How Was Your Day . . . Hawaii Location Scout? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

How Was Your Day . . . Hawaii Location Scout?

How Was Your Day . . . Hawaii Location Scout?

By Libby Coleman


Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers. 

By Libby Coleman

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Stephanie Spangler
Oahu, Hawaii

Today’s gone from 0 to 100. I just got an SOS from a stills shoot on another island that urgently needs to relocate to Oahu due to weather. Usually, I just sit around, and then suddenly the phone will ring, and someone’s asking me to come here, do this, do that. It’s very difficult to plan my life because I have to cancel all the time. 

My career has spanned 39 years, managing and scouting locations for movies, television, commercials. My father had been a naval aviator stationed in Hawaii in the early ’50s, and then in 1968 he met the executive producer of Hawaii Five-0 and set up the production, finding sites for them to film. I believe it was the first TV series filmed entirely on location, away from the Hollywood studios. My dad died at 94, and he didn’t stop working until he was 93. He showed me the work ethic that so few people have. He really was an inspiration. My brother took over location managing, which wasn’t even a title then, for Hawaii Five-0. I was a portrait artist living in Europe. When I moved back, he trained me to work with him too. 

My brother and I: We are one. When someone calls either one of us, they get two heads of knowledge. Our parents brought us up to be loving and not to fight but to uplift each other. My brother took a gamble hiring a woman back when women didn’t do this at all. This was the ’70s. More often women did hair and makeup. It’s hard work. There’s no pension. No health benefits. It’s long hours. Sometimes we get up at 2:30 a.m. to be at a site. 

In the beginning, it was the Wild West. In 1978, a company for a Bowery Banks commercial came here with Joe DiMaggio. That was my first big job. Between my brother and me, we’ve unearthed a lot of the locations you’ll see in films today from Hawaii. One of the most beautiful spots I’m proud of establishing is Kualoa Ranch — used by Jurassic Park

Film projects were coming to the islands all the time. We called Hawaii “Hollywood’s back lot.”

Oahu’s at the heart of Hawaii’s commerce and business. All film infrastructure is in place on this island, and we’re capable of servicing three feature or TV film projects simultaneously. I started out doing a lot of movies of the week and miniseries, some commercial projects. Then, film projects were just coming to the islands all the time.  We called Hawaii “Hollywood’s back lot.” Now my repeat client base is mostly top-flight commercial production houses from L.A. and New York. I get so many referrals from people I’ve worked with over the years, it almost feels like one long visit from family. 

Although I have 150,000 to 200,000 photos of Oahu alone digitized on my computer, the ideas for locations are mostly stored in my head. Clients will send me a concept, an idea, a feeling, and then my mind goes through my files. Still, I’m constantly looking for new locations, driving down random roads. If I see an interesting grouping of trees, I’ll pull over. If I see a sign that says “Keep Out,”  that tells me, “Stephanie, Enter Here.” I’ll hike over the chain and gingerly yell “Yoo-hoo!” I’ll apologize for trespassing and explain I really needed to know if this was a place we could look at for filming. People are just so lovely. So cooperative. Sometimes I get tears in my eyes.

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