Q&A: An Interview With Kolby Moser Of Aria Studios
Aria Studios started with a humble mission to help nonprofit organizations, and since then has grown into a well-known wedding and photography company. Co-owner Kolby Moser gives Metro readers insight into Aria’s beginnings, what it is all about in the present, and what its plans are for the future.
METRO: How did Aria Studios begin? KOLBY: We wanted to do long-format documentary videos for nonprofits to support them and what they were doing, to tell the story of why they were out there. So we partnered with a (few) nonprofits — an orphanage in Thailand called ZOE, Compassion in the Philippines, and an organization in India focusing on getting children out of child trafficking.
That was the start of Aria Studios, but somewhere after our first trip, we figured out that we needed to make money somehow. We didn’t want to charge these nonprofits because they don’t have funds. They have so many other things to worry about and pay for that we don’t want them to worry about paying for video or photos. So we wanted to donate those services to them. But at the same time, we had to figure out a way to make money because we’re a for-profit business. So, we started weddings.
METRO: How was the move into the wedding industry?
KOLBY: We had no experience in the wedding industry. We kind of approached it with the mentality that we wanted to do something that wasn’t really traditional. At the time, it was a lot of black and white, and documentary kind of edits, a lot of slow-mo. It was right at the time when DSLRs were starting to come out and make really cool-looking films really affordable. Our cameras when we first started were huge.
Now the technology has changed so much. We just wanted to do something different. 2008 is when we started. It just grew. It started with just me and my business partner Jay Kaneshige who did zero production. I did all the production. He did the business and the books and taxes. I had to teach myself how to shoot because as a producer you don’t shoot or edit.
METRO: What were you doing before Aria? KOLBY: Before starting Aria, I used to work at Channel 9 news as a producer for five years. In 2007, I had kind of a big life change/career change and trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I was talking to my business partner Jay, who was at the time like a mentor, at our church. He was asking me, “If you could do anything what would you do; what is your dream job?”
I told him that I got into news because I really wanted to travel, see the world, and tell stories about what’s happening in the world and bring it back home. When you start in news thinking that you want to do that, it’s really not like that. If you’re in the local market, you kind of get stuck reporting on potholes and weather.
METRO: What is Sprout?
KOLBY: We started Aria Studios in 2008, and we were charging nothing. We started to gain a lot of fans/followers, and we started to book a lot of weddings and we started getting really, really busy.
There came a point where we realized that we either have to do a lot of weddings at a cheaper price, or we take the leap of faith and we do (fewer) weddings and charge a lot more.
At the time, we wanted to do quality of quantity. We wanted to be able to have time to get to know our couples and just build a relationship with them and spend time with them before the wedding. We raised our prices, but in 2012, we decided to start Sprout because we still had a lot of couples who liked the studio, liked the style, liked the product, but didn’t have the budget. They didn’t want the whole package. They just wanted something basic, so we started Sprout as an alternative to what we offer at Aria. Same style, same approach.
From Aria and Sprout, a portion goes toward Aria Children’s Fund, which partners with the (aforementioned) nonprofits.
METRO: Aria Children’s Fund sounds like an awesome venture.
KOLBY: We started it a year ago. Up until then, we would just donate out of the studio account. But people started to hear about what we were doing, and they wanted to donate, as well. But we weren’t yet a nonprofit, so we decided to start the foundation.
The studio donates money to the foundation, and the foundation runs on its own. We have staff and volunteers for that. We donate video and photos to nonprofits. Whatever they need, we’ll fly there and don’t charge them anything.
We partner with a lot of nonprofits, but we started our own initiative called Project20, in which we place water filtration systems in communities and educate the people in the community on how to use it. (Check out ARIAChildrensFund.org for more info.)
METRO: What is one of your favorite things about shooting now that you’ve been doing it for so long?
KOLBY: It’s kind of cheesy, but the truth is I just love building relationships with the couples and getting to be there on their wedding day.
Everybody asks, “Don’t you get tired of shooting weddings at the same venue?” But it’s so different every time. Seeing all the details is like seeing parts of their personality. Hearing about their story, how they got together, meeting their friends and family, and everybody is happy on the wedding day.
We get to be right there in the middle of everything. It’s a very intimate thing, and I always feel so honored to be able to do that. They’re letting us into the biggest day of their life.
METRO: Where are some of your favorite spots to shoot in Honolulu?
KOLBY: For video, it’s fun to shoot downtown because there’s a lot of stuff going on, and probably the same for photos, too. Downtown is fun, especially in the Kakaako area. It’s so colorful now, and there’s so much fun stuff and so much character.
We’ve had a couple of people request, even on the wedding day, time set aside to go down to do outside of their venue. If they want an edgier feel, for sure they’ll request Kakaako.
METRO: Are there any big plans for Aria in the near future?
KOLBY: We have a bunch of weddings coming up in 2015 that we’re pretty excited about along the West Coast, and one in Hong Kong.
Aria is kind of moving more toward a destination video and photography company, so Sprout is doing more of the Hawaii weddings. We’re trying to push Aria out, a little bit, out of Hawaii. It’s just fun because we get to film in different places, see different venues, and it’s fresh.
For more information, visit ariastudios.com.