Bringing Filmmakers To Hawaii

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - May 25, 2005
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Gina and Rann Watumull are understandably enthusiastic about the upcoming September debut of 13 episodes of 29 Down on NBC.

The Watumulls are cofounders of the locally based company, Hawaii Film Partners, which helped produce and distribute the national show that filmed in Mokuleia with a local production crew. The company selects, produces and distributes film and television shows from Hawaii to a national and international audience.

Hawaii Film Partners’ first project, 29 Down, written by D.J. MacHale, is the story of 10 children and a pilot who survive a plane crash. The story revolves around relationships, survival tactics and life lessons.

“Because the talent that is here, the caliber of our crew is first-class,” says Rann about the production, which filmed from January to March in association with Discovery Kids. “We can produce a world-class project that can compete with other projects and be completed right here in Hawaii.”

Gina agrees: “The idea that you have to import (talent, crew and content) is an idea from the past. In our experience with 29 Down, the level of expertise — everyone down to the teamsters — was great. And this is a local company; the people we work with, these are our neighbors.”

Not only are they neighbors, Rann says, they’re like family. The Watumulls boast that the local crew got to step up and take a leadership role in the production, which is important since other production companies that bring their own crews give the locals third and fourth tier positions.

There are a number of great behind-the-scenes stories about the show, including the first day of production where other planes about to land near Dillingham airfield ended up circling around the Mokuleia set, thinking the 29 Down plane was in trouble. Scenes, consequently, needed to be redone.

The idea for this company, launched in 2002, came when the Watumulls were visiting their son, who was playing soccer at University of California in Irvine. Rann talked with several people in Hollywood about the opportunities to film in Hawaii and take advantage of Act 221. One husband-and wife team, Shauna and David Jackson, who own the international distributions company Showcase Entertainment, asked the Watumulls to go into business with them.

“We really hit it off,” says Rann.

Hawaii Film Partners consists of Gina, Showcase Entertainment and Goodsill Anderson Quinn and Stifel. Rann supports the projects, but is not one of the partners.

Gina’s role is to select the projects, put the deals together and find investors. Shauna and David also help identify projects and market them worldwide. Goodsill Anderson Quinn and Stifel handles the contracts and entertainment law.

Not just any project will be distributed by Hawaii Film Partners. There are four basic criteria. First, the project needs to be something the company partners agree they can be proud of. Second, the people who present their films to the company must be good people with good reputations, and they have to be willing to work collaboratively with the company. Third, the project needs to be commercially viable as the company is approaching it from a marketing point of view. And finally, the film has to work for the investors so that they are happy with the financial return.

Gina, a Kaiser graduate and University of Hawaii international business and marketing major, has worked as an attorney for the state. Rann, a Claremont College economics and film major, made several super 8 films while he attended Punahou High School. In 1990, Rann, who maintains his job as Bank of Hawaii executive, co-wrote a documentary about Charlie Wedemeyer.

One of the challenges they face, Gina notes, is the amount of time they spend with people on different projects for the selection process.

“Sometimes what they’ve told you is not accurate, and the money that they say they have isn’t there.”

Rann adds that negotiations and contracts are sometimes a challenge.

Despite the challenges, the Watumulls hope to be involved in many more worthy projects here in the Islands.

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