Lawmaker calls for audit of Hawaii film office amid local hiring feud

Republican Kurt Fevella is backed by film industry unions who were upset that legislation to force more Hawaii hires died this year.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 5:46 PM HST|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state senator is calling for an audit of the Hawaii State Film Office in a feud over whether the office is doing enough to promote the hiring of local workers in film and television productions.

Movie industry union leaders have long complained that even though state taxpayers are helping finance the big studio movies, they aren’t doing enough to hire local.

Kevin Holu, president of the Hawaii Teamsters Local 996, was among several union leaders who joined state Sen. Kurt Fevella for a news conference at the state Capitol Wednesday.

“Our guys are not getting privy to work on these sets,” Holu said.

“They are locally here and unfortunately, with them being cost out of paradise, it really affects our members and their families here in Hawaii.”

Fevella promoted legislation this year that would have limited tax credits to productions that agreed to meet a number of transparency and hiring requirements for more local labor.

“If you don’t want to use the tax credits you can film anywhere you like,” Fevella said. “But within the tax credits you gotta fall into the purview and that’s how we are going to keep the local people working.”

Fevella complained the legislation died because he said state Film Commissioner Donne Dawson misled senators by warning that the requirements might discourage productions from coming.

Fevella disputed that. “This is Hawaii,” he said. “People are standing in line to film here but when you have one person making the decisions - that’s the discouragement, that’s the guy’s discouraging people to come here.”

Dawson’s job included reviewing applications for tax credits and facilitated other permits needed by film crews. Because Fevella filed a personnel complaint against her, Dawson couldn’t respond.

The office is under the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

In testimony, the department has said that 75-80% of film set workers are already local because the law and economic reality of production costs encourage it.

The department also says the state is working to get local workers trained to work in film industry.

Others in the industry have said that another way to grow local jobs is to encourage development of film studios and support facilities. One site suggested has been near the University of Hawaii West Oahu.

Fevella said he opposes mainland companies managing those facilities. “When you wanna bring in mainland companies to manage our studios you’re darn right I have a problem,” Fevella said.

“Everything should be local. It’s our land, it’s our place, it’s our people.”

Among Fevella’s proposals is a state film commission that would oversee the film office and put union leaders at the table with the studios.