What it’s really like to be a television producer in Honolulu



Video and film producer Jason Suapaia spent 22 years at creative media company 1013 Integrated (formerly Pacific Focus), growing from entry-level tape operator to company president. Today, he is vice president of integrated media production at PBS Hawai’i, helping to share Hawaiian stories that also reflect his Hawaiian and Samoan roots.
Photo: David Croxford

I GREW UP in the heyday of 80s action movies and cartoons. It definitely started my infatuation with getting involved in stories and videos.

AT KAISER [HIGH SCHOOL], there was a video class with a direct cable connection. We could put on programming, like ‘ÅŒlelo. Flick a switch and we could go live with the folks in eastern Honolulu. It blew me away and stimulated my interest in video.

I WENT TO Honolulu Community College for Commercial Art and Graphic Design. To pay for my education, I worked two jobs, at Waldenbooks and as an Assistant Store Manager at Blockbuster Video. This is where I learned to run a business [at Blockbuster] and lead others.

THE FIRST TIME I checked out Pacific Focus, had no idea there were video production companies here in Hawai’i. They had a studio, an advertisement was being filmed, editors were working on spots. I fell in love.

AT PBS, we just moved into a new building funded by individual donors from all over the state, businesses, foundations and the state legislature, but everything is local, there is not a drop of money from the continent. That’s a huge amount of Hawaiian support.

THE ARGUMENT IS, some citizens do not want to pay for the television they do not watch. I can understand people’s feelings about this. But PBS costs something like $ 1.37 per person per year. You’re cutting that funding, you’re cutting something that gave people an option for 50 years here in Hawai’i.

LONG STORY WITH LESLIE WILCOX and Knowledge, these are programs that you cannot find elsewhere. We do Na Mele, it’s a traditional Hawaiian music show where we record island artists performing sacred songs, and it helps preserve the legacy. At present, no one else is able to do this regularly for large TV audiences.

EVERYBODY grew up watching PBS.

VIDEO CONTENT CREATION is easier and more accessible now than it has ever been before. I try to tell young people who are just starting to see film and video production as a profession.

Treat yourself like a craftsman so you won’t be treated like a commodity.

I THINK IT’S RIGHT for the creative industries: graphics, photography, writing. Now that the technology is simple, the technique really matters. Hone your skills and be the best, so that somebody can’t step in and say, oh, I can do it. Know your worth.

WE ALWAYS PROVIDE A SERVICE for people who don’t even have a cable. They only have antenna bunny ears, but they still have PBS.

Suapaia was one of the founders of the “Ohina Short Film Showcase” in 1999. She’s still going strong; this year’s festival was held on September 1 at the Hawai’i Theater.




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