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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Media academy idea seeks broad support

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer


Hollywood producer and Iolani graduate Chris Lee may not have official University of Hawai'i blessing for a proposed Academy for Creative Media, but he has a six-figure monetary commitment from a university alumnus.

Lee, who will be selling his dream of a university-wide digital media program to lawmakers and university officials this fall, expanded on his vision yesterday at the 2003 N.H. Paul Chung memorial lecture at the Hilton Hawaiian Village presented by the UH Pacific Asian Management Institute.

The proposed institute would involve all 10 UH campuses and focus on building a knowledge base for digital film, TV, video game production and other media.

The timing for such a venture is ripe because of the revolutionary capabilities and low prices of new technologies and widespread desire to diversify the state's economy, he said.

"I do believe that this is the right program at the right university at the right state at the right time," Lee said. "I see the time when 'Made in Hawai'i' means more than just T-shirts, pineapples and Kona coffee."

For Hawai'i, such a knowledge-based industry means high wages earned in an environmentally acceptable and economically feasible way.

Hawai'i will never be a manufacturing hub because of the high cost of shipping goods to and from the Islands, Lee said. Exporting intellectual property and content, however, is a different story, he said.

Lee, who was named founding co-director of the university's new cinematic and digital arts program last fall, is a former president of production for TriStar Pictures and Columbia Pictures.

His idea for an Academy for Creative Media has yet to gain official program approval, but he said the support is there. "We are seeing a lot of agreement that we should do this," he said.

Yesterday, Lee said he received the first donation for the academy. The donation for more than $100,000 was from an unidentified contributor.

For the state to succeed in turning digital media into an economic engine it needs the support of many, including UH. It also will need to leverage Hawaiian culture and experiences and the skills of increasingly tech-savvy students, he said.

Lee pointed to digital media work being done by students at Wai'anae High School, where school news and other content is created and packaged for print, video and the Web.

"So I think there's something out there, but there's not yet a critical mass," he said. "But there could be.

"I can't make this potential picture without everybody's help."

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8093.