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July 2000, Vol. 26 No. 2
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Media Lab Grads Work in Film and New Media

by Wendy A. M. Yale

The recent flurry of television, film and multimedia production in Hawai'i can trace at least some of its roots to the UH Manoa Media Lab. The UHM Department of Communication established the lab in 1988 as part of the state's effort to create an environment for alternative clean industries, including well trained and locally available professionals.

A young woman sits at control panel

The islands' beauty has long been a draw for films and television; in a digital age, proximity to markets in Asia and the mainland United States is also a draw for developers of new media. "Hawai'i is the only place in the Pacific where you can call New York and Japan in the same business day," says Lori Chun, Media Lab alumna and interactive media developer for Honolulu's StarrTech Interactive.

In film and TV production, the more people you have to bring in, the fewer productions you will attract, says Al Macini, owner of Al Macini Productions. "We did a show last fall called Destination Stardom. We used all local people. They had a wonderful work ethic—as a result, the production easily stayed on schedule."

Educating Hawai'i's future broadcast and multimedia producers is the goal of the Media Lab, says Michael Ogden, associate professor of communication. The facility is unique among Hawai'i educational facilities—a working lab outfitted with advanced computing and broadcast technology for television, film and multimedia presentations. It provides communication majors at Manoa with a place to put classroom theories into practical use and gain hands-on experience with equipment, teamwork and real-time deadlines.

Patricia Amaral Buskirk, Media Lab director through 1999, worked hard to keep the lab's equipment in sync with rapidly evolving developments in media technology. In 1991, for example, Manoa became the first university in the country to acquire the Avid Media Composer, the industry's choice for digital non-linear editing. "The Media Lab was great because of the Avid system," recalls alumna Charlyn Honda, now editor at Pacific Focus. "I was able to gain access to and use the technology I would eventually be working with everyday."

Since the beginning, the Media Lab has challenged students' knowledge and creativity. Shawn Hiatt, owner of Edge City Films, recalls the first project he and his classmates were asked to produce. "As the first group of students to use the lab, we had the opportunity to create a series of video equipment tutorials. We had to write, direct and edit our own video tutorial about a particular piece of equipment, plus work as crew members on other students' tutorials."

In addition to class projects, Media Lab students work on productions for other Manoa departments and organizations and produce public service announcements for non-profit organizations based in Hawai'i. The Media Lab also works closely with the Student Video Filmmakers Association (SVFA) at Manoa, further expanding opportunities for students to develop skills as filmmakers. "As a student at the Media Lab and a member of SVFA, I produced the 1996 SVFA Awards Ceremony and worked as the executive producer of Paper Crane, one of the first 16mm student films to be submitted to the Hawaiian Film Festival," recalls Chun.

Media Lab alumni permeate the state's entertainment and new media industries. Honda credits the lab's hands-on learning for allowing her to pursue her education and professional career in Hawai'i. "Without the presence of the Media Lab, I probably would not have my bachelor's degree and would have missed learning the philosophy of communication," she says. Macini calls the 1995 graduate one of the best people he's worked with in 30 years. "She can produce things that are simultaneously commercial and beautiful."

Hiatt regularly directs photography for commercial productions in Hawai'i, and he is director of photography for Give and Take, the first feature film in Hawai'i to be shot entirely on hi-definition video. Although his own time in the lab was limited, the 1989 graduate says the facility is essential to Hawai'i's educational system and economy. "Hands-on courses and practical experience give you a professional edge," he explains.

Training in traditional production contributed to Chun's career in new media. "The Media Lab is more than just pushing buttons," she says. Chun creates Web sites, software and multimedia presentations for corporations. Her cutting edge creative work for the Princeville Resort on Kaua'i recently earned a Silver Award from the Hospitality, Sales and Marketing Association International.

"I think Hawai'i has real potential to be the premiere hub for film, video and new media in the Pacific," says Chun. "It is just a matter of letting people know the potential is here. It's a clean information industry."

Baywatch Hawai'i is the first weekly television show to complete all aspects of production and post production in Hawai'i. That was possible, in part, because Hawai'i has a skilled work force that supports the local production industry, says Ogden. "Professionals trained at the UHM Media Lab not only know the equipment, but also how the aesthetic and business of production work."

Media Lab Director Greg Ambrosius is committed to keeping it that way: "In order to prepare our students for their future, we must be aware of the changing workplace. That means providing our students with abilities to use their communication skills not only in the video medium, but also in the form of streaming video for the Web and interactive DVD or CD-Rom applications. We try to provide students with the tools and training necessary to survive in the workplace of today and tomorrow."

For more information about the UHM Media Lab, visit or call 808 956-3358.

Wendy A. M. Yale, a freelance writer, attended Manoa on National Student Exchange while a student at California State Northridge. Emily White also contributed to this article.

The first film success for Benson Lee ('94 UHM)

was Stumble You Might Fall, produced in the UHM Department of Communication's Media Lab and accepted into the Hawai'i International Film Festival. His first professional film, Miss Monday, played in the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, earning Andrea Hart, the Special Grand Jury Prize for Acting. "I am naturally amazed by the film's success. I couldn't have asked for anything more from my film debut," Lee says. Lee created his own liberal arts major at Manoa, focusing on Korean and cinema studies. He got his start as a writer/director in the UHM Student Video and Filmmakers Association. "As a filmmaker, I am proud to tell people I studied at UH," he says. —Emily White

Leeward CC produces TV pros

Hands-on training and broadcast-quality equipment make the television production program a winner—literally. Graduates of TVPro, an Outstanding State Vocational Program award recipient, have won numerous honors, including industry scholarships, competing against students from highly prestigious California programs. Students develop skills in camera operation, editing, directing, lighting, engineering and location and studio production, as well as TV graphics and TV facility operations. For information, visit or call 808 455-0302 or 455-0300.