Guidelines for Filming In Sensitive Locations

Hawai‘i has a stellar reputation as the world’s premier tropical filming location. We want to keep it that way. The State of Hawai‘i Film Office is here to assist productions with their filming goals while helping to protect our delicate resources. Hawai‘i is an amazing place to film for so many reasons: Unparalleled beauty, a talented and hardworking labor pool, diverse locations that range from remote rainforests to urban landscapes, and a unique host culture that sets Hawai‘i apart from the rest of the world.

Our most precious resources are our native culture and our islands’ diverse natural environment. Hawai‘i’s cultural history dates back some 1,500 years. The geologic age of these islands goes back millions more.

For decades, Hawai‘i and its cultural and environmental landscapes have made an impression on visitors from around the globe. But as many are discovering, Hawai‘i is more than Hawaiian music, hula and balmy weather. We are proud of our centuries-old traditions in history, language and culture that are thriving in today’s modern world. ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the native language of our people, is an official language of the state alongside English. Hawai‘i now boasts the first Hawaiian language digital station, ‘Ōiwi TV, as well as a Hawaiian language immersion program, through ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, that is recognized globally for its success in bringing ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i back from near extinction. Hawai‘i now has more than 6,000 fluent native speakers throughout our community. And for the first time ever, students are being educated from preschool to the post-graduate level, all in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.

As with the uniqueness of their language, Hawaiians have a special relationship with the ‘āina (land) which really sets the Hawaiian culture and our Islands apart from the rest of the world. In essence, ancient Hawaiians believed they were directly related to the plants and animals that shared their world and that both animate and inanimate objects possessed spiritual power, or mana. These beliefs continue today for many of Hawai‘i’s people.

Our fragile natural environment is just as precious. Hawai‘i is not solely made up of the eight main Hawaiian Islands that most people know. We exist within the Hawaiian Archipelago, a series of 132 islands, reefs, shoals, atolls, and seamounts which stretch 1,500 miles across the North Pacific Ocean, from the Island of Hawai‘i in the southeast to Kure Atoll in the northwest. These tiny islands represent the most isolated land mass on Earth. Selective migration and evolution on these isolated islands, mean that 90% of the native plant and animal species of Hawai‘i (more than 10,000 in total) are found no where else in the world.

In 2006, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument–comprised of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands–was established by presidential proclamation. The Monument was expressly created to protect an exceptional array of natural and cultural resources. It is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. Papahānaumokuākea encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (362,073 square kilometers) -an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.

The Hawai‘i Film Office will help productions understand and navigate the cultural and environmental sensitivities that make Hawai‘i such a special place. When choosing a location, it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the place or how perfectly it fits within the script. Producers and location managers should be aware though, that depending on the location, there may be cultural or environmental sensitivities to consider:

  • Certain public lands are adjacent to communities who have concerns about using the area for filming.
  • Some areas are nature preserves, wildlife sanctuaries or home to endangered marine life.
  • Ancient burial sites are not uncommon, especially in undeveloped areas.
  • Many forested areas shroud ancient lo‘i kalo (taro terraces), heiau (religious temple) or other archaeological sites.
  • There are certain places that require a special process when being requested for filming. These include Natural Area Reserves, marine reserves, ‘Iolani Palace, Washington Place, Mauna ‘Ala (the Royal Mausoleum), the King Kamehameha Statue in Honolulu, and Ali‘iolani Hale. Certainly filming in proximity of endangered marine mammals and other certain species falls in this category as well.

A common tradition in Hawai‘i is to have a blessing performed on the first day of filming at a particular location to properly ask permission for the use of the site and protection from injury during the filming process. In some cases, productions coordinate blessings at each location they intend to use. The kahu, or priest performing the blessing may also serve as a cultural resource as to the proper protocol expected at the location. We also are able to refer productions to historical, cultural and language experts who can provide critical guidance for any given film production, whether or not the content of the project is specific to Hawai‘i or the Hawaiian culture.

So we ask that you consider yourself an honored guest in our home. And before you fall in love with a location, please check with the State of Hawai‘i Film Office to see if it is, in fact, available for filming. We are happy to assist productions in determining what areas may be sensitive and refer inquiries to specific resources that can assist with location requests. Feel free to contact the staff at the State of Hawai‘i Film Office at 808-586-2570 or visit us online at