Hawaii’s ‘largest film studio’ in the works in C. Maui

There is a film studio in the making at the Maui Lani Village Center.

Maui Film Studios LLC began leasing the new warehouse in Central Maui on Friday. In the coming months, Maui Film Studios will be outfitting the warehouse as a 21,000-square-foot soundstage, “the largest film studio in Hawaii,” said Socrates Buenger, owner and chief executive officer of the company, on Monday.

The facility also will have 5,000 square feet of office space and 1 acre of paved parking lot/backlot, he said. Other amenities will include a 2,700-square-foot mill shop, space for six 40-foot production trailers with hookups, and two 10-ton grip-and-lighting-truck packages, the studio website said.

He said that the concrete building does well in keeping sound out, but insulation blankets are being installed to tame the echo inside. The facility also will have an overhead truss system with chain hoists, so that crews can raise lights and props into the upper reaches of the building with 25 feet of height with which to work.

Buenger estimated that the project is costing him and his Maui investors a couple of million dollars.

The Makawao resident said Maui Film Studios is partnering with TM Motion Picture Equipment Rentals, which will open a Maui office. The way it will work is that the TV or film crew will rent/lease the center from Maui Film Studios and the equipment from TM, Buenger said.

The film or TV production crews will build their own sets, he said.

He hopes to have the improvements completed by late summer. Since productions often book a year out, this gives him some time to get the work done and to get the word out.

Buenger said that he is “actively trying” to get a major motion picture to shoot at his studio in late summer. He also is in talks with a major network on a TV series to be shot here.

It was an unsuccessful effort to get a political comedy set in the back offices of the White House shot in a soundstage on Oahu that led him to open a studio on Maui. The Diamond Head facility was booked, and two small boutique soundstages were in use as well.

“It made me realize that there was a market for it (another soundstage),” said Buenger, who has been on Maui for about a decade.

He is not a Hollywood bigwig but instead worked behind the camera. Buenger said he was a production assistant on “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and the television series “The A Team.” He also shot travel shows for the Travel Channel.

“I am not a Hollywood executive,” Buenger said.

Council Member Don Couch, who helped walk Buenger though the county’s permitting process, was all for the studio project.

“If anybody can do a film studio here on Maui, without a lot of monetary assistance from the county, that’s great,” the council member said Monday.

Buenger is doing his film studio with very little assistance from the county, Couch said, though he has met with Maui County Film Commissioner Harry Donenfeld.

“He’s going with it,” said Couch. “He has great passion.”

The South Maui councilor said that he worked in the film industry a bit and pointed out that Maui has some great talent. There was an Emmy Award-winning sound person who lived on the island but had to go to the Mainland for work. He knew a mechanic who did special effects on cars who had to leave home to work on the Mainland for six to eight weeks at a time.

“We have enough people here so that we don’t have to bring them in from the Mainland,” Couch said.

Buenger added that his company and the University of Hawaii Maui College are working on a film crew training program. For more information, email info@mauifilmstudios.com or call 871-7000.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.