By Walea Constantinau Honolulu Film Commissioner
All photos ©Honolulu Film Office/WConstantinau
The location inquiries started in November of 2014 by veteran location manager Ilt Jones. An unnamed project was interested in jungles. It sounded innocuous enough… Little did we know at that time that Kong: Skull Island, one of the most significant projects to come to the state in a decade, would choose to do the majority of their filming on Oahu.
“Before I arrived I canvassed the opinion of colleagues who had shot there before,” said Ilt Jones, who was honored in 2014 with the Outstanding Achievement by a Location Professional Award by the Location Managers Guild for his work on Iron Man 3. “One of them said wryly, ‘You’ll scout all over the world but mark my words, for lots of reasons, you will end up in Hawaii.’ He was spot on. Nowhere else combined virtues of aesthetic beauty, logistical ease, crew base, and film office support as well as Hawaii.”
Kong: Skull Island, which will be released worldwide in 2017 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, reimagines the origin of the iconic King of the Apes in a compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer). In the film, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific—as beautiful as it is treacherous—unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.
To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts and his cast and filmmaking team filmed across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu between October and December 2015, and on Australia’s Gold Coast and in Vietnam after a short hiatus over the Christmas holiday season.
“Oahu just blew me away,” said Jones, when asked if he was surprised by the diversity of different looks on the island and around the state. “It’s amazing how much diversity is crammed into so few islands—the sheer magnitude of the mountains, cliffs, valleys… wild, rugged scenery abounds statewide. One of the biggest surprises was how amazing Oahu is. I seriously fell in love with the island and its people, who were so kind, fun and interesting.”
The project, which was executive produced by Eric McLeod and Alex Garcia and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Mary Parent, proved to be an economic powerhouse for Hawaii. But despite all its virtues, Hawaii would not have been a contender were it not for its stable production tax credit. The cost of production weighs heavily in the deliberations of where a project ultimately decides to shoot.
“It’s a very competitive global landscape,” said McLeod on a scout in the summer of 2015, “and without the production tax credit, the numbers financially would not allow us to consider Hawaii as a location.”
Pre-production started three months before principal photography so that massive sets, befitting the film’s title character, could be built. Cameras began to roll in October 2015 and continued through December with two units. The 1st unit shot for 42 days and a sizable 2nd unit shot for 22 days. During that time, over 200 full-time local crewmembers and more than 1,000 local part-time hires, including background extras and day players, were employed by the project. Over 12,000 room nights were booked at various hotels and over 100 local vendors were used throughout the shoot. At one point the production had over 170 pieces of rolling stock across all of its locations around the island.
“We had a sizeable number of new people get a chance to work on a major film project, which helped to grow further our skilled crew base,” said Henry Fordham, business representative for IATSE mixed Local 665. “This project is significant to us because we were able to show that we could handle more than one large production at a time because Kong: Skull Island filmed in the middle of Hawaii Five-0’s 6th season. Now we have even more crew to offer to incoming productions.”
One of the challenges with a large production is being aware of how to work within environmental concerns. But, according to Jones, this is one of the things Hawaii does so well.
“Hawaii manages expectations and environmental concerns very intelligently,” said Jones. “Hawaii is such a precious and understandably treasured ecosystem. Sometimes Hollywood’s requests and the local environmental concerns are incongruent, but we found both the State and Honolulu film offices worked diligently and ingeniously to affect mutually agreeable solutions.”
What advice would Ilt Jones give to fellow location managers after this experience in Hawaii? “My enthusiastic advice is to go straight to the film offices, both the Honolulu and the State… I have worked all over the world, and these offices rank among the very best in terms of provision of location choice, information, as well as permit and logistical guidance.” Concerning the locations, Jones said, “Every single, and I literally mean, every location was a delight to work with. For example, John Morgan and his team at Kualoa Ranch were a joy, Mike Navares at Kalaeloa Airport could not have been kinder or more cooperative, and the rest unfailingly did their homeland proud.”
“I had a magical time there,” said Jones. “I met many folks who will be friends for life. I very much enjoyed working in Hawaii and really loved learning about the islands, and their marvelous traditions during my time off. Hawaii has rocketed to the top group of my favorite places on the face of the Earth, and remember, I have traveled a great deal!”
On behalf of the Hawaii production community, we would like to thank the entire production team. We welcome you back anytime with open arms and with much aloha.
Kong: Skull Island will be released worldwide in 2D, 3D in select theaters, and IMAX beginning March 10, 2017, from Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.