Maui’s local film industry making a mark with Moku Moku production in Makawao
May 11, 2023, 1:54 PM HST
* Updated May 17, 2:16 PM
Locally produced comedy series, Moku Moku began filming its first season on Tuesday in Makawao after a pilot test launch earlier this year. The show is now producing episodes 2-6 following a blessing at the production basecamp Upcountry.
The series is the work of writer and unit production manager Kawika Hoke who sought to bring the day-to-day life of rural residents to the screen with a comedic take on their interactions and adventures.
Opportunities for rising local talent at home
An IMDb summary captures the perspective of the comedy, explaining that “At its core Moku Moku is a tongue-in-cheek approach to life’s bigger conversations… More than just a comedy, Moku Moku is an opportunity to start a conversation about the trials and tribulations of living in paradise while trying to keep a perspective on the things that matter most to us.”
The leading cast includes Maui actor/radio DJ/model Patty Lee as Leilani, singer/actor Bronson Varde as Kimo, and Maui-based comedian Chino LaForge as Pili. There’s also familiar faces like radio host/comedian Kathy Collins as Alina and K. Kaleo Carter as Uncle.
In an Akakū Upstairs event which screened the pilot episode on March 16, Varde said, “I see myself in Kimo because he’s just a local braddah trying to figure things out… That’s what the show is all about–about bringing different perspectives. We have people in the show that are playing characters that are true to themselves.”
Labor of Love and Inspiration
Producer/AD Brad Starks called the project “a labor of love” that came together through years of collaboration. Writer/director Jonathan Melikidse said that when Hoke came to him with the idea, and over the course of two days they had 16 story ideas.
“The characters just started developing and just flowed naturally. By taking Kawika’s personal stories… I’ve been on island for over 20 years–taking kind of my impressions of life on the island, and then just everybody I’ve met… we just put those stories together… ” Melikidse said at the Akakū screening.
Hoke said a lot of his family and friends have inspired the stories. “As a Hawaiian who had to grow up on the continent most of what I know as a Hawaiian was maintained by my kupuna and seen every time I came back to visit; my family that managed to stay acted as guides in understanding our triumphs and struggles. Now living my life on Maui, I see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same (for better or worse) and this is my commentary on it all,” Hoke tells Maui Now.
Soul satisfying jobs with a light footprint
Council member Gabe Johnson and Maui Film Commissioner Tracy Bennett were among those on hand for Tuesday’s blessing. During opening remarks at Council this week Johnson spoke of the untapped potential in Maui’s creative and film industry.
“We often hear that the jobs that we have just aren’t cutting it. Our young adults are leaving. The tourism industry has been … extractive to our resources and our people. Well as chair of the adept committee, I’m laser focused on helping us bring diversity to economy, and not put all our golden eggs in one preverbial basket,” he said.
Incentives and growth for the island’s film industry
As an incentive for filming in the islands, the Hawaiʻi Film Office notes that the state of Hawaiʻi gives a 27% tax break on all production expenditures on the neighbor islands.
“This in turn attracts large film productions from Hollywood. It’s important, but as we’ve seen with ongoing writer strikes at some big Hollywood studios, we can’t depend on a centralized model to tell the stories of our community, and nor should we,” said Johnson.
In his remarks Johnson said he is encouraging more locally based film and arts. “Here in our county, film festivals, Akakū, independent films, University of Hawaiʻi Maui College, muralists, comic book artists, crafts people, writers, creators, and youth-based organizations like Stem Works and Maui Huliau Foundation are all at the ready… for a growing place-based story telling, creative industry.”
This also comes as Hawaiʻi’s first boys’ love drama “My Partner,” premiered earlier this week at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The film written by Maui’s Lance D. Collins and directed by Native Hawaiian visual storyteller Keliʻi Grace — tackled themes of cultural identity, immigration and land stewardship. Lead actor Kaipo Dudoit also landed the role of David Kawena in Disney’s Live Action Lilo & Stitch, currently filming on Oʻahu.
What’s ahead for the Mokuverse?
Hoke said there’s a slate of more films and television coming to Maui. “[We’re] looking to announce our streaming schedule soon for Moku Moku and we’re aiming to be in production on a Feature Film Action/Romance/Comedy this fall. Lots of good stuff on the horizon and these are only the start of what we hope to be a sustainable economy that can lift all the local talent. We’re certainly blessed to have the support from our Film commission, County Council, and the Mayor’s Office to make sure this can be a success for years to come,” said Hoke.
According to council members, public funding has been approved for arts and cultural grants that provide an important investments to support education, rental equipment, and other needs of local creators in Maui County.
“You can now go on Netflix and watch films that aren’t Hollywood-centric… It’s time for us to start telling our stories. Film, documentaries, TV shows and artwork made by residents about Hawaiʻi–like telling Hawaiʻi stories that will bring the culture and the environmental stewardship to the forefront–thereby lifting up our community, creating identities, deepening connections, and sharing Hawaiʻi’s unique perspective,” said Johnson.