State of Incentives: Hawaii

The state of Hawaii laid off most of its film office employees, to an outcry from film industry executives and artists who warned that Hawaii may miss out on some lucrative Hollywood projects.

Four of the six staffers in the film industry branch, including state film commissioner Donne Dawson, were on a list of more than 1,100 state worker layoffs in November.

Another staffer in the film office has retired, so only the manager of the Hawaii Film Studio at Diamond Head would remain.

Jean Higgins, co-executive producer of the hit TV drama “Lost,” told lawmakers that the layoffs could influence how Hollywood considers Hawaii for future projects. She said her first telephone call when scouting locations is the local film office.

“You’re essentially telling the film industry, ‘Don’t come here, we don’t want you,’ ” she said.

Entertainer Willie K was also blunt. “If you take this out, both nationally and internationally, we’re screwed,” he said.

The film office coordinates permits and tax credits for film and TV projects and helped generate $146 million in spending in the Islands in 2008.

The office processes close to 1,000 permits a year and helps certify production and high tech tax credits. Office staffers act as troubleshooters when obstacles arise between filmmakers and state and county agencies.

It was suggested the film industry should have a role in financing the film office. Fees on the film industry, as an example, could be used for a special fund that may help insulate the film office from future general-fund budget cuts.