The Shooting Of Hawaii Five-0
An Exercise In
Blue

By: Frank Phillips ASC

 

 

 

Last May I packed my bags, put on my best "Aloha" shirt, and took off for Hawaii.

I had signed on as Director of Photography for Jack Lord's "HAWAII Five-0" television series. I was, of course, sent off with the usual quota of good-natured kidding that goes along with receiving a "soft" assignment.

In January, with 24 hour-long segments in the can, the success of the series assured, and CBS-TV already planning a second season, I came home to Hollywood.

When the wheels of my aircraft touched down, for the first time in eight months I felt that I had stepped off of a treadmill. Hawaii is a great place to live and work. In fact, I believe that it will become an increasingly important factor in the film production industry.

However, combining this show with Hawaii's climate and environment resulted in anything but a soft touch. In fact, from the first day of production it was run, run, run.

From the beginning, the producers planned to take advantage of Hawaii's natural settings as background for the show. The theme involves the work of a special four-man state police unit captained by Jack Lord. Their headquarters are established on a makeshift soundstage built by CBS in an old warehouse. The only other standing set, the "governors office", was also located there.

One tip-off to the amount of location cinematography is that we used no process photography. Almost all of our backgrounds were real. If we had a scene that involved characters driving through Honolulu, we mounted a camera on the car and hid a soundman in the back seat.
cover of the July 1969 issue of American Cinematographer
Sequence inside a shrine called for subtle, low-key mood lighting. Most such scenes were filmed on location.

In many ways, filming "HAWAII FIVE-0 provided a great opportunity for me to innovate. No one had ever attempted to originate a series from Hawaii. The work was hard. It took eight days to complete a typical hour-long segment. Each segment involved working at some 35 to 40 different locations. The latter was a problem. Most of our production was done on the island of Oahu, where despite the tropical atmosphere, traffic and noise were constantly with us.

It was a real challenge just moving with some efficiency from one outdoor location to another. We were fortunate in that Eastman Kodak's new color negative film (5254) became readily available just about the time that we were going into production. Initially, I used this film, with its recommended daylight exposure index of 64 and tungsten light exposure index of 100, for all interiors. It provided us with flexibility in several ways.

Hawaii gets hot and humid during the summer months. While most interiors were air-conditioned, they were generally not filmed on our soundstage. We worked in the old King's palace, on estates, in hospitals, in schools, all over. Thus we had a constant situation where the soundman would shut off the air-conditioning. Immediately, members of the cast would begin to perspire.

And there I was with my "hot" lights.

Solution: In these situations, I took advantage of the new color negative's extra speed (twice as fast as Eastman's Color Negative Film 5251) by cutting my lighting in half. More often than not, I worked interiors with 100 foot-candles or less.

As a result, about 80 percent of our interior footage was force processed one or two stops. We incurred no noticeable increase in granularity. In fact, the effect was about the same as shooting the old negative with twice as much light. My experience with the new film indicated to me that it is even "faster" than Kodak advertises. Generally, I rated it for an exposure index of 125. Also, I found color renditions to bee a bit truer than those produced with the old negative.

I also reduced the light level quite a bit wherever mobility was a factor in production. Indoors at the warehouse we generally worked with two 750-amp generators. However, for quick moves through Honolulu's torturous traffic, we loaded a small, portable generator and minimum lighting equipment into a station wagon.

I used as little as 20 to 30 foot-candles for night exteriors and achieved some surprisingly good results. We even recorded some things on film that we didn't see while we were shooting. This was particularly true when shooting outdoors at night. We often depended upon the lights of the city as backgrounds and used little or no artificial light in the foreground.
Director of Photography Frank Phillips lines up the camera for shooting on one of the countless locations
setting up to shoot a location sequence in Honolulu Harbor

One sequence that I particularly recall involved a scene where we had a small girl running through the crowd on a main street during the evening. We held an Arriflex camera in the back of a convertible and followed her through the streets using no artificial lighting. Even I was convinced that we were going to lose her. However, we force processed the film two stops and she was clear as daylight.

I should point out that most of the time that we were in production, I was literally flying blind. Before leaving for the islands, I had opportunity to test the new color negative film. However, once I was there, I never saw a print until it was on the air. Raw negative (because of the heat and humidity) was stored by Eastman Kodak, in Honolulu, under environmentally controlled conditions. We drew our film stock only as needed.

Film was flown to Hollywood for processing the same day that it was shot. All editing was done at the CBS facility on the mainland; thus I never saw an answer print or dailies.

I also rarely had an opportunity to pre-plan a scene. Our many location moves took up so much time that I generally arrived on a scene just in time to set up and shoot. The director, his assistant or the production manager, scouted out locations in advance; however, by the time my crew arrived, all lighting decisions had to be made on the spot.

I owe a lot to my crew which included camera operator Bobby Morrison, assistants Bob Marta and Mike Seetan, head grip Larry Melton, and electrician Danny Bucke. About 80 percent of the crew, like the cast, was Hawaiian. While there was a lot of enthusiasm, and a good deal of talent, few of the natives had much experience.

The speed of the new film paid one unexpected dividend. I felt that the new film was sometimes "too fast" for normal daylight exposure. However, by adding a neutral density filter and a Kodak Wratten 85 filter, I was able to create results that were pleasing. On overcast, or rainy days, we cashed in on the film speed by simply removing the two filters.

This was an important capability, since it wasn't too unusual with all of our exteriors for a cloud to float right onto our location or for it to drizzle quite suddenly. In these cases, we just shot through the rain and/or clouds as though they weren't there. I only recall our shutting down once-and then for only three hours-because of bad weather.

One of the biggest technical problems that we had to cope with was the overall blue cast that Hawaii's abundant sky and water gave to everything. Any light we used that wasn't fully color corrected for daylight, such as quartz day lites, would show too much red in the faces.

For this series I tried to dramatize the beautiful skies by using polorized light filters. In fact, for shooting interior-to-exterior through the windscreen, I made special gelatin, neutral density filters combined with Kodak Wratten 85 filters. These were set over the windows, making it much easier to balance interior light.

On exteriors, the new color negative showed to its best advantage on darker days, when its color rendition was truest and the opportunity for creating dramatic moods was best.

I feel that the show-from the scenic point of view- got better as we went along. Experience taught us how to use Hawaii's natural environment to great advantage. After all, why go to Hawaii in the first place if you are going to do a lot of shooting in back alleys and on soundstages?

Thus, we learned to make more and better use of the island's picturesque, natural sets, whether they were beaches or dimly lit nightclubs. In all cases, we rode the speed of the new film to its ultimate peak, depending upon natural light as much as we could. This provided for mobility and for an air of naturalness.

Only once did this confidence in the new film lead to a problem. We had a stunt man jump over the side of a building one night. He was wearing black clothes. Our camera was on the ground, pointed almost 90 degrees up/ I lost sight of the man as he swung over the building, but assumed that we had picked him up on film.

He was plainly seen as long as he was backgrounded by the building. However, when he swung out, his black suit melted into the black sky and we lost his image. It was the only time that the new film let us down.

The real challenge was working in Hawaii, day by day, show by show. This often required long hours and a tiring routine. There were few easy answers and a great deal of innovation was required. Most of our crew started out relatively inexperienced. However, they made very few serious mistakes and contributed much by their enthusiasm.

Would I do it again?

The Hawaiians call a first-time visitor to their island a "Malahini". Literally this means "tourist". Someone who comes back to the islands is called a "Kamaaina". A rough translation would be "old timer". When I left Hawaii my native crew and friends said, "Aloha Kamaaina."

I look forward to returning some day.

 
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