Hawaii’s Hyper-Growth Digital Media Industry

by | Oct 24, 2021 | Blog

Insider estimates peg digital media production in Hawai‘i during COVID-19, growing as much as 3 times previous levels making it an uncommon bright spot in the middle of the pandemic. The trend also make it one of Hawaii’s fastest growing industries. This is no surprise to binge watchers and those observing the number of productions shooting around town and the number of studios being built. Globally, the appetite for shooting locations is evidenced by studios gearing up huge production budgets such as Netflix, which last year alone spent 6 billion in production. More importantly, digital media offers creative careers to islanders that allow them stay in the islands, earn living-wages and be future-proofed in positions far away from computer automation.

HBM Features Creative Lab Hawai‘i & ID8 Studios

Hawaii Business Magazine, October 2021, featured an article by Sterling Higa entitled, “How Collaboration Creates New Ideas and Projects”, centering on ideas on how the right blend of collaboration, mentorship, infrastructure and information sharing can turn Hawai‘i into a more creative, innovative and prosperous place. Digital media was covered in the article, excerpts shown below (see online article »).


“…Innovation Economy
Access to space and mentorship are two key factors in fostering innovation, according to Georja Skinner, chief officer of the Creative Industries Division of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

“In order to have a thriving innovation and creative economy, you have to have workforce and talent development, you need spaces or infrastructure – including broadband in regional communities so we distribute this opportunity equally – and access to capital and mentorship,” she says.

Creative Lab Hawai‘i, a Creative Industries Division program, was founded in 2012. It focuses on immersive programs for creatives (similar to entrepreneur and startup accelerators), including playwrights, script writers, producers, web-series creators, musicians, animators, mobile app developers and fashion designers.

‘It’s an accelerator for media and music, now moving into visual arts,’ says Skinner. ‘The program develops the business skills and hones the craft of artists in those sectors to be able to compete in the global intellectual property marketplace.’

In addition to interactive immersives and workshops, Creative Lab also hosts informational events, including free legal webinars. In June 2021, the lab held webinars on option agreements, work-for-hire agreements and collaboration agreements.

Over the years, Creative Lab participants said that they needed public spaces where they could collaborate: writing scripts, working on projects, practicing pitches. Skinner says that because most creatives in the state work day jobs and hustle their art on the side, few have access to dedicated space for their artistic projects.

So the Creative Industries Division partnered with the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. and issued a request for proposal to address this shortage of space and infrastructure. Bizgenics Foundation, a nonprofit, won the bid to design and build a pilot project to address the shortage of space and infrastructure for multimedia production. The result is ID8 Studios, a cutting-edge soundstage and production environment housed in the Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Kaka‘ako.

Creative or Insane?
‘Very few creators start with the target audience. They start with their own inner view of the world, and then they go and find an audience,’ says Steve Sue, a creative consultant and chairman of Bizgenics Foundation.

‘I think you have to be a little bit insane to be an entrepreneur, and I include myself in that class of people. But that insanity, that fresh look at the world is what’s needed. … To have the right fresh view, you have to have an immense amount of knowledge. You have to be extremely multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary to succeed in the space.’

‘Most people don’t make it in innovation because they don’t know what they don’t know,’ Sue says. ‘Hawai‘i actually suffers from that in significant ways because our frame of reference here is very tight. For example, we don’t have a lot of industries here that the Mainland has.’

In addition to the lack of industry exposure, Hawai‘i creatives lack some of the resources and infrastructure needed to produce at a high level, says Sue.

In the book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell argues that Bill Gates would not have achieved his phenomenal success as a software developer without having had access to large computers as a teenager, years before personal computers existed. This is obvious to the point of truism, and it illustrates the rationale behind projects like Id8 Studios, which seek to provide technological infrastructure that a lone individual cannot afford.

‘ID8 is a tremendous opportunity for this state. … It’s a pretty darn good starting point, and with a little bit of gear in here, this could really rock and roll, and it would really bring our people up to that full capacity creative level that would be every bit commensurate with anywhere else in the world, LA for example, or New York,’ says Sue.

‘If we don’t put in the gear, then we cut ourselves short.’ Industry moves fast, he says, and ‘our people will be literally second-class citizens because they didn’t have the time on the xR stage or with the motion capture suits or whatever is the latest, greatest VR technology. But if we fund this well, we have every chance because our people here are proven creatives.'”