Isaiah Alvarez graduated in 2013 from Kauai High School and is now based in Las Angeles, up to his elbows in the film industry and building up a career by working cameras and other jobs on sets around the world.
He had a heavy hand in the creation and progression of Kauai Made Films, and has spread the concept to Texas with hopes of creating film opportunities for youth worldwide.
Right now, he’s bouncing around the “Jungle Cruise” set in Hanamaulu and he took a few minutes to catch up with his home-island newspaper to share his story.
What was it like growing up on the island and going to school at Kauai High?
I graduated from Kauai High with the Class of 2013. Red Raider pride! I was born in Waimea but I grew up in Lihue where I kept mostly to myself and my frequent video gaming. I always liked hiking, camping and swimming but my true love was acting on stage. I was in a lot of plays with KPAC and HTC and I thought for sure I wanted to be an actor until around my sophomore year when I went through something of a paradigm shift. I got a bit more athletic when I played football and joined the paddling team. I was involved with tons of extracurricular activities through the LDS Church, I was an Eagle Scout, I was the oldest to my five hectic siblings, and I established and stayed very active with the Kauai Film Club which is known today as Kauai Made Films and the Kauai Film Academy. I’m very surprised I graduated, to be honest.
What made you decide to be involved in the film industry and how are you fulfilling that dream now?
I wanted to be in the film industry ever since I was 14. Around then, the Kauai Film Club was in its infancy and I was supposed to be its regular actor. We obviously didn’t have Red Scarlets, Dollies, Digital Sputniks, Ronins, Jibs and a fancy production office in the mall like we have today, so naturally we had to make do with ghetto home- video-quality cameras and Home Depot work lights. And we made it work! We made action flicks, romantic comedies, zombie horrors, Christmas fables, music videos of all kinds, it goes on. Even though we barely scraped the surface of what film-making required, the idea that you can make your own little reality in a short video using DIY cardboard props, syrup zombie blood, shower curtain diffusers, tinfoil bounce boards, a dolly made of a sheet of plywood and skateboard wheels, a completely legitimate copy of Adobe Premiere Pro, and gang-load of friends coming together to entertain ourselves after school. I quickly switched to behind the camera and it’s led me to where I am today.
I have a very long road ahead of me but in the last year alone I’ve been an assistant cameraman for AAA commercials, a daytime Emmy nominated YouTube Red series called “Roman Atwood’s Day Dreams,” two audience award winning 48 Hour Films, I PA’d (production assistant) for upcoming TV shows at Warner Brothers along with several new media and reality TV series. I’ve been so blessed to have met all my new Mainland friends and all they have been teaching me.
One of the craziest stories I have so far was as a camera assistant on “Roman Atwood’s Daydreams” when there was a big stunt involving a monster truck jumping through a massive 30-foot-tall pinata. We had a Red Scarlet on a high hat on the ground doing a slow-mo shot where the monster truck driver couldn’t see. As if the monster truck smashing through a giant confetti-filled pinata wasn’t cool enough, the monster truck ends up smashing the camera completely. It’s all on my Instagram at @ai_say_yah.
How are you still involved in life and film on Kauai?
The hardest part about being away from home was not being able to be more involved in the progression of the Kauai Film Academy and Kauai Made Films. This is definitely where the program has been growing and transforming beyond what we ever expected when it was just a high school club and I have been so distant all the while. I’ve been helping as much as I can by repping the company in Los Angeles with swag and aloha.
Everyone I’ve shown the program to were blown away by what we’ve been able to do. I haven’t been away the entire time. I came back for the holidays for a month and it was so refreshing to feel the island energy again. It was also great to see such a resurgence of visual artists. I’ve met tons of new talented young actors, editors and camera people. I continue to collaborate with several local artists, businesses, musicians, interested keiki and educational programs with whatever they find interesting from me.
How did the recreation of Kauai Made as Texas Made Films come about?
Texas Made Films actually started from a pretty casual conversation between me and Samuel Ali, a great all-round indie film maker from San Antonio. I told him about Kauai Made Films and the Kauai Film Academy and he politely asked to model a program of his own after our formula. Sam pitched the program to his old high school and they fully endorsed and supported the idea.
Today, Texas Made Films works with San Antonio local film talent to educate young ones and produce films that make their community proud. Last I heard from them, they were in production of their first feature as well.
I personally hope to help establish programs like ours all over the world. I believe it’s a perfect system and it helps communities, business, and provides a creative outlet to show culture. I’ve seen what happens to kids that don’t find passion early on, especially in small communities like Kauai. Film-making builds massive amounts of character, confidence, professionalism and teamwork. Gaining these traits early in life opens the heavens to massive lifelong blessings. I know it has for me.
What would you say to kids/students who want to work in the film industry as adults?
I would say try it! I can’t tell you how many times people assumed that you needed a collage degree to even be a production assistant (the entry level position of the industry). All it really takes is good people skills, a insatiable appetite for knowledge, a work ethic the size of a mountain, and passion as deep as the ocean. Everyone has expectations about what it’s like to work for movies but nothing prepares you for the reality and grand expansiveness of the craft. People from pretty much any background can have a place on a movie set or in the post and pre-production phases. You can cook? Join craft services. You like plants? Be a greens- person. Film works like its own micro civilization with an answer to virtually everything.
So try it! Throw your name into a production email that you get from a friend in the industry or from a paid production database service called Production Weekly. You get on, do what you’re told, don’t be afraid to make mistakes as long as you learn quickly, always ask questions, and always admit when you don’t know how to do something.
If you survive your first production and you go home each night with a mental high and a sense of accomplishment, then maybe the industry is right for you.
The days are long (between 10 to 12 hours), the work can be extremely hard, and finding consistent work can leave you in scary financial hardships, but it’s insanely exciting. What other job has people whose only job is to walk around and pass out delicious, carefully made snacks to you while you’re working?
Another big piece of advice is to find your niche early. Watch what everyone does and decide what you want to invest yourself in. God forbid you stay a PA forever. Pick a trade, learn your craft, then decide to be excellent in with your work. If you’re a camera assistant, aim to be the best camera assistant you know. By your works, they will know you.
If you truly want in on this business, you would quit all other jobs. You can’t progress in entertainment unless it’s all you do. If you have a day job, it will only get in your way when industry work sporadically pops out when you least expect it. All this last year in LA, I made it a point to literally live on the earnings of my craft. The more you work and the more butt you kick, the more likely you’ll get called back.
Who are some actors and film industry folks you’d like to work with?
Funny enough, I honestly don’t care about who the talent is. Sure, it’s great to watch the Rock or whatever but most of the time you’re too busy to even care. At the very least, I’d like the actor to be respectful to people. I’ve met tons of difficult or flat-out rude talent. Don’t get me started on Logan Paul. At the very best, it’s cool to have talent who just chills out with you at lunch or whatever, who asks your name and remembers it.
Not that any of that matters. It’s not their job to be cool to everyone, and it’s definitely not your job to get buddy-buddy with while they’re trying to compose their character. The people I truly look up to on set are the department heads and other higher-ups. They have a massive wealth of knowledge and, for the most part, produce their art with the highest level of professionalism and heart. Definitely my true heroes.
How has being from Kauai inspired you?
I’m lucky to be from Kauai because of the spirit that it ingrains in you. Out here, aloha is the way of life. It comes naturally to want to give without expecting to receive. It becomes a big rat race most times in LA. A city of 18 million people makes for an ocean of faces often seen but seldom witnessed. I felt this island vibe travel with me as I crossed the country and saw my little slice of the world.
Everywhere I went I found myself leaving a bit of aloha like seeds in fertile soil. I never forgot the power of a shaka or the warmth that comes from a friendly hug. I found it very easy to break down social barriers with people in the Mainland. I’ve hosted get-togethers with crew members on off days where we would go out and throw a bonfire on Dockweiler Beach or throw a spontaneous apartment building party where everyone meets their neighbors for the first time. At the end of the day, all I know is I am happy and that’s all you really need in life.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org