Talk Story: Jeff Fishman

Kauai resident Jeff Fishman is a man behind the scenes.

“Pirates of the Caribbean.” “The Descendants.” “Tropic Thunder.” “Jurassic World.” He was there for them all.

Whether it means tracking down natural bug repellant for Jennifer Aniston or fetching another canned cappuccino for Harrison Ford during the filming of “Six Days, Seven Nights,” Fishman is up for the task.

“I love it all, whether it is setting up equipment or getting a bottle of water for a superstar,” he said.

Most recently, Fishman worked with a team from Sports Illustrated on the production of its Swimsuit 2015 edition, which features 22 pages of Kauai coverage — from Russian model and actress Irina Shayk standing above Waimea Canyon to Emily DiDonato on Polihale Beach.

During the 10-day shoot, Fishman drove a 15-passenger van approximately 1,800 miles, battling heavy rain in an effort to track down spots of sunshine.

“I think Mama Kauai was showing who was really in control,” he said.

Last week, The Garden Island chatted with Fishman about his career in the TV, film and media production business, his favorite memories with celebrities and what it takes to be behind the curtain.

The Garden Island: First, tell our readers what brought you to Hawaii. You know, that epic gameshow win?

Jeff Fishman: Yeah, “Wheel of Fortune.” It was like a dream, especially now that I live here on Kauai. It was 1983, the show was still pretty new, and my brother was a big fan. He came to visit me in Los Angeles and inspired me to try out along with him. Part of my winnings included a trip to Hawaii and while it was enchanting seeing the islands, I never thought I would move here. I grew up in New York City, the concrete jungle. I believe Kauai wanted me to live here for a while. Ah, the magic of life.

TGI: How long after your prize trip did you decide you needed to change your address to the Aloha State? Any regrets about making the move?

JF: Well, it was kind of decided for me many years later. Sure, I always wanted to visit Hawaii, yet the universe sent experiences my way that gave me the signals to start a new life here in 1997. At first, I felt far away from the many opportunities I had in the big cities, yet things opened up when I was offered the position of assisting actress Anne Heche during the filming of “Six Days, Seven Nights” co-starring Harrison Ford. Anne was dating Ellen DeGeneres at the time, so I got to have some fun right away. No regrets.

TGI: You’ve been in the music/TV/film production business for 35 years. What first drew you to it?

JF: I started collecting records as a young boy growing up in Queens (I was born in Brooklyn though, just to be clear). That led me to being a DJ and producing and promoting records. In junior high and high school, I got involved with theater lighting and producing shows. TV and movies fascinated me all along, so I knew I wanted to study production and communications in college. I graduated from Ithaca in 1980 and worked for B.B. King’s agent, first job out when I moved back to the city.

TGI: What is one thing most people don’t know about the business that you think they should?

JF: Well, that’s a good question. Let’s see. Most celebrities truly appreciate when they can relax and just be themselves, as any of us. There has to be a balance unless you are totally narcissistic and just crave attention all the time. In general, the business can really burn you out, especially if you disconnect from other aspects of your life that need attention, too. Like any business I suppose, it can wear you out if you are not careful. It happened to me, and that’s why I’m here. Keep calm, live aloha.

TGI: You’ve worked on a lot of movies and projects, from “The Descendants” to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Jurassic World.” What do you consider some of your career highlights?

JF: Having Harrison Ford treat me like a college buddy was cool. We raced each other in John Deere Gators at Kipu Kai and talked story while sipping iced cappuccinos. Hanging out with Ellen DeGeneres was a treat, very funny lady, as you know. Working for Dick Clark and Jane Fonda was very special and meeting other celebrities. Warning, namedrop time: Donna Summer, Madonna, George Burns, Johnny Depp, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Bill Hader, Robert Downey Jr., Judy Greer, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Carol Culver (“Grease” choreographer/dancer), who happens to live and work on Kauai now.

TGI: Do you have a favorite celebrity who you’ve met? What makes him/her so awesome?

JF: Stevie Wonder, musical inspiration extraordinaire. Hanging out one-on-one and talking with Stevie for at least 20 minutes at a club in Hollywood where I went to listen to a friend DJ is top of the list. I had met Stevie and got his autograph years before when I worked on the American Music Awards for Dick Clark productions, yet that club experience was rare indeed. While being in awe of this man and his music for years, to be with him as a human being was fortunate. I feel so blessed to have had that time with him.

TGI: The time you met Jennifer Aniston on the set of “Just Go With It” — tell us about it?

JF: Not much to tell, honestly. I showed up on the set to work with the sound crew at Kilauea Falls, and without warning this beautiful lady is standing next to me. I was a bit stunned, like a deer in the headlights. Whoa, Jennie A! It took some effort to maintain composure as there was a whole bunch of people around and she wanted to use my natural pest repellent, not that other stuff. I still have it in my backpack. Love you, Jennifer!

TGI: Are there any other celebrities that left you that starstruck?

JF: Not really. I am actually more comfortable around most celebrities than most people. I know this might be misunderstood, yet most top stars that I have met have a sensitivity about interacting with others and their environment that the average person does not have as refined. I think that is why we have stars really taking action in the world to improve the quality of life for all of us, like George Clooney. I am in awe of those that take a stand in healthy, positive ways.

TGI: What are some of the things you’ve learned being around the rich and famous?

JF: I likely have answered this a bit already, but the courage to put yourself out there is inspiring for me. I’ve been too frozen in the spotlight when I’ve tried acting, for example, which is why I enjoy working more behind the scenes and part of a production team. As a child, I also felt that I could not be myself, so I settled for less far too often and stayed “off stage.” When I become rich and famous, I’ll likely have more to say.

TGI: Most recently, you worked on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2015 project, which featured 22 pages of Kauai coverage, as well as online video and an upcoming Travel Channel series. I hear that was quite the adventure, no?

JF: Wow, indeed. First, I have to thank Kauai’s own Angela Tillson, associate producer on the project, for the opportunity. We got to work with a great professional crew with lots of personality and cruise the best locations in the world right at home. The supermodels’ work speaks for itself and Kauai’s beauty truly shined, yet she made us work for the shots you see. We put on a lot of miles driving around looking for the best lighting and scenery. I hope the results reveal more of what you want to know. The food was great, too!

TGI: Be honest. Is it hard to concentrate on driving with the likes of supermodels Irina Shayk and Hailey Clauson sitting next to you?

JF: Well, I’m a human being, I’m a man, with real feelings, yet a true professional. I trust I have my priorities in order, which is why I get hired for many of the productions that come our way in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I stay humble and respectful and commit to getting the job done, yet Irina and Hailey are dazzling and sometimes it was surreal and distracting, I must admit.

TGI: Anything we missed?

JF: All in all, I am truly thankful that I have been blessed with being on Kauai this long and to continue to do what I love to do, which includes being a wedding DJ where the stars are the couple in love. On top of that, the spirit of aloha and the people here offer me a chance to learn how to have a healthier lifestyle and keep things in better balance and perspective.

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Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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