November 12, 2009

Greening up the film set

== Summary == Universal recycling symbol outli...Image via Wikipedia
As regular readers will no doubt know, I have spent a lot of time recently on film sets. Whilst there I tend to do a couple things during my down time: I focus on the process issues that arise as a result of the slow and cumbersome way that films are made (and money wasted) nowadays and I look at wastage from an environmental point of view to determine what could be done differently.

Having spent a long time on film sets and around locations and production bases, I have identified a number of items that should be focused on by film companies. My hope is that a little bit of time focused on these items will save them both money and effort, but will have no detrimental effect on the quality of the films being made (regardless of whether you think that’s a good thing or not)

Let’s have a look at the current issues that arise with a production:

Current Environmental impacts

1- Cups. There are  LOTS of cups on a film set. Everyone will have one or more drinks at each break (breakfast, lunch and afternoon break) and on most films there is a constant stream of tea and coffee available throughout the day. On certain films they employee an entity known as ‘Craft Services’ which is basically a Starbucks-in-a-van which will produce - free of charge - capucinnos, lattes and espressos as well as fruit smoothies on demand. Multiply this by the number of people in an average film crew (which will vary between about 40 and 120) and then add to that the actors and background artistes (I worked on one film where they had 200+ background for most of the days of filming). This soon adds up to a large amount of cups. All of which are thrown away. Generally there is no recycling of these cups (except one production I worked on where the cups were being used by the art department later on)

2 - Now lets focus more on the meals. Breakfast is usually of the cooked English variety and is generally served on a polystyrene plate. Again these are not recycled when used. If you want a meal ‘on-the-go’ you are given a closable polystyrene carrier as used in takeaway meals (or doggy bags). Again these are not recyclable and generally end up being thrown away. Multiply this by the same number of people as before and the quantity becomes obvious

3 - Waste food. On the subject of food, waste food is generally dropped into a bin bag and thrown away along with the polystyrene cups and meal containers. I am not aware of any location caterers who ask for the food to be separated so that they can compost it or do something else environmentally friendly with it. A typical location caterer will make cooked breakfast, a two course, three choice lunch and afternoon sandwiches & cakes for the whole cast and crew throughout the duration of the shoot. The amount of waste food can be vast.

4 - Fuel. A typical film crew has a vast thirst for power. A crew is designed to operate in a location where there is no power source of it’s own. As a result they end up providing power for any number of items: The film lights, the film cameras, the video monitors, the dressing rooms, the stars trailers, the production offices, the catering trucks, the honeywagons, production base floodlights and other such items. Some times high capacity generators are running from early in the morning (5.30am) until very late at night - longer if the shoot is staying in one location for more than a day and security has to stay and monitor them overnight. Multiply this by a typical film shoot of anything from 6 weeks to 6 months and you can see the carbon footprint expending. Most generators of this type are fossil fuel based.

5 - Vehicles. The number of vehicles on a film crew almost surpasses the number of people. Every major member of the cast and ‘above the line’ talent (Director, Producer, Director of Photography) will have a vehicle and driver supplied to them to transport them from their accommodation to the unit base. Generally these are executive type cars such as Mercedes Benz, BMW’s and the like. In addition to this every trailer on the production base has been transported there by a truck rig. All the camera and lighting (and prop) equipment arrives in a large truck and there are usually a small fleet of minibuses provided by the production company to transport cast and crew between the unit base and the shooting location (this can be a number of miles away or it can be 500 yards away). Generally these vehicles are  moving pretty much all day.

How to reduce the carbon footprint at low cost and minimal impact.?

  1. For the coffee cups and the food containers we need to start using products that are ryclable. Then the production companies need to provide recycling bins on site for each type. i.e. multiple waste bins for recycling rather than using bin liners.
  2. Encourage the use of food recycling (either through composting or swill production)
  3. How about looking at the possibility of small wind generators or solar panels attached to vehicles vehicles to provide a stream of electricity (useful for filming in warmer or windier climates) This could facilitate the provision of power to production location vehicles such as the wardrobe vehicle (which has on-board washing machines and irons running throughout the day)
  4. Encourage the use of production vehicles that  run on electricity or LPG (Even Lexus do a hybrid car now!) This could work for the executive cars and the minibuses. It may even be possible to get power generators that run off vegetable oil and similar products.

I'm not naive enough to think that a move such as this will happen overnight. But I do think that there are some steps that production companies can make now which will have a positive environmental effect without  increasing cost and inconvenience. How about starting by using recyclable cups and plates and offering recycling bins at the catering bus?

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