Mindful Moviemaking: Put Your Film in the Green and Save the Environment, Too

My decision to change the name and philosophy of my thriving production company, Tidal Wave Productions, to Green Shoot Films, and launch the first eco-friendly film production company in South Africa, was life-altering.

The need for the change was clear—there is tremendous waste involved in the film industry. In particular, aspects of moviemaking such as air travel, truck fuel and generators add to negative climate change through CO2 emissions. In 2009, Film London and the Mayor of London’s office put out a report that estimated the carbon output of the film industry in London to be at 125,000 tons per year, equivalent to 24,000 homes.

While we at Green Shoot Films understand that it will take more than independent companies like ourselves working in isolation to change the entire industry, even a small change is a good change. And despite how challenging this decision has been, I would be the first to encourage independent moviemakers to make the switch. Many independent production companies are reticent to “green up” their practices because of their perception that it is more costly. And too often on set, where everything is fast-paced and extravagant scenery is the order of the day, the last thing on anyone’s mind is the environment.

While some costs may be inevitable for the initial outlay, the long-term benefits of mindful filmmaking are tremendous if done right. It will involve your entire production team, suppliers, crew and cast—and it can also affect your bottom line in a positive way. Here’s how.

In the Office

The easiest—and most financially beneficial—environmentally friendly working practices are those that can be implemented right from the very beginning of productions: basic principles of “greening,” such as reducing and recycling waste, conserving fuel and energy, avoiding toxins and pollution, saving water and preventing landfill waste.

Start with your own production office. Replace printing with email and electronic scheduling, and substitute driving and flying to meetings with Skype or phone calls wherever possible. Choose to use existing office space over production office trailers. Replace conventional globes with energy efficient lighting. And recycle! It is key to all you do, so use recycled paper to print when you have to, recycle ink cartridges, and donate used equipment to non-profit organizations whenever you replace them.

Equipment and Supplies on Set

Recycling happens across so many different platforms. Abandon disposable plastic water bottles and replace them with water coolers. This will end up saving you more than you can imagine! According to Anna Ringuet, environmental coordinator at Walt Disney, one feature film saved $30,000 just by substituting disposable plastic bottles in favor of water coolers on set. Introduce rechargeable batteries, which can save thousands of dollars over the course of a production. Use dimmers to reduce energy use between bright shots.

Get your suppliers on board. Consult with camera, lighting and grips hire companies to establish how they can work with you to ensure you have the most eco-friendly equipment during filming. Wherever possible, tie into the house power instead of using a generator, and power down generators that are not in use.

Harnessing natural light, running lights off low-voltage power and replacing poly boards with recycled board. Courtesy of Green Shoot Films

Harnessing natural light, running lights off low-voltage power and replacing poly boards with recycled board. Courtesy of Green Shoot Films

Careful and creative planning when briefing the art department helps reduce set-related waste dramatically over the course of productions. Over time, our crew became more conscious of reusing and recycling throughout the construction, rigging and wrap processes. This includes renting sets, props and plants instead of buying, choosing wood from trees grown in sustainable forests when building, and using less toxic paints, sprays, adhesives, cleaners and solvent-based products during set construction. We successfully replaced poly boards with environmentally friendly board.

Hair and Makeup should choose their products carefully, using cruelty-free makeup and hair care products, and avoiding the use of aerosols. And again, whatever is left after a shoot can be donated to charity organizations.

Ban smoking during shoots and strongly encourage vehicle pooling amongst crew. Brief your film catering companies to make sure they use organic, locally sourced, seasonal products wherever possible, and donate any fresh food left after shoots to a local charity.

Transportation

Consolidating locations to minimize travel, and hire low emission vehicles whenever possible. They use about 30 percent less fuel than petrol vehicles, and with the high cost of fuel, that is a major savings in terms of production vehicles. There can be tremendous difficulty hiring short-term hybrid cars from rental companies, but be as resourceful as you can. And carbon-offsetting flights are the way of the green future.

Post-Production

Take green principles to the post-production process, too. The first and most obvious way of doing this is to use digital post-production workflow systems. Reviewing dailies digitally cuts out fuel wastage, energy and couriers, all helping to reduce the carbon footprint. Use cloud computing to transfer casting auditions, rushes and other files, and distribute promotional materials online. When you have to use media packaging, like DVD covers, ensure they are made from renewable materials. We have been able to get the buy-in from many post-production facilities that support our green practices, and even try and extend these practices to their other clients.

Designate a Green Steward

Our green principles are also always set out in the crew terms and conditions whenever we contract crew for a shoot. While crew and cast generally do not have a problem with small things like the introduction of recycled paper, significant changes to lighting and grips equipment can be met with more resistance. An effective way to ensure green practices get carried out during major productions is through appointing a green steward to help cast and crew implement sustainability practices.

A green steward’s responsibility is to source eco-friendly vendors and products, disseminate information and resources to crew and cast, and work with department heads to green their departments. They can also set clear environmental goals at the start of a production, and assess their success at the end. Our unit crew have begun to play a big role in ensuring we have green shoots, especially in terms of recycling. Eventually, small, simple changes begin to make a big difference.

Take advantage of online resources like the Producers Guild of America’s PGA Green, which offers a wealth of advice and assistance, including a Green Production Guide with a listing of green vendors of film services or products. Another useful tool is the Environmental Media Association’s Green Seal program, a self-assessment tool that qualifies a production for the annual EMA awards.

For a commercial, Green Shoot Films used orphaned and rehabilitated elephants from a sanctuary, ensuring that location and animal usage fees went directly to the protection of the creatures. Courtesy of Green Shoot Films

For a commercial, Green Shoot Films used orphaned and rehabilitated elephants from a sanctuary, ensuring that location and animal usage fees went directly to the protection of the creatures. Courtesy of Green Shoot Films

One of the biggest changes to Green Shoot Films’ business practice has been the kind of productions we’ve chosen to make. Besides our environmentally friendly production service, we also believe we need to fit with clients who make a difference through what they do and what they give back to the world. A company that looks to protect the environment as part of its corporate social responsibility is our kind of client.

Going forward, we’re working towards a green filming future, where the industry as a whole adopts more environmental practices. Collectively, we may not be as far as we should be, but across the world, individuals can implement many environmental practices that bring about change for the better. We take so much from this planet we call home—the inspiration for so much of our great film content. Greening productions is a vital and necessary way forward in this crazy, beautiful industry that consumes us all. MM

This article appeared in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2014 issue. Illustration by Sergey Maidukov.

Elle Matthews started the production company Tidal Wave Productions in 1999, which in 2009 became the environmentally-friendly Green Shoot Films. Between 2006 and 2008, Elle wrote and produced the award-winning feature film Oil on Water. (She also co-produced the first Ludacris music ever shot in South Africa.) Elle is the author of a novel and a children’s book series, and the founder of a nonprofit organization, the PawPrint Africa Project, which promotes literacy and wildlife conservation in disadvantaged children in Africa. She lives in the province of KwaZulu Natal with her husband (a director, Peter) and a foster son.

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