Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Lights, Camera, Green!

It is possible for filmmakers to reduce film’s carbon footprint, save and still get their “money shot”.

by Lidija Grozdanić

Photo by Vedran Karuza.

The environmental impact of films extends far beyond the shooting time. It starts as early as preproduction and is completed with the last movie ticket sold. Big car crashes, burning houses and explosions, waste materials from sets and energy used by the crew are all detrimental to the environment. Even with the increased use of Computer-generated imagery (CGI), the motion picture industry has high-level power consumption. Visual effects demand use of powerful machines, require high storage and much more energy than average computers.

The large majority of films are still made without caring too much about sustainability. Apart from public advocacy and green engagement of movie stars like Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, there is not much information regarding the environmental responsibility of filmmakers.

But slowly growing awareness of its environmental impact is changing the industry. Apart from individual projects, sets of regulations for sustainability management in filmmaking are being developed. From consultancy agencies and production companies that deliver sustainable films, these practices are gradually getting backed up by legislative initiatives. The British Film Institute (BFI) has recently developed BS8909, a set of rules and practical guidelines that help the industry adapt its ways to the challenges imposed by climate change. This code of practice was launched in May last year- at the UK Film Pavilion in Cannes. 

Photo by Vedran Karuza.

As part of its Green Production Initiative, Warner Bros. Pictures helped the production of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” implement sustainable production practices on set. They brought in a British Environmental Consultancy firm- Greenshoot to assist the production team in lowering the carbon footprint of the film. Consequently, 756 tons of waste was diverted from the landfill and 2,500 tons of C02 were not emitted in the atmosphere. This level of success was greatly supported by using visual effects, enabling the production to create a large part of film using computers. It allowed them to cut down on travel in search of different locations and shoot almost entirely in England. 

In the United States, the sustainable filming practice has been effective for some time now. The “leave no footprint” approach to filmmaking has been adopted in New Mexico, Hollywood’s financial haven. By offering tax breaks and low-income loans to production companies, this US State has brought the Hollywood industry to the desert. The growing number of film locations was followed by the introduction of several community movements, dealing with film waste recycling and deploying it as part of different local projects. More that 97 % of Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix 3 sets was recycled by The Reuse People, a non-profit organization dedicated to recycling. The sets were dismantled, processed and distributed; the lumber was used in building housing for low-income families in Mexico, the polystyrene blocks were reused as insulation material and the 3.9 miles of k-rail from the freeway set was eventually sold off as class 2 base rock. 

Following in the footsteps of architecture, the entertainment industry has begun investing in applications that minimize its environmental impact. Created at the BBC, now adopted by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Art), a new carbon calculator called “Albert” was developed to help TV production companies work in a more sustainable way and save money. Not only will it help individual projects, it will also record their long term carbon footprint, enabling a statistical analysis and strategic planning of production processes. According to official sources, Albert will be free to use during 2012.

Photo by S. Dechsler.

Despite worldwide efforts of TV and film organizations to promote environmentally responsible film production, actually doing so remains voluntary and unregulated, leaving much room for improvement. Raising public awareness on the impact films have on the communities they’re filmed in encourages the film industry to engage in environmentally sensitive productions. After all, filmmaking affects the green awareness not only through the action in front of the camera, but equally so by what is done behind it.

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