Look To The Film Industry When Diversifying Economy


About the Author

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is the founder and director of the Academy for Creative Media System at the University of Hawaii, which now supports 17 programs at ten campuses on all islands. He is an Iolani High School and Yale University graduate. Previously president of production at Columbia and TriStar Pictures, he helped shepherd such Academy Award-winning films as "Philadelphia," "As Good As It Gets" and "Jerry Maguire."


There have been many calls for Hawaii to seize an opportunity from the COVID-19 pandemic to re-think our extraordinary reliance on the visitor industry. Since I have been home for almost 20 years now and established the Academy for Creative Media System at the University of Hawaii, the call to diversify our economy has never been stronger.

 

But as we move to safely reopen, I hope we will not overlook one of our few alternative economic success stories in those two decades: the film, television and streaming Content Production Industry.

Production takes up a small footprint in Hawaii, but creates a huge economic impact. It is environmentally friendly, employs our graduates with living wage jobs to keep them home in the islands, and complements tourism.

Because we are an isolated location like New Zealand and have managed our COVID-19 infection and mortality rates effectively, we are now considered “the safest place in the world.” However, the sacrifices made by our community during this pandemic should not be the basis for reopening our mass tourism economy.

An outtake from “Magnum P.I.” in 2018, filmed in front of the Bishop Museum. Film and television production can help Hawaii’s economy recover from COVID-19.

Flickr: SexyAndHotTv .

Once on-set protocols are agreed upon by the unions, Hawaii could easily ramp up production and become the preferred location for Hollywood and international projects. Places like Georgia or any state with contiguous borders can never insure the same degree of safety provided by our geographic isolation.

And we can do so without endangering our own population. Here’s how:

  1. Outside cast and crew could be brought in 14 days before shooting for quarantine procedures.
  2. Productions can test everyone before they go to work and on a regular basis. Sets would be closed to visitors.
  3. We could reopen shuttered hotels exclusively for productions and even house local crew members for the duration of the shoot. Hotel kitchens could reopen for crew, conference rooms could be used for art departments, wardrobe, management and even ballrooms could house sets.
  4. As we’re unlikely to see any conventions here for the near future, consider using the ground floor of the Convention Center as an alternative studio to Diamond Head which already has “Magnum.”
  5. For location work, crews are routinely transported out from housing directly to set and then return to their hotel at the end of a shoot day. This would be no different.
  6. Meals can be served “airline-style” individually on set — no more buffets. Most in the industry are used to our bento boxes and plate lunches.

Hawaii has been a favorite place to shoot ever since Thomas Edison produced films here in 1906. A hundred years later in 2006, Hawaii established Act 88, our Production Tax Credit. Ever since, the film and television business has been a robust and economically advantageous alternative to our dominant, and now dormant, tourism sector.

Business At A Standstill

Before Act 88, Hollywood never spent more than $100 million in any one year of production in our state. That number steadily climbed to $480 million in direct local spending and a billion dollars of positive economic impact in 2018. In addition, series and movies shot here offer free, global marketing for our state on an endless loop.

Today the Content Production Industry is, like most businesses, at a standstill.

But most of Hawaii’s competition is quickly gearing up to begin shooting again as soon as the various unions that power the industry — SAG, DGA, IATSE and the Teamsters, plus the studios, networks and streaming services — agree on protocols to resume production safely.

With the enormous pent up demand to get shooting again, places from Sydney to Seoul, New Zealand, England, Florida and even hard-hit Italy, are preparing themselves for the resumption of production.

Hawaii needs to do the same.

When 9/11 decimated the airline and tourism industry overnight, film and television production was the first business to come back to Hawaii. The same was true during the Great Recession when tourism was crashing, Act 88 brought in crucial production dollars.

As Hawaii strives to reset our dependence on visitors and looks for a different, more sustainable future, the Content Production Industry must be part of that conversation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Community Voice are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Hawaii.


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About the Author

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is the founder and director of the Academy for Creative Media System at the University of Hawaii, which now supports 17 programs at ten campuses on all islands. He is an Iolani High School and Yale University graduate. Previously president of production at Columbia and TriStar Pictures, he helped shepherd such Academy Award-winning films as "Philadelphia," "As Good As It Gets" and "Jerry Maguire."


Latest Comments (0)

It was a big mistake for the Honolulu Governance to jump on the Overtourism Growth Engine as the primary State economy. The other really big mistake was viewing every tourist dollar as pure profit, when it was costing the State two local tax dollars for every tourist dollar. It is a dilemma, tens of thousands of plantation workers shifting to tourism minimum wage service jobs, as the foundation for the State primary source of revenue. It isn't as simple as that, Federal money is still the biggest source of outside cash. The trick here is keep the cash in the local circular economy, by decreasing importation, mainly oil and food. "Film" doesn't exist anymore, it is all digital video. Hawaii film has been about promoting tourism, exploitation of the environment strictly as a background backdrop. The landscape should be seen more as location sets, for their uniqueness. It is all being done over fiber, notice Hawaii's trunk fiber "anchor" position. Produce local IP content, export that.

gigafaze · 1 month ago

Mahalo Chris!  The film industry "takes pictures and leaves money."   Very small footprint for such enormous economic advantages.  

Makaalae1 · 1 month ago

Something more steady like tech might be better.

Sally · 1 month ago

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