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HBO miniseries filming in Wailea

Officials forecast busy end to year for industry on Maui

County officials pulled back the curtain Friday on a busy end to the year for Maui’s film and TV industry, including a $20 million-budget HBO miniseries that’s halfway through filming in Wailea.

They also forecast that next year will be even brighter for a sector being touted as an important way to diversify the local economy. A program planned for January will help locals learn tricks of the trade for possible industry jobs.

“We expect a very busy 2021,” Tracy Bennett, Maui County film commissioner, said Friday afternoon during the mayor’s news conference. “And we feel we can turn an ever important corner on keeping up with Oahu and other tropical locations we compete with for film production. We stand at the forefront of making this industry formidable in Maui County.”

Bennett detailed Friday the money being pumped into the local economy against a backdrop of high unemployment and business closures attributed in part to the county’s heavy reliance on tourism.

An HBO miniseries titled “The White Lotus” is halfway through eight weeks of filming at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. Bennett said about 200 residents were hired as background and extras and the crew comprises about 100 residents.

“The White Lotus” will film in early December at locations around Maui and are in the process of obtaining necessary permits.

Saying the series is predicted to “possibly garner some award nominations,” Bennett said the series is backed by a “very renowned team” of producer, director and cast. It is slated to air in May or June.

Meanwhile, Bennett said USA Network’s “Temptation Island” wrapped up filming at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort a couple weeks ago.

The reality TV series generated local interest and some opposition when more than 100 arrived for filming in September amid county COVID-19 closures. Residents brought up COVID-19 safety concerns, along with criticism over the show’s content.

Stringent COVID-19 measures were taken, though, and county officials said the filming exemplified a safe way to bolster the island’s struggling economy.

With “Temptation Island,” 3,600 COVID-19 tests were administered with zero positives. “The White Lotus” has done nearly 2,000 tests to date with zero positives.

Bennett said Friday that “Temptation Island” brought $8.1 million to Maui’s economy, with more than $2 million going into local businesses and vendors.

“For every dollar, 40 cents went into the pocket of every crew member,” Bennett said.

Almost 75 Andaz employees went back to work and 100 local crew members were hired.

Also, the network gave six large tents to South Maui schools to help with outdoor distance learning, about $20,000 in donation value.

“Temptation Island” will air in March on USA Network, Bennett added.

Bennett also spotlighted a film by local talents Stefan Schaefer and Brian Kohne called “Aloha Surf Hotel,” which filmed on Maui in 2019 and is slated for release Dec. 4.

The film showcases Honolulu Council Member-elect Augie T., one of Hawaii’s favorite comics, along with Branscombe Richmond, Native Hawaiian actor of Hollywood’s “The Scorpion King” fame, and other local talent, such as rising star Taiana Tully.

“Aloha Surf Hotel,” a family friendly comedy, stars Augie T. as a washed-up pro surfer who’s forced to teach surf lessons at an old-time hotel that’s being pushed out by a national resort conglomerate.

“It’s a great example of the talent we have here in Maui County and in Hawaii,” Bennett said. “I urge everyone to support our local artists and local movies and go see it December 4.”

The county film commissioner said that plans are in the works for an educational and training program for Maui County residents to learn different jobs and crafts in the television and film industry.

“We aim to employ more locals, teach and train them here so we rely less on the folks from Los Angeles,” he said.

Mayor Michael Victorino said Maui’s TV and film industry is working hard to train locals.

“This is part of diversification of our economy,” he said.

Also during the mayor’s news conference:

• The County of Maui declared Friday “Transgender Day of Remembrance” with a proclamation that “helps bring public awareness to hate crimes against transgender people and honors the memory of those harmed and killed by senseless acts of violence each year.” The proclamation said that 37 transgender individuals nationwide have lost their lives to date this year due to hate crimes and 50 percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in their lives. After Victorino presented the proclamation, Tiare Sua, trans activist, LGBTQ+ youth empowerment educator and counselor with Maui AIDS Foundation, said that “it’s a step closer for social justice, trans justice and for people who are transgender to live their life to the fullest.”

• The mayor cautioned that there are more COVID-19 cases “in the queue” for Maui County and emphasized safety over the holiday season. The state Department of Health reported 95 new cases as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, including 70 on Oahu, 13 on Hawaii island, five on Maui and one on Kauai. Six residents were diagnosed out of state. The DOH added one new death to the state’s count on Friday, a male inmate in his 60s with underlying medical conditions who had been incarcerated in Arizona. The death was reported Thursday but not included in that day’s count. In its weekly update on confirmed COVID-19 cases in the public school system, the state Department of Education reported one case of a student on Monday in the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui complex. The department did not name the school, though it confirmed earlier this week that Lokelani Intermediate School — which is in the complex — had a case.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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