Back in 1996, the Big Island was host to an ambitious motion picture production, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, “Waterworld.”
While the Universal Studios movie eventually broke even, it was best known for production costs topping $175 million, a $75 million overrun on its original budget and a record sum for production costs at that time.
Fighting squalls, rough water and jellyfish, shoots postponed three times because of hurricane alerts and eventually losing a multimillion-dollar structure from high winds, actors and crew endured what screenwriter Joss Whedon described as “seven weeks of hell,” according to the pop culture site UGO.
The experience left the Big Island with a black eye for film producers for a long time afterward, said international filmmaker David Cunningham.
Luckily, movies are different these days, he told the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee on Tuesday evening. Production that once cost millions can now be accomplished for much less, thanks to rapidly evolving technology. And solid movies, such as his own 1998 “Beyond Paradise,” can be made for a faction of that cost.
“There’s all kinds of movies that can be made that are not huge Hollywood ones,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham, born in Switzerland and raised on the Big Island, who left to make his fortune in the movie world and then returned to West Hawaii, is starting a new project dubbed the “Transmedia Accelerator Program.” Transmedia refers to using the creative content on as many platforms as possible, such as film, Web, music, games, mobile, print, TV and personal computers.
To be operated from a warehouse media and production center just below Costco in Kailua-Kona, the program will select six fledgling projects and “accelerate” the Hawaii-based entrepreneurs through the development phase, positioning them for successful financing. The goal is not an art house program, but a way to create commercial successes for a global audience, he said.
That’s where the county comes in.
A push from Mayor Billy Kenoi and the county’s new Film Commissioner, T. Ilihia Gionson, is seeking to accelerate the accelerator project, in the process moving quickly to open a production studio in Hawaii County. The transmedia accelerator is just one component of the 10,000-square-foot production studio, which will also host production companies and related business, such as equipment rentals.
Once completed, the Kailua-Kona facility should have some 30 people working there, including the entrepreneurs selected for the accelerator.
The Finance Committee put its stamp of approval on a request from the county Department of Research and Development to provide a $113,000 grant to the Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council for start-up funding for the accelerator. The county would then award $200,000 a year for the next three years.
The money is being matched by a state grant from the Hawaii Strategic Development Corp. and private funding, Cunningham said.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter said she and fellow council members are excited about the prospect.
“We are fortunate enough to have this gentleman here, who’s homegrown, who made all those connections out there and now he’s bringing them all home,” Poindexter said. “It’s really exciting.”
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