a little bit of aloha to set. And it really did work. Like I definitely chilled out once I moved here. I mean, I'm from the East Coast. So Rhode Island, my husband's from New York. So we're very much like the East Coast. Gogogo. And that was good in our 20s. And that was good and got us where we needed to be. And then once we hit our 30s and we got married, we're like, let's slow down a little bit like this is a little this is too much for us right now. So let's get out of LA, let's go to Hawaii and see if we can chill. I'll always have a love for LA. We go back all the time. Some of the people that got me to this place, we do this thing in Hawaii, we're at the beginning of every shoot, we do a blessing, a call who comes to set and we do a blessing before we start filming and we do it right before the safety meeting. And it's a really nice way for us to all kind of come together. We just take a deep breath, we do the blessing, and then we move on with our day. But in that moment, you're supposed to think about people that have gotten you to where you are. And just think about your path and your journey up into this point. And I think about all my friends in LA who I worked with, so many production supervisors and producers that got me to this point, who I loved dearly. And yeah, you know, it's community, this commercial production, and I specifically stick to commercials. That's like my thing. I've always done commercials. I love commercials. That's kind of where I'm at. But yeah, it's a love hate. I think a lot of people will relate to that. It's a love hate. It's like, you do these crazy jobs and like, I'm never doing this again. And then. But wait, that's like a piece of me. Now, I can't not do commercial production.


You know, what elements of commercial production do you think are particularly challenging? What is unique to commercial producers? Like, like, where do you think maybe a film producer would find themselves shocked by the types of things that a commercial producer has to deal with?


Well, the end product, most of the time, is a 30-second commercial. And so you're doing all of this for 30 to 15 seconds of footage, right. And most people are shooting TV and movies and they're just bounced from one thing to the other. And they're filming an entire movie in two or three weeks while we do Hallmark movies. So we do a movie for three weeks. But commercials , I always tell people, if you can do a commercial, you can do anything because you have three days that you have to shoot all this footage, you have to get everything done, done, done. And then you're on to the next project. And everything is fast paced. Everything is here's your locations, here's your permit, here's your approval pre pro doc. And it's, you just don't have the amount of time that you have in TV and movies. But I like the fast pace. I like turning around quickly. You know, that's kind of my jam. So


and so that's true, whether you're a commercial producer in the United States mainland, or if you're in Hawaii, that fast paced, challenging environment exists. How is it different when you're filming a commercial in Hawaii versus on the mainland?


Well, when people hire me, they expect me to take care of everything for them. So they want to come to Hawaii, and they want to hire me. And they want everything to just kind of go seamlessly because they're saying, Well, we're hiring you, you know, the people, you know, the equipment, you know, the islands. So let's make this happen. And so that adds a little bit of stress that I didn't have in LA, but I've come to accept it. And I've come to tell people like the truth upfront, when I'm even doing a bid I tell them like, this is what's different. And this is what's the same. And this is what it can do for you. And this is what I can do for you like just putting it out there. But I mean, honestly, I want people to know that shooting here. isn't that much different than shooting on the mainland, in terms of cost, in terms of crew, in terms of locations, we've done jobs in the last couple of years where they're all inside? Like no exteriors? Like why would you come to Hawaii to shoot interiors that they did, and we did it, we got it done. Obviously, the locations are what bring people here: beaches, lush jungles, you know, all that kind of stuff. But I've had people many times come here and usually just the director, the producer and the DP, every once in a while they'll bring a production designer or stylist. But we try to really keep stuff local here, we have a lot of very talented people that work here. So at the end of most jobs, the director comes up to me and says I have to come back here, I have to figure out a way to get back here. Just like in Los Angeles, you haven't lost fans at the end, Jack says I gotta go back. That's what they say. Like, they got to come back here. And it's the vibe, you know, like, we do get the job done. And yeah, we may do it a little slower than they do on the mainland, but we get it done. And we do it with smiles on our faces. And they say aloha. And it's real, like people get the vibe here and they want to come back.


That's super interesting. You know, so you mentioned like, many people will choose to film in Hawaii because of the locations. Not always. But, you know, what do you think are the unique aspects of producing commercials and content projects in Hawaii, other than the vibe or the locations or, like, you know, you mentioned it's maybe not that different. But you know, you are also really an expert in producing in Hawaii. So I'm curious if you can just describe like, just unique aspects of it versus other places.


The vibe and the locations are the big, big parts of it, I think. I mean, what another great thing about Hawaii is we live on Oahu, the main hub is a wahoo but there's many other islands and we shoot on all the islands. We shoot on Big Island all the time. There's a volcano there. There's lava rock, gorgeous, totally, like, otherworldly looking places. Then there's Maui and every island has its own vibe too. So yeah, I think at the end of the day, it really is about the vibe and the location and


how does Island Film Group support and facilitate productions in Hawaii?


So most of the time I'm, we're ASEP members. And so you know, my goal is to let all the ICP commercial production companies know that we're here. And we work as a fixture company, most of the time, there are instances where clients and agencies will come out to us directly. But a lot of times, I get contacted by heads of productions. I've done four bids for the same job at one time in the past, like, so I'll be doing the same bid for different companies. Obviously, everything's very confidential, but it's exhausting, exhausting, because I'm gonna have people calling me like, Oh, we got to change this. Like, which job is which? Oh, yeah. Okay. And so, usually, once the job awards, hopefully, it's a job that we're building a company that we're betting with, and it comes here. And then yeah, so I personally act as their local producer, Head of Production at Ireland Film Group, I do all the prep, I do all the budgeting, I do all the time cards. In the end, I do all the wrap. And so they ended up talking to me from the very beginning till the very end until I send them that last final invoice, which takes sometimes like three weeks to get everything, you know, completely done. So I'm kind of the only person on the bill. I'm the commercial production department here. So we have other things going on. We have IFT post, we have high motion cinema with just songs and Porsche, Korean motor crane stuff. And we do movies as well. Yeah, Hallmark movies and other things like that. So but my, you know, my bread and butter, my love is the commercial division here. So yeah, and then like I said, they come in with the director, producer, dp and then we become best friends. We have a huge facility here. We usually do pre Pro and fittings all in our offices, we have a really good relationship with the Film Office. And we also have our sister companies with equipment houses. And so that's a huge one is the equipment like people come in, like, do you even have this? What, like, Do you have a motor crane? Do you have this car thing? In Hawaii Media Inc is like our sisters in that and they help us source things that we need. And we always tell people like if we don't have it, we'll get it here for you. And that's kind of what Hawaii Media Inc does. HMI is what we call them. But yeah, we, we can do it all, we can do anything that the mainland can do. And that's what I always try to tell people like, we can do anything we can shoot, we can make it look like anything you want. And then we have the tax credit, obviously, which is huge for us. So it's 22% on Oahu and 27% on the neighbor islands. And we actually helped my boss write the legislation for the tax credits. So we call ourselves tax credit specialists. So even if we're not producing the job, sometimes we help people just with their tax credit stuff, because that's a whole nother beast.


How familiar are you with that? Can you explain the financial incentives and tax credits offered to productions filming in Hawaii?


Yeah, so it's 22% on Oahu and 27% on the neighbor islands, and it's for any expense over $100,000. And it's for basically any cost that has a general excise tax number, which is a DEA number here. So any flight hotel, all your crew that you hire, it's almost everything that qualifies as long as you're spending 100,000, which just dropped from this earlier this year. And it's a total 100%. It's a refund. So you get a check. takes about a year, two years. But you get a refund check. And yeah, yeah. So it's not like the credit, you have to sell it or whatever, that kind of thing. You just get the refund check.


Can filmmakers sell the refund track before? Like, can they actually sell their rebate? Do you know if that's possible for them?


Not in a sense, where it would literally be like they could use it towards their production. You know, like if we were going to produce a job, and we knew that there was going to be a tax credit, we could use that money in a creative way to put it towards their production if we wanted to, but I wouldn't know specifically how they would sell it, they would get the refund.


That's cool. Can you speak to the collaboration between local governments on different islands businesses and then residents for filming successfully in Hawaii? Like what's that relationship like between all the stakeholders in the communities that you're filming at?


Yeah, I mean, we're all one big happy family here. It's a small place. We have a state commissioner that definitely represents all the islands and then in Honolulu, Each island has their own film Commissioner as well. So we have Honolulu film commissioner here and then each island has their own and they're all very, you know, we're all on the same team here we want. We just want people to come and film in Hawaii. That's our end goal. But at the same time, it's political in the sense where if you just come here and try to shoot something without hiring someone local to help you, you're not going to get very far. Just put it that way. You need those relationships. There are certain locations that are taboo. You cannot go there because of lots of different reasons. And it's just not the type of place you just want to show up with your camera and start shooting stuff. You definitely need local help. You want people to support you. But if you hire locals, then the state and the counties will definitely support you more, because they know you're doing things correctly. Where are you? We're a heavily union state here. So, you know, we do things by the books, no running gun guerilla style here. Those are my least favorite words. Yes, super small, like running gun, except we need 70-100 people. And I'm like, okay. It's good to, as


you just mentioned something, you know, related to people showing up and maybe not understanding where they are and how they can film in Hawaii in an effective way. Like, can you discuss the importance of, you know, incorporating local culture in Hawaiian productions, or just kind of understanding cultural sensitivities in a really special place like Hawaii?


Yeah, I mean, that's basically it is very culturally sensitive. And even, I can't really speak to it. Because I've only been here, like I said, almost 10 years, I'm not from here. I'm not native Hawaiian. I'm not Hawaiian at all. I'm a girl from LA that decided to, you know, work here and the economy is very important to me. And bringing in jobs is important to me. And that's kind of my goal here is, I tell people, you know, I live in Hawaii, because I obviously love it here. But I do care about the land and the people and I want to bring jobs here. And that's my goal. I'm not here to steal jobs, I want to make more jobs. And so, but yeah, I mean, there's certain areas of even just a wahoo that you can't go to, and there's areas you don't want to go to, even though you technically could go you it's like you just really want to know somebody that knows what they're talking about. In terms of like, oh, well, this beach looks nice. Well, yeah, no, that's not an option. But why? It's just not just trust me. You know, we've had people come in and be like, well, I want to put a boat in the water here. And I'm like, that's not a place where you can put a boat and they just won't put a boat in the water. And I'm like, No, you're not putting the phone down. Let me tell you why you cannot do that. You know, it's a very culturally sensitive place and everything about it. But when you hire the right professionals, get the job done. Easily.


That's awesome. That's great. We're bouncing around a little bit. But back to the business case for filming in Hawaii. Like, do you have any insight, Kristen, how the film industry contributes to Hawaii's local economy? Like, have you seen any big impact over the last 10 years?


I don't know exactly. I do know that. At a given time when Magnum P.I. and NCIS are filming, there's over 2000 locals that have jobs at that time. Probably closer to 3000 in between two and 3000. Just locals are working on those productions. And then we have movies that come in, like Jurassic Park movies and all the Jurassic Park. You know, sequels. Disney has been here a lot. There's a lot of live action stuff going on right now with Lilo and Stitch and then Moana is going to be up next. Doogie Kamealoha M.D. She has done two seasons. It's a very lucrative industry here. And we want to keep that going. Like I said, 2500 people are employed at any given time. That's pretty good for Ireland of a million, you know? Yeah, I don't know, like the specific numbers or anything like besides that, but I do know, it's one big happy family here. And there's a lot going on. It's a busy place. And we have partnerships, you know, with mainland companies to make sure that things are here as needed, like people are always calling me about, oh, well, what's going on at this time? Is there gonna be enough crew? What's the equipment like and I'm always like, Don't worry, there will be enough we will figure it out. Like we will find people or HMI we'll ship stuff in like we always find a way. Yes, of course, there's better times to shoot than others. Summer is a great time to come here because Magnum and NCIS are on hiatus. But anytime of the year we make it work.


That's awesome. If you had to, you know, sum up some of the valuable lessons that you've learned throughout your career in Hawaii. And in film production there. I'm curious, like, you know, any advice you'd give to filmmakers and producers based on things that you've learned over the last 10 years of shooting?


Yeah, well, not only filming and building my career here, but growing as a person, slow down. Doesn't really matter. At the end of the day. I care a lot about my job, like I care I really truly do. But to the degree that I have two kids at home, and I have a life and that's kind of why we moved here, you know, we want to be able to enjoy your life. You know where work is great. And like I said, this should be fun. We should be having fun here. Living here has definitely helped us realize a lot of that from just the traffic and the way people drive here nicely to being able to go to the beach every weekend. And yeah, and you Even like I said, the blessing that we do at the beginning of each shoot day is it's just a nice way to start our film, like just a production in general. And everyone loves it. Like even people, not a religious thing. It's, you know, it's, it's just a set that tone type of thing. And it truly works. Like it always just kicks us off nicely and takes it easy, you know, a lot. That's what we do. We just chill.


It's the best. I'm curious. You know, you've been in the business for 10 years. Island Film Group has connections to all kinds of filmmaking on the islands. I'm curious, just from your view, like, what do you see as the future of the Hawaiian film industry? And are there any emerging trends that you've noticed?


Yeah, well, one thing that we're trying to do now that COVID is over, it's eco production. So we're definitely trying to build our company in a green way. And I think that that's going to be the next. I keep telling people, it's the new COVID, the Eco team, like we have an eco team on every job, we really focus on making Hawaii sustainable. Subjects like we know, we focus on the ocean here and the landfill and the recycling that is specific to the island. It's very, it goes deep. And I've been the last few weeks is really what I've ended up learning a lot about this sustainable practices here. Yeah, we just obtained another stage, in Honolulu, a very large stage that Disney takes up a lot of their time there. Like I said before, the ultimate goal is just to get people to come film here and have a good experience and want to come back. My goal, too, like I said, I'm from the commercial world, my goal is for all AICPA companies to know that we're here because there's still so many people that don't know about us, and I want everyone to know that I have the LA experience. And I bring that for you to Hawaii, and that I'm a Hawaii professional. But I also have the LA bug in me. So it's a win win if you come and you hire us to help you shoot your job. So we're gonna go to AICPA New York next week, in a couple of weeks. So hopefully, I'll see it all there. The continuing growing of the industry, you know, the spreading the word about the tax credit, that's the huge incentive to get people here, obviously, and doing it, everything ponens what we say live pono


I love it before we jump off any notable projects that you can tell us about that you've shot in Hawaii in the last


year? Well, for the commercial nerds, we just finished up the new kind of burrowing jobs, which was a whole new one. They think it's the first time in 10 years, they changed their creative, which was really fun. And we did that with biscuits. We just did the announcement of the live action Moana with The Rock. We did this whole filming that we filmed him on the beach, and he did this whole thing where he announced it. That was really fun. We're just wrapping a Hallmark movie now. And not really my world. But lots of Hallmark movies are coming out of Hawaii. What else that we've done in the last few years. We work with a rock a lot. He lives here. So he's always like, he's got something small going on. We're like, Hey, call us, Dwayne. He's our friend. Ya know, the Kona Brewing ones with this guy. That was a big job. That was a lot of fun. Excited to see those come out.


That's awesome. Well, Krista, for our listeners, or for people watching if they are curious to learn more about filming in Hawaii or getting in touch with your organization, where should they find you?


Well, we have islandfilmgroup.com is our website. You can always reach me directly Krista at Island film group.com, or on Instagram at Island Film Group. kind of run that social too. So you'll see me pop on there a lot. I always tell people just call me even if you're not going to hire us to produce your job. I will help you, you know, with whatever I can get you here successfully, and we just want people to come back and have a good time. So


that's awesome. Well, Krista, thanks for being on On Production. We really appreciate you. Thanks for all that you do in your community and in the production community as well.


Yeah, thank you.

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