It was a serene morning in scenic Maunawili Valley in late August. Retiree Michael Carnes was drinking a cup of coffee when the first blasts of what sounded like gunfire rang out.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” he told the Kailua Neighborhood Board last week.
His first thought was that the nearby Trinity Christian School was under attack, just as schools on the mainland have been targeted, he told the board.
Carnes quickly dialed 911. The operator told him not to worry — it was “Hawaii Five-0” filming in his neighborhood.
As it has since turned out, some neighbors were informed that a film crew was coming, while Carnes and many others were not.
The bigger issue is whether “loud intrusive ammo discharges should be allowed in quiet bedroom communities at all,” Carnes said.
Children at Trinity Christian School in Maunawili heard the simulated gunfire from a “Hawaii Five-0” shoot on Aug. 28. The violent scene was being shot across the street from the school.
He would like to see a ban on simulated gunfire by the entertainment business in Hawaii.
“It unnecessarily brings the violence and negative aspects of our society right onto our doorsteps — with potential real emotional impact,” Carnes told the board.
At the board meeting Thursday, state Sen. Laura Thielen said she would request that the State Film Office ask film production companies if it is possible to dub in gunfire as a sound effect instead of shooting what sounds like real gunfire in residential neighborhoods.
In an interview, Donne Dawson, Hawaii film commissioner, said state officials will ask film industry executives to consider taking steps to minimize simulated gunfire in Hawaii.
“We are going to do everything in our power to have a serious conversation with our productions,” Dawson said, adding that she would also broach the subject with colleagues at the Association of Film Commissioners International, which is meeting this week in Russia.
But Dawson warned that prohibiting simulated gunfire would possibly make Hawaii less attractive in the international competition for film venues because no place, to her knowledge, bans it, “even places affected by mass shootings,” she said.
Film Commissioner Walea Constantinau, of the Honolulu Film Office, the agency that issued the permit for the shoot, said that a “couple of glitches” caused some notification problems in Maunawili, but that normally simulated gunfire doesn’t upset residents.
“In the past this has not been an issue,” she said in an interview. She said that perhaps the contours of the Maunawili Valley caused the noise to reverberate in other areas.
“Hawaii Five-0” executives did not respond to requests for comment.
The setting for the fictional violent confrontation was an Italianate mansion across the street from Trinity school, which is located at the intersection of Maunawili and Auloa roads, and neighbors believe the simulated gunfire came from a nearby taro field. It’s a striking spot, with Mount Olomana as a backdrop.
Some local residents were startled by gunfire near this Maunawili home and later learned it was the site of a “Hawaii Five-0” film shoot.
In an email to Carnes, Amire Soliman, a location manager for “Hawaii Five-0,” apologized for the “negative impact” the gunfire had on the community, noting that the series has introduced simulated gunfire in neighborhoods “many times” without causing concern.
Soliman said they had notified “immediate neighbors” but not others living nearby, to avoid drawing a crowd of fans who would interfere with production.
Roadside electronic message boards that would have warned residents of simulated gunfire were mistakenly not delivered, she said.
Maunawili resident Susan Dowsett, a member of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, was one of those not notified. She was jogging when she heard three separate shootings, each about five rounds. It sounded like real gunfire to her.
“I wondered if the Department of Land and Natural Resources was shooting pigs in the marsh,” she said.
A retired police officer who was formerly assistant chief of the Honolulu Police Department, Dowsett said she was not alarmed. But she believes others would have been.
“The average person would probably be frightened,” she said. “Is it really necessary in a residential neighborhood to simulate gunfire?”
Irene Kano, principal of the Mauka Campus of Trinity Christian School, said school officials found out that “Hawaii Five-0” was filming in the area the day before, when the school’s administrative assistant, Corinne Ehara, found a sodden, crumpled piece of paper on the ground near the front entrance to the school.
It said that a film crew was coming and that the actors would engage in simulated gunfire.
“If she hadn’t seen that piece of paper on the ground and hadn’t taken the initiative to pick it up, we wouldn’t have known,” Kano said in an interview.
The notification from the film company looked like trash, and Kano said she threw it away. But she told the school’s teachers about it.
When the gunfire started, the preschoolers were startled and looked to their teachers for reassurance.
They were told it was just pretend.
About 160 children attend the school, ranging in age from 3 to 9 years old.
Without the chance discovery of the paper, when the gunfire began, “I would have gone into lockdown,” Kano said.
In an interview, Kano said the film company should have done more to tell her what was happening so she could prepare for it.
“I’m all for the entertainment industry but I should have been personally contacted,” she said. “Not just telling people with a flyer.”
Not everyone was unhappy that “Hawaii Five-0” made an appearance in Maunawili.
Karl Harbottle, a TV series camera grip who serves as president of the Maunawili Community Association, said his 6-year-old daughter attends Trinity and thought it was thrilling to have the film crew operating near the school.
“Hawaii Five-0” has sought to make amends. It provided free ice cream to area residents at a movie screening last week.
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Kirstin Downey is a reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat. A former Washington Post reporter and author of several books, she splits her time between Hawaii and Washington, D.C. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org