Critic Review: "Hawaii Previous Is Not Uninteresting"


Set in a Apocalyptic Hawaii wasteland, two members of a primitive tribe are motivated by only two things: to find something to eat, and to avoid bringing any attention to themselves. on this particular day, they fail to accomplish both

First time director Dan Zelikman rehearses with his first time actors and first time boom mic operator. (Photo: John Garcia)

Hawaii Previous was the first time that I said that I wanted to make a movie and then actually went through with it. There were dozens of ideas before this one, but excuses always overpowered my will to actually move forward. We all have to start somewhere in our filmmaking efforts, and this is where I began. 

It started with a challenge issued by The Showdown In Chinatown. Teams were given two weeks to put together a team, write a script, and hand in a finished short film. The focus of our shorts had to be Hawaii and our required prop was the Pacific Ocean. 

I remember working with my writing partner on it and we both agreed that everyone else was going to showcase Hawaii for the stunningly gorgeous place that it was. We decided on something different

What’s the opposite of the all the things Hawaii is known for?

Once we began down that road we ended up landing on a apocalyptic version of Hawaii that was more of a wasteland than a tourist attraction. What would Hawaii look like if humanity continued to destroy our Earth?What would the last piece of paradise look like after it was truly gone? And what other societal elements could we throw in our short film? (I know, this was both incredibly naive and ambitious thinking for our first film—but that's what first films are for).

Our first casting call. (Photo: Dan Zelikman)

I came up with a script summary and then my writing partner turned it into a screenplay. He hadn't written a screenplay before but he had some impressive degrees in literary writing and was a crazy smart guy. If you watch the film you'll see the writing may have been too smart for a short film like this, it almost sounded Shakespearean at times (translation: very hard to understand). While I felt that the screenplay was going to be tricky, I also knew we were running out of time and I didn't want another excuse under my belt about why I didn't make this movie. 

We pulled the trigger, and somehow convinced our friend John Garcia to be the Director of Photography. He was either incredibly nice or extremely intoxicated at the time. Then we put out a casting call to get interested actors onto the project.

It was hilarious, I didn't know what to expect—but only three people showed up to the casting. Two were my close friends who thought it would be fun to be in a movie, and one was an actor who brought a very stage-like presence to the roles. We decided to go with my friends because I knew it would be easier to work with them on my first film, plus I knew we would all have a really good time making it.

Jesse Starmer and Hugh Chou rehearse their challenging dialogue. (Photo: John Garcia)

Both actors really struggled with the dialogue. It was a combination of science fiction and something else, which made it hard to understand let alone memorize. We had a number of rehearsals before we decided to shoot, but with all of us having real jobs our production window before the film's deadline was literally over a single weekend. 

John and I scouted locations looking for a portion of Hawaii that wasn't beautiful and that could look the part of Hawaii Previous. We couldn't believe it when we saw it, but we found an area near Koko Head that had just been affected by a fire. Everything was burned and looked like it had been dead for years. It was perfect. Or so we thought, until we showed up during our shoot with our team ready to go, only to realize there was a shooting range next door that wasn't open when we were scouting it earlier. 

Our two leads captured during their opening take for Hawaii Previous. (Photo: Dan Zelikman)

As you can imagine this led to an almost impossible production. We could barely capture the actors on camera over the gunshots, and they could scarcely hear each other to properly act. We had talked about using the gunshots as "apocalyptic background noise" or something to that effect, but in the end it was so terrible that we decided to dub the entire film over in a studio. 

So at this point we ran into the following issues:

  1. No budget and almost no time.
  2. A screenplay so difficult to understand our actors could barely get their lines out. It was like learning another language.
  3. Our location proved to be visually perfect, and audibly abysmal. 


Dan and Kim Zelikman at the premier of Hawaii Previous in 2011. (Photo: John Hook)

Still, we pressed on—and somehow managed to finish Hawaii Previous and hand it in on time. I remember John driving me to the delivery checkpoint as I exported the film onto DVD. We handed it in with minutes to spare.

It screened at The Showdown In Chinatown event but that isn't saying much. The vibe was very cool because it was at a bar, but it wasn't an ideal place to watch films. You couldn't really hear the dialogue, but maybe in our case that was okay? I'm kidding. 

We did almost everything wrong on our first production, but the one thing we managed to do right was finishing. It doesn't sound like much, but saying you're going to do something and then going out and actually doing it really did a lot for my perspective on the film industry.

I learned that it was going to be hard, damn near impossible to make a great movie. Still, after everything we had just gone through—all I wanted was to do it again. I will always be thankful to our Hawaii Previous crew, the first step in what I hope to be a very long filmmaking journey.