Erika Engle

Federal funds for
plans at film studio

The U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration plans to invest $160,000 to help modernize the Hawaii Film Studio.

"This is money to master-plan the whole area," said Donne Dawson, state film commissioner. The funds will augment a $7.3 million state capital improvement project to upgrade the aging facility, she said.

Dawson and Mary Lou Kobayashi, state planning director, pitched the need for the money to federal officials in Seattle and credited Gail Fujita of the Economic Development Administration in Hawaii with helping them to navigate the process.

The state Office of Planning will facilitate the grant.

The Commerce Department recognizes the economic importance of the film industry to Hawaii, Dawson said.

The planning work will be done with an eye toward the future of the entertainment industry and participation from the new Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii. Design work geared toward digital media technology will be factored into the plans, in addition to outfitting the facility for traditional film and television projects.

The entertainment industry has moved beyond the film medium to other facets such as video games, said Chris Lee, chairman of the academy. Lee was also closely involved in the project.

"Video games are a $25- to $30-billion dollar business," he said. "There's a lot of kids in Hawaii that are good at designing them." Hawaii students have been hired by video game companies such as Konami Computer Entertainment America Inc., which has offices in Honolulu.

"Part of the genesis for the academy was wandering around (UH) and seeing that the largest major was computer science," with nearly 900 students, he said. "There are not 900 computer science jobs in Hawaii. The IT jobs have all gone to India. What the students should be doing is programming for animation, video games and special effects. Half our students come from the IT Department and the other half come from the Art Department."

Creation of animated movies such as "Shrek," "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" outside of Hollywood shows that "technology has made it possible for people to work where they want to live instead of the other way around."

Singapore's desirability as a place to live was one factor that led California-based Lucasfilm Ltd. to create Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, according to the company Web site. Investment from the government and investors were also factors, said Lee.

"I am a big believer that Hawaii has an opportunity to play a huge role in the creative economy," he said.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com



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