Quote Unquote: What It’s Really Like Being a Television Producer in Honolulu

Video and film producer Jason Suapaia spent 22 years at creative media company 1013 Integrated (previously Pacific Focus), working his way up from entry-level tape operator to president of the company. Today, he’s the vice president of Integrated Media Production at PBS Hawai‘i, helping to share Hawai‘i stories that also reflect his Hawaiian and Samoan roots.
Jason Suapaia
Photo: David Croxford

I GREW UP in the golden era of ’80s films and action cartoons. That definitely started my infatuation with getting involved with stories and video.


AT KAISER [HIGH SCHOOL], there was a video class with a direct hookup to cable. We could put on programming, like ‘Ōlelo. Flip a switch and we could go live to people across East Honolulu. It blew my mind and jump-started my interest in video.


I WENT TO Honolulu Community College for commercial art and graphic design. To pay for school, I worked two jobs, at Waldenbooks and as the assistant store manager at Blockbuster Video. This is where I learned about running a business [at Blockbuster] and leading others.


THE FIRST TIME I checked out Pacific Focus, I didn’t know that video production companies existed here in Hawai‘i. They had a studio, a commercial 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 across the state, some companies, foundations and the state Legislature—but it’s all local, there’s not a drop of money from the Mainland. That’s a tremendous amount of Hawai‘i support.


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


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX and Insights, these are programs you don’t find elsewhere. We do Nā Mele, it’s a traditional Hawaiian music show where we record Island artists performing sacred songs, and it’s helping to preserve legacy. Right now, nobody else is in a position to do that on a regular basis for a big televised audience.


EVERYBODY’S grown up watching PBS.


CREATING VIDEO CONTENT is easier and more accessible now than it’s ever been before. I try to tell young people just starting out to view film and video production as a craft. 


Treat yourself as a craftsman so you don’t get treated as a commodity.


I THINK THAT’S TRUE for creative industries: graphic design, photography, writing. Now that the technology is easy, technique really matters. Hone your abilities and be the best, so someone can’t jump in and say, oh, I can do that. Know your worth.


WE STILL PROVIDE SERVICE for people who don’t even have cable. They only have the antenna rabbit ears—but they still get PBS.


Suapaia was one of the founders of the ‘Ohina Short Film Showcase in 1999. It’s still going strong; this year’s festival took place Sept. 1 at the Hawai‘i Theatre.