A hit TV show set in Hawai’i is ending an eight-season run. What’s the local crew to do? 2,581 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"Now, this is the exact location of the camera of the title sequence, which we all know so well. Place your hands like this," as Waimea made a bracket to simulate a camera’s view in front of his face. They were standing on the valley ridge and all four held their hands in front of their faces like directors do. "Then, we slowly pan across that jungle edge to the ranch house. Then we zoom in, pan slowly, then zoom out and we keep panning across the valley as the music builds. We keep panning, panning, until we settle on the beautiful blue Pacific and a spectacular sunset."
"And up comes the Paniolo main title!" said the woman.
They all stared, squinting in the bright sunlight. There was much to see. The bright green of the valley floor that deepens to brown at the top of the jagged primeval ridgeline. The bright blue of the sky and the bright white of the billowing clouds. Waimea turned to the young girl and asked, "Can you tell me what Paniolo means?"
She proudly replied, "Hawai’i cowboy!"
"That’s right. Now we’ll head to craft services and get you some lunch. And then you can see your Aunt Amanda. She only has one fast scene today. Then I think she wants to take you to the North Shore."
At they arrived at the buffet barbeque, Waimea turned to the family and said, "It was a pleasure to have met you. Here is my card. If you need anything on your vacation, please call me. I’m a local boy. Make sure you try a little grilled Portuguese sausage, yah? It’s hard to find on the Mainland and it’s everywhere here. Savory.”
Waimea Ward thought savory was a good word. The cast and crew of Paniolo were savoring their last days. Their familiarity, long taken for granted over the last eight seasons, would soon disappear. The show was ending. Strong ties would unlace. Routines vanish. Lovers uncouple. The mood on set was underscored with unspoken goodbyes.
America and most of the world loved Paniolo. It was epic and familiar. Based on a bestselling novel, the big family saga spanned eighty-five years and followed the long life of Derby Reardon, the son of a pious missionary who traded the family business of God for real estate. The human tragedy of Hawai’i history moved the plot and Derby’s rise as a cattle and land baron. While very much a soap opera, Paniolo attracted a large male audience. It was a business story of risk and reward, competition and calamity. During a deep recession, Paniolo was entrepreneurial and inspiring. Plot lines included the Hawai’ian monarchy, whaling, commerce, race, religion, foreign interventions, industrial innovation and the overwhelming power of love.
By the middle of Season Two, cast and crew were a well-oiled machine. Grateful for the steady work, everybody got along.
Waimea had started the job eight years ago as an Assistant Location Coordinator. With his local connections, he’d helped the production avoid the terrors that make business in Hawai’i so unpleasant and confounding. Waimea seemed to know everyone. He became invaluable. The job was holoholo, like a leisurely walk in the park for him. Waimea became the ambassador and concierge for the show. When the head of a network arrived, Waimea bird-dogged the exec and his entourage until they got back on the plane with a lei around their sunburned necks and a smile on their faces. He had taught Cameron Diaz, Tom Hiddleston and Selena Gomez to surf. Word of his hospitality and insider knowledge had spread throughout the industry and Waimea became the unofficial go-to-guy in Hawai’i. Or so he hoped. He was more than anxious about his next job.
Waimea knocked on the door of the shiny silver Airstream trailer, "Dr. Lavery?" He opened the door and closed it behind him. After medical school at USC, Amanda was hired as technical advisor for a TV hospital show. Soon she did a small walk-on role. Better parts kept coming. Eventually Amanda danced into a crazy new life playing Kealoa, her popular character on Paniolo. Now Amanda was wearing a short towel around her slim waist. He put his tanned arms around her. His kiss was aimed for passion, which she met but quickly ended by turning around.
"Your niece is a cutie pie. I gave the family the 411. They’re having lunch." Still in his embrace, he whispered mischievously into the back of her ear, "I thought we could have lunch right here…"
He held her close and smelled her wet hair. To end their three-year affair, they had planned on two weeks to lounge around Fiji. They would say goodbye there. Then she would head back to Los Angeles and he would surf any blues away in Tavarua. From the beginning, they both knew that’s all it ever would be, an affair, since her career was on the move and he was an islander.
She said tenderly, "Wai-Wai, I can’t go to Fiji. On Friday I have a screen test in L.A. with Matt Damon. A movie. A big one!"
"I guess our long goodbye will be a short one. Leap ten steps forward."
"My agent says they’ve been through a millon girls and they’ve been watching me. They want a screen test. For the chemistry."
"Congrats!" He kissed her. She kissed him back. He pulled her chin up and kissed her again.
"Wai, Sometimes I think you’re just too chill."
"Nah. This scrapes. But we ride with the tide. Plus," he said seductively, "you know where I’ll always be."
If Waimea were to ever see her again, it would not be in this state. Amanda hated Hawai’i. Just hearing the word gave her a case of island fever. She hated the food. She was dulled by the people. She liked a faster pace and citizens with ambition. But Waimea wouldn’t be anywhere else but Hawai’i. He had long roots and history. Near Diamond Head, Point Ward was named after his great-great grandfather Hiram Ward, a Boston whaler who’d landed in Honolulu, fallen in love with a princess and never went to sea again. Hiram’s story was wrapped into the script of Paniolo’s first season.
There was a knock on the door. Outside a squeaky male voice said, "I’m Terrence Briner from People. I’m early. Hope that’s OK."
"Give me a minute and I’ll be right out," Amanda said excitedly, turning to Waimea. "People magazine — an interview. It all happened this morning, right after the screen test call."
Waimea slipped behind her, reached around and cupped his hands over her bare breasts. "Just pretend I’m not here."
She laughed and pushed him away, She tossed her towel and grabbed a brightly patterned pareo which she tied around her waist. "I want something tropical and sexy. Like Kealoa." Amanda dug deep into a wide drawer and pulled out an orange bikini top with bright blue flowers, "What do you think?"
"The blue picks up your eyes. And I’ll grab a flower for your hair."
Waimea kissed her on the cheek and left the Airstream. Outside stood a short wiry urbanite who was hatted and clothed so that sunlight never touched his naked skin. Zinc oxide covered his nose. "People magazine, I presume?" Waimea offered his hand.
The journalist shook it, "Yes, Terrence Briner."
"Waimea Ward. Third Associate Producer. I taught Dr. Lavery how to surf. I need to run an errand, but I wanted to say Aloha. Here is my card. If there is anyone on these islands you want to meet, I probably know them. If there is something you want to see, I know it well. I’m local and at your service."
"Thanks," Terrence produced an iPad and fumbled with a microphone attachment. "Wait." He pushed a button, swiped a screen and aimed it at Waimea. "You taught Dr. Lavery to surf?"
Waimea knew the drill. He leaned in, spelled his name and gave his phone number. "Dr. Lavery is as beautiful as she is athletic. She was riding the waves within the first half hour. On the show, she did all of her own surfing stunts. When you see Kealoa on screen standing on a hundred pound Koa wood board, that is Dr. Lavery all the way." Waimea changed tone, "Anything you need…"
“Excellent,” the journalist smiled, "I may have more questions."
"I’d be grateful if you could toss my name around as a resource. I’m the Hollywood go-to-guy in Hawai’i." Then Waimea marched up the hillside into the jungle. He didn’t have to walk far.
He plucked three plumeria flowers of different sizes and after a short search found an orange hibiscus that might match Amanda’s bikini top. He took a red one as well. Waimea wondered what the magazine’s angle would be. There was nothing new that had not already been written about Amanda. Waimea snuck around the backside of her trailer and knocked on the window. He reached in and set the flowers down as she gasped delightedly.
"So pretty," she whispered, "Mahalo."
"Hey, wahine, just tell People how much you love Hawai’i."
She rolled her eyes.
Waimea’s resume was extensive and varied for a man in his forties. Paniolo was the longest he had ever been gainfully employed. Surf instructor, handyman, tour guide, boat skipper, dive instructor. Once, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Waimea had joined the Honolulu Police force. A week into training, all agreed he didn’t have the personality for it. Lighthearted and barefoot was not in that job description. Like many a waterman, Waimea needed a flexible schedule, one that will allow for a sudden swell. Thank God his rent was cheap.
Fiji. Amanda. Dammit. Waimea had no pressing responsibilities so he took a walk down toward the beach. Salt water heals all. He loped along a cow trail that took him from the cool of the mountain shade into the warm sunlight. His bare feet were stained the red of the earth.
Tomorrow, Paniolo would shoot its very last scene. After the elderly patriarch Derby Reardon died, leaving the family in disarray, his seven children, each representing a sin or a virtue, played out their hand. Over the last several days, the Reardon matriarch suddenly and surprisingly rallied to take control. With great fire, she demanded that everyone in the clan drive into Honolulu, together, united, to go to church. The mother and her adult children will get into their new 1941 convertible Packard touring car and make the long early morning drive out of the valley. As the sun slowly rises, much screen time will be given to the quiet exotic beauty of the Hawai’ian landscape. Dialogue is minimal: instead there are twenty pages of close-ups and a few flashbacks. The Packard rolls along the unpaved road and everyone is lulled into themselves. Suddenly, the sky explodes above them and a squadron of Japanese Zeros scream across the valley floor toward Pearl. The thundering V formation flies low to the Packard, lifts, then disappears below the edge of the mountain horizon. Slow motion will register the fear, confusion and dawning realizations. The matriarch at the wheel will speed up, as if giving chase. The road begins to climb. The Packard and the Reardon family run forward to an unseen and unknown new world. The fade to black will be slow.
Waimea laughed to himself. Because there would be no Zeros, just CGI. He was still in grade school when Fox shot Tora! Tora! Tora! on the island. As the son of the Chief of Police, Waimea got to ride in a torpedo bomber. He even met Joseph Cotton and Martin Balsam. A pretty actress in a nurse’s uniform gave him a very adult kiss. His dad had been in high school when the Japanese attacked in 1941. Waimea remembered the old stories.
His feet sank into the cool wet sand at shore’s edge. The red mud colored the tide and washed away. The horizon was clear and blue. He shook his head, remembering the saying that, "When a door closes, another opens." Waimea never worried much but now he needed a purpose. Like everyone does.
His iPhone rang. "Drew. How’s L.A.?"
"It was fine when I left it this morning. I’m at the airport."
"You should have called. I would have picked you up."
"You on set?"
"Great. I’ll see you in an hour," said Drew, Paniolo’s Executive Producer and Waimea’s boss,
Waimea pocketed his cell and hunkered across the beach and walked up the long green valley with the wide-open blue roof.
Uncle Billy Baya was gently strumming his guitar, playing a quiet unconscious soundtrack to every conversation nearby. He called out, "Waimea, brah. Come heya." He loved Waimea like a son. Billy B had grown quite famous over the last eight years, playing the part of the crusty old coot ranch manager. His long life as a Waikiki minstrel had been hard until Waimea got him the role.
Sanders, too, was waiting for Drew; Waimea’s buddy had been off payroll for two weeks and also was looking for his next job.
Waimea and Sanders had been a dangerous duo. Their antics were incorrigible until Dr. Amanda Lavery joined the show.
Now everything and everyone would soon be a distant memory.
Just then, a middle-aged pear shape of a man walked toward them, carrying a large briefcase and a leather laptop bag. Drew Ross had been physically MIA from the Paniolo set for the last four months. He said, "Gentlemen, it is good to see you again. Aloha!"
Uncle Billy B laughed, "You bringin’ us jobs?"
"Gentlemen, I am sorry to arrive empty handed." Drew was a mainlander with a long list of credits. With this well-oiled production crew in place, Drew had been hoping to find a new property in the islands. "I got close to a CSI: Honolulu. They really threw it around, but it’s not gonna happen. No one wants the Hawai’i headache. Plus, thematically a CSI is too close to 5-0. No dice. But I tried." He kept glancing at Waimea. "Then I called all the agency lit departments, but nothing popped. Now I have to get caught up. Waimea, can you follow me to the trailer?"
When they were alone, Drew spoke quietly and confidentially. "Waimea, I hope you can help me with something on the QT. Do you remember my daughter Melissa?"
"My wife is stoned or clueless and I really didn’t know what was going on back at the house here. Now Melissa is missing. Her phone is off or gone. When I spoke to her last week, she said, ‘I am going to devote my life to finding God.’ I thought that was just horseshit, but now I think it means something."
"You got a recent picture?"
"I sent it to your email. Can you, see what you can find out before I call the police? It might just be a giddy girl thing. Or a boyfriend. Or maybe it’s drugs again.”
"Absolutely," replied Waimea, "I’m jumping on it now."
They clasped hands. Waimea loped towards his El Camino.
He’d found a job.