Film studio booked through ’14; three projects on docket

KAHULUI – Maui Film Studios – boasting the largest soundstage in the state – is booked through next year with three projects lined up, including a pilot television series to begin production in September and a feature film.

In the meantime, the 22,000 square-foot facility in the Maui Lani Village Center is providing rehearsal space for Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ production of “Les Miserables.” The 80-member cast, accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra, will make its debut Aug. 16 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater, according to a news release.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Maui Film Studios,” said David C. Johnston, executive and artistic director of the production. “Moving into this space will make a huge difference in the way we rehearse this show and in the final product we present to Maui audiences next month.”

Over the past three months, the cast of actors and musicians have been holding rehearsals in the nonprofit’s dance studio in Wailuku, because “it’s the biggest space we’ve got,” said Vinnie Linares, president of the group’s board of directors.

Johnston said that due to the confining space, crews resorted to placing masking tape lines on the floor to represent platforms and staircases.

“The actors can’t get a feel for what the set will be like,” he said. “Even professional actors need more time working on the actual set to be ready for opening night.”

Looking for other suitable rehearsal spaces, the organization approached Socrates Buenger, owner and chief executive officer of the studio.

“I watched some videos of them practicing, and they were literally singing shoulder to shoulder – not moving,” he said Tuesday.

Upon seeing the video, Buenger offered space on the east side of the studio, where the cast will rehearse and construct stages and props until Aug. 11. Then, they can move into Castle Theater.

When asked about the changes the studio has gone through since opening March 1, Buenger said he felt proud of the progress, albeit “exhausted.”

“Of course I’m excited to have our first production scheduled soon and to be letting MAPA use our space for their rehearsals,” he said. “I was here the other day for one of them, and I just stayed and watched – it was almost a euphoric feeling to see creative people using a space I worked so hard on.

“I imagine it’ll be the same feeling when we start working on our pilot.”

In about 45 days, the studio will begin filming a pilot episode for its own TV series that Buenger hopes will get picked up by a cable network. Buenger said due to contractual obligations he could not provide details about the premise of the show but acknowledged that the script is nearly finished and that he is looking to hire Maui residents for roles.

“We live by our motto to hire locally,” he said.

Indicative of his approach, the studio held a job fair attended by about 2,200 people to build a database of actors, actresses and other entertainment professionals living on the island.

“It was a lot of dreamers, but that’s OK because you want that sort of attitude,” Buenger said of the fair in March. “When you look at big productions they’re all a bunch of dreamers. They just happen to have the experience to make it happen.”

Along with the studio’s potential TV series, Buenger pointed to the two other productions – a feature film and a TV movie – that will provide “essentially hundreds of full-time jobs.”

“(The feature film) calls for 500 extras for months, not just days,” he said of the film.

The full length feature film is scheduled to use the Maui Lani facility from mid-March to September 2014. Prior to that, the TV movie is scheduled to film from October to March.

“The idea for this whole endeavor is to hire locally as much as possible, because it would cost a lot of money to bring people in and put them in a hotel,” he said.

Buenger described his dream of producing a TV series.

“Series typically last longer and employ people for 10 months out of the year,” he said. “TV series are massive money generators. Just look at ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ it’s keeping many hundreds of people employed year-round.”

The projects will bring jobs and money to the Maui economy. He estimated the total budgets of the three projects to exceed $200 million.

Before any filming takes place, however, the studio, a converted warehouse owned by Paradise Beverages, needs to be completely soundproofed. A portion of the concrete facility has been outfitted with 2-inch blankets against the walls and a sound absorbing material glued to the ceiling.

“Because it isn’t finished yet, if you clap your hands you’ll hear it echo for 5 minutes,” he said with a smile. “When it’s done, it’ll sound like you entered your walk-in closet.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at