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State budget cuts hit Hawaii Film Office

November 19, 2009 |  3:33 pm

Lost 
It's no day in paradise for Hollywood's self-described "Tropical Back Lot."

Confronting a fiscal crisis, Hawaii is laying off its film commissioner and two of her key staffers in the Hawaii Film Office in a bid to save the state money.

Two of the staffers got their pink slips today while state Film Commissioner Donne Dawson's last day on the job is Dec. 4. Only one of the four staff members will remain to handle permitting, representatives of the film office said.

Dawson, film commissioner since 2001, took the news in stride. "We've been engaged in an unprecedented fiscal crisis," she said. "Yes, it's extremely unfortunate. I do believe it poses a tremendous challenge to the industry going forward."

Several other cash-strapped states around the country have cut or gutted their film tax credit programs in the face of severe budget constraints and, in a few cases, outright scandals. Iowa suspend the state's tax credit program and launched a criminal probe into the activities of its former film chief after an audit raised questions about the office's handling of tax credits. No similar allegations have been raised in Hawaii.

Dawson's boss, Georja Skinner, lamented the decision, saying Dawson and her staff had done an "excellent job" building the film industry in Hawaii, but said the state's fiscal condition "necessitated a reduction in our workforce."

Skinner disputed reports that the film office was closing, saying she and her staff would step in to help run the office. A former freelance TV producer and Maui film commissioner, Skinner heads the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism's creative industries division. The division oversees the film office and a state-owned film studio, and manages the state 15% to 20% tax credit, which remains in effect.

Best known for TV shows "Hawaii Five-O," "Magnum P.I." and, more recently, ABC's hit show "Lost," Hawaii has never been known as a major production hub. But the state has hosted some high-profile films in recent years, including the fourth installment of "Indiana Jones" " and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

"It's important to emphasize that the Hawaii Film Office remains open for business," Skinner said.

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly in an episode of "Lost." Credit: Mario Perez / ABC

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