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Film, TV Shoots Adopt Environmentally Friendly Practices

Variety logo Variety 12/2/2016 Katherine Brodsky
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It ain’t easy being green, but Hollywood’s film and TV productions are moving more and more toward eco-friendly practices on sets that not only help the planet, but also can save money.

Not too long ago such titles as “sustainability director” did not exist at studios. What a difference a few years make.

Oct. 7 at the Vancouver Intl. Film Festival, four sustainability execs from major Hollywood studios gathered to participate in a packed forum on sustainable production, with keynote speaker and “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter opening the one-day event.

“Vancouver will become a model for green production in North America,” Carter said. “When word gets out, productions will flock here. You’re going to have to build a wall. It will be huge, made out of recycled materials. And yes, the Americans are going to pay for it.”

The industry must be aware, Carter added, that what we’re manufacturing is essentially a luxury good, and so “we must work to do no harm and promote good habits. … Every choice on a production is an energy choice.”

And he walks the talk.

On the recent “X-Files” reboot filmed in Vancouver, the 20th Century Fox TV Prods. series managed to recycle upward of 80% of material waste. It was the first production to recycle dirty expanded polystyrene foam, which would have otherwise ended up in landfills.

The production also enforced a no-idling policy and used biofuels and biodiesel whenever possible. Recyclable plates and cutlery were used on the production, and props were reused or borrowed, and then donated to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.

Also noteworthy is the bottom line: The production saved tens of thousands of dollars.

“It takes more effort, but if you’re conscientious about it, you can turn garbage into good purpose,” Carter says.

He’s been thinking about sustainability for some time now. “When ‘The X-Files’ ended its television run in 2002, one of the first things I did was to actually go and study the subject of trash,” he says with a laugh, “Because I was kind of horrified by how much trash we created.”

He was also amazed to discover how resourceful recycling outfits are at processing that trash and what a big business salvaging is. “There’s a lot of other people thinking about this, too, and it’s not like it all goes into landfills, there’s thoughtfulness in the process.” He adds that it takes energy to save energy.

When it comes to the implementation of green policies, Hollywood majors have been stepping into the sustainability arena.

NBCUniversal’s sustainability director, Shannon Bart, thinks that it’s crucial for the entertainment industry to maximize its uses of natural resources “because it’s the right thing to do and is good business.”

Re-use, she says, is a cornerstone of sustainable production. In 2012, the studio invested in a 160,000-sq.-ft. central warehouse that’s used to store more than 150,000 items — from props to wardrobe, to set decoration and furniture — that NBCUniversal productions can pull from for free. Just the one facility has saved them millions of dollars a year, and the studio is considering additional centers in New York and Vancouver.

NBCUniversal has also seen a lot of success when it comes to LED lighting, even creating its own: Mac Tech. Over the past year, it has tripled the amount used on the lot and expects it to become the dominant standard on sets.

“It changes everything,” Bart says.

LED light fixtures are 70% more efficient than commercial lighting, quieter, and emit a lot less heat, thereby decreasing air conditioning and generator needs, not to mention energy and fuel expenditure.

Studios are also slowly implementing solar-powered trailers. Universal’s “Fast & Furious” and Fox’s “Wolverine 3” are among the latest to use them.

“Incorporating technology into the filmmaking process will really help us in areas of high impact,” Bart says.

So which areas of production have the largest impact? Fox’s energy initiative director Lisa Day says it comes down to the amount of energy and fuel being used.

There’s a move toward biodiesel and renewable diesel (Warner Bros. also has used B20 biodiesel across productions for past six years), but as a newer technology, it still has a bit of a price mark-up.

But even something as small as providing crew with re-usable water bottles can provide a substantial cost-savings, in addition to leaving a smaller carbon footprint, she says.

Catering is another area where productions are looking to make a difference by sourcing local, seasonal foods and reducing red meat consumption.

Whether it’s about trying out a new material in set construction or putting a star into a solar trailer, occasionally there’s still a bit of resistance.

“Part of it is that fear of the unknown,” Day says. “We’re pretty fast-paced and things have to happen and they have to happen correctly, so when you’re talking about things being done a bit differently, people get concerned about that because what happens if something goes wrong? So you have to get over that hurdle with people and show them that these new things will perform as they should.”

But, this is the way the world is heading, she says. “We need to pay more attention and make sure we’re doing our due diligence and are not leaving a larger impact than we really need to be.”

Fortunately, sustainability is one area where collaboration, rather than competition, among studios has been notable.

After all, this is an industry that shares its resources, whether they’re vendors, crews, or filmmakers.

“We all want to solve the same problems,” Bart says. “We all want to find an easier way to use less energy, create less waste, and reuse. And it helps [for] everybody to be collaborative.”

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