July 1, 2020by FMG

Passion Project – Chasing Lava

I had been wanting to shoot lava for three years.


My production team and I had been traveling to Hawaii each Fall to shoot NBC’s Ironman Kona World Championships live. Although I have always loved following people’s stories and sharing them through the lens of videography, a huge passion of mine in film and time lapse is nature because it so humbly tells its own story whether anyone is watching or not. Each Fall that I returned to the Big Island to shoot for NBC, I searched for any opportunity to capture the breathtaking volcanoes on the island.


In early 2013, my team and I found a website called Epic Lava Tours. We had spoken to the owner, John, several times about shooting a volcano on the Big Island, but we just couldn’t make it happen due to the changing lava conditions and our busy work schedules. In late Summer of 2016, out of nowhere, John contacted me and said that the lava was pouring into the ocean and that it was legally accessible. Although we weren’t scheduled to fly out to the Big Island for a few more weeks to shoot Ironman, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we were not going to miss. John let us know that we had about a week until the outbreak ended.


Three days later, we were on a plane and headed to the Big Island. Since the trip was spontaneously planned, our only option for a hotel was three hours away in Kona. By the time we had made it to the volcano and were ready to start our four-mile hike, it was 3:00 AM; we were running on no sleep. The hunger, however, to capture every second of footage of the lava was fierce. It gave us all the energy we needed.


Speaking to the hike… it was not an easy one. An eight-mile round trip trek with no paved roads in pitch black darkness while carrying 200 pounds of equipment is enough to scare most men away, but not us.


Once we finally reached the lava, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Majestically it poured out in waves like the ocean. What fascinates me the most about lava is its juxtaposition. Lava has an incredible role in nature. It is both destructive yet constructive, violent yet smooth, formidable yet necessary.


People always ask how hot the lava was. John gave us a great rule of thumb: you can get as close as you can physically handle, but it’s probably best to stop when the hair on your arm starts burning off.


We were filming Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where a 61 G lava flow meets the Pacific Ocean. Words can’t describe what it’s like to stand on an active lava flow and witness an Island being formed. It was truly remarkable. It was incredible to think that much of the ground we walked on didn’t even exist just a few days before, and in many places, it was still hot.


When you visit the big Island, you quickly learn how interconnected the volcanoes are with the land and its people. As a filmmaker, you’re constantly debating how to visually tell your story, but at some point, you just need to let go and explore allowing the story to write itself. And that’s exactly what we did.

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