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Hawai‘i’s creative industry charts 2.0 path to the future

Posted on Mar 30, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
Team members in the new ID8 Studios, a public/private partnership between HTDC, Bizgenics Foundation and CID/ DBEDT.

Team members in the new ID8 Studios, a public/private partnership between HTDC, Bizgenics Foundation and CID/ DBEDT. Photo provided by: Rex Maximilian.

While some of us have been home binge-watching, Hawai‘i’s creative industry has embarked on a quiet revolution. From film, media, and music to visual, cultural and performing arts — those in the business have had to pivot to new digital platforms in the pandemic to survive. The result is a local creative industry that is finding new ways to generate jobs, revenue and market itself to the world. Why is this a critical time for creative industries to grow locally? “It’s one of the bright spots in the pandemic that Hawai‘i can build a long-term strategy from,” said Georja Skinner, head of the Creative Industries Division (CID) in the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. ““I think there’s no better time to beat Hawai‘i’s drum about the power of our state’s creative and innovation economies. That means broadening the business and economic driver that the creative clusters represent.”

Skinner said the pandemic has galvanized the local creative industry to band together and support each other. “Music, culture and the performing arts are the heart and soul of Hawai‘i,”

A scene from the acclaimed animated short “Kapaemahu,” produced in Hawai‘i.

A scene from the acclaimed animated short “Kapaemahu,” produced in Hawai‘i.

she said. “But our artists have been disproportionately impacted, turning to YouTube and online platforms like Facebook Live because there was no income from gigs. All the performing venues went dark. Some still are.  As a result of our dialogue with the creative community, we’ve formed a Hawai‘i Creative Leadership Hui to digitally export and support performing artists in the state through a one-hub, web portal. We want to aggregate and showcase the best of Hawai‘i’s artistic content to the world and expand licensing opportunities.”

This global vision has been part of CID’s long-term strategy for a while, but the pandemic has created new opportunities in a Hawai‘i 2.0 economy. “It’s helped make the islands even more attractive for television and film productions because of our low COVID-19 case counts and safe practices,” she noted. “Hawaii Five-O” paved the way for the current “Magnum, P.I.” and now “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,” along with other Hawai‘i-based films such as “Finding ‘Ohana” on Netflix have all created jobs for local talent. Skinner credits the legacy of work by the Hawai‘i Film Office team and the heads of the county film offices for the hands-on, daily support they provide to film companies as well as the state’s film tax credits and the COVID-19 safety guidelines developed by the industry and entertainment unions, which create a high standard of safety for location shooting.

In addition, a growing number of Hawai‘i-produced films are garnering national and international attention. Among them is “Kapaemahu” from directors Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson — the first Hawai‘i production to have been in contention as an Oscar nominee for “Best Animated Short.” The film tells the ancient story of dual male and female Native Hawaiian spirits who imbued their healing powers in four giant stones that still stand on Waikiki Beach. “This film is a culmination of what Hawai‘i should be in the minds of people around the world,” said Skinner. “It says this is a place where we celebrate diversity and the indigenous wisdom and ingenuity that the world needs to embrace right now. What better way to do that than through storytelling.”

People hunkered down at home have also created a huge demand for online creative content, which Hawai‘i can help fill. When it comes to nurturing local talent, she said the media industry is realizing Hawai‘i is more than just an exotic location for productions.  CID’s Creative Labs, along with the UH system’s Academy of Creative Media and non-profit private sector programs, have become the training ground for new local talent and connecting them to jobs and markets for their intellectual property. The goal? To help kama‘aina carve out careers in the industry and still live in Hawai‘i.

One recent Creative Lab success story involves two local singer-songwriters who partnered on the song “Keep You Safe” that has been licensed for use by a national healthcare provider for six-figure agreement and was featured in six different television series, including “Grey’s Anatomy.” Another is a Hawai‘i island kama‘aina who was mentored in a screenwriting Creative Lab who has had her scripts produced for the Lifetime movie channel. “This is what I think government does best: building a pathway, making connections and helping people move from an education to practical experience to eventual employment,” Skinner added.

Skinner said locally produced films and other creative products represent the best of what Hawai‘i has to offer in talent and story narratives with universal appeal.  Whether it’s music from our Hawaiian heritage or stories that reflect island culture and values, she believes Hawai‘i has much to offer the world through creative media. “The pride in the talent of Hawai‘i has always been here, but there’s so much more potential for global recognition, distribution and awareness now,” Skinner said. For more on CID free public panels, workshops and resources, go to


Creative Lab Hawai‘i free public panels and workshops– This year’s virtual series has garnered the most participation to date. Discussions and workshops with industry leaders range from indigenous storytelling and micro-budget picture directing to playwriting and music revenue streams for original work.

Partnerships to build talent pipeline – Creative Lab Hawai‘i is partnering with ‘Ohina Labs, Hawai‘i Filmmakers Collective and Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking to strengthen the digital creative community and provide opportunities to export intellectual property.

CreativeSpace facilities –A new 2,000 square foot soundstage called ID8 Studios is expected to open this month at the Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Kaka‘ako. It’s intended as a hub for content creators to develop, network and produce their projects for export to a commercial audience. The project, a partnership with Creative Labs and the Hawai‘i Technology Development Corporation, is intended as a proof of concept for replication statewide with increased broadband capacity. Learn more at

Read more in the April Capitol Connection newsletter.

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