HAWAII FIVE-0 Location Scouting with Timmy Chinn, Pt. 1


Ever scout for TV series film locations while on vacation?  I never have, but thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the tourist spots as well as off-the-grid locations of Hawaii Five-0 episodes.  

Sightseeing with Chinn

Timmy Chinn, Locations Manager, has quite an arsenal of stories at the ready, and I asked him to share some sites, particularly those used In Season Five.  One very well-known spot, Diamond Head Crater, has been the site of many episodes of the series, and it was transformed in the Season Five opener, “Aʻohe Kahi e Peʻe Ai” (Nowhere to Hide), into an isolated, top-secret government facility in the middle of nowhere.

How did that come about?  Chinn revealed that his quest for such a scripted facility turned up empty.  “There really is nothing like that on Oahu,” he stated.  “Something would kinda work, then there’d be no fence, or it wouldn’t look right.  It had to have a chain link fence and barbed wire.  In retrospect, it’s been almost a year, and you wouldn’t think it would have been as difficult to find as the time spent on it.  We ended up building the place in Diamond Head Crater.  We put up a fence, barbed wire, everything.”  So, if you’re out and about this summer and happen to tour Diamond Head Crater, you’ll never look at it quite the same way again.

No Such Thing on Oahu

Episode 2 of last season required Chinn to seek out a vintage book store.  The episode, “Ka Makuakane,” (Family Man), had Jerry (Jorge Garcia) spying on such a store.  Chinn set the scene, “We got the script and the boards (storyboards).  Invariably, there are pictures giving us an idea of what to look for.  And, again, we really didn’t have anything like the vintage book store on Oahu.  We actually used the Tin Can Mailman in Chinatown.  And, once we found it, we were like, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’  We try to duplicate through the description and picture that we’re given exactly what (Peter) Lenkov has in mind.  If we can’t find what he actually wants, we need to come up with something that clicks for him.”  And the Tin Can Mailman did just that.

“In Season Five’s Episode 16, [“Nanahu” (Embers)], we had to find a burnt townhouse, which is not as easy to find as one might think.  By law, burnt houses are demolished pretty quickly on Oahu, so it took us awhile to find one.  Then, we had to find a matching one that wasn’t burnt for the before and after scenes.  It turned out that the two we ended up finding were pretty close to each other and both were also only a couple miles from the studio.”

Episode 18, “Pono Kaulike” (Justice for All, presented Chinn with the challenge of finding a Colombian prison.  “We had pictures of a real one, and we were looking at low-income apartment buildings as a possible site.  Some of the buildings had some of the elements we were looking for, but not others.  One of them worked really well, but there was a pool right in the middle of the courtyard,” he laughed.  “So, that never worked.  In the end, we used the Leahi  Hospital (a real, operating hospital) two blocks from the studio.  We used the outside corridors in the back of the hospital, then added our adjustments.  It really ended up looking like a Colombian prison.”


Under Quarantine

He continued, “Then, in Episode 22 [“Hoʻamoano” (Chasing Yesterday)], we were looking for a coffee farm.  It wasn’t that finding a farm was difficult.  All coffee plantations on the island are under quarantine, and you cannot film on one.  The problem is the risk of getting bugs that are easily transmitted from one coffee farm to another into the fields.  As it turned out, in our research we found a group at the University of Hawaii called HARC (Hawaii Acgricultural Research Center).  They grow coffee and chocolate for research purposes.  They let us film at one of their locations, but even then, there were restrictions.  We had to wear plain clothes, we couldn’t go from one coffee farm to another, and we couldn’t bring in raw coffee beans.  There are a lot of coffee farms on the Big Island but not on Oahu.  The Director of HARC had a big concern about the possibility of us transmitting this bug.  I remember her attitude was pretty serious.”  In case visiting an Oahu coffee farm is on anyone’s agenda this summer, there’s only one – the Waialua Estate.

Locations of the Future

With all the locations Five-0 has shot to date, there are still others that Chinn would like to see in the series that so far have not made it onto the final cut.  He revealed, “We have been to places that have been shot on Oahu that were cut before the final episode aired.  One such place was an electronics store on King Street.  We shot there in Season Four and went back for Season Five (either Episode 24 or 25).  We scouted it, loved, it, set up props, and then on the morning of the shoot, they wrote it out.  The owners are really cool people, so hopefully they’ll let us back and we can use it for real someday.

“One other time back in Season Two (Chinn’s first season with the series), we were going to use a prominent lawyer’s office as a shipping magnate’s office.  It overlooked the harbor with gorgeous views.  He drove a really hard bargain too.  We spent a lengthy time in negotiations  and a couple of hours in the shoot, and the office wasn’t in the final cut.  I remember 30 seconds after the the episode aired, he called me and said, ‘where’s my office?’  We’ve never gone back there.

“And sometimes Jeff Downer (the producer), and I will find a mansion or quaint cottage that we’d love to use that for some reason has never fit the script.  We’re waiting for something to come up so that we can use them.”


A Time for Hiatus

Location managers in Hawaii are not yet unionized, so Chinn got his “big break” with location management when Pirates of the Caribbean filmed near his Maui home in 2007.  A native Hawaiian, when Chinn is on hiatus, he lives off the grid on Maui in a location he calls “one of the more isolated spots on the island.”  Though he cherishes times of hiatus, he is already scouting locations for scripts in Season Six, which begins filming next month.  A Hawaii Five-0 Season Six premiere date of September 25 was just announced by CBS.

Hawaii Five-0 returns with Season Six on Friday nights at 9.