Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Sustainable Film Production

If you have ever found yourself in a movie set, chances are you’ve witnessed the glamour, constant state of panic, and celebrities at work. What may have been unseen by the naked eye, however, is how unhealthy film productions are for the environment.

While it’s grand and expensive, Hollywood is one of the worst polluters in the world. Like manufacturing and construction, the film industry leaves major carbon footprints.

A 2006 study by the UCLA found that the film industry created more pollution than aerospace, apparel, and semiconductor manufacturing. The researchers studied the pollution produced by diesel generators and power plants used when filming.

A decade later, a Harvard study found that in 2014 alone, the top six film production houses in Los Angeles produced hundreds of thousands of metric tons of carbon emissions individually.

Movie sets and the entire film industry leave carbon footprints in many ways: from the transportation of crews and goods to the construction of sets to using onsite generators. And its environmental impact doesn’t stop when everyone packs up. The movie needs to be edited, promoted, screened, and distributed – all these require activities, such as transportation and events production, that emit carbon.

Whether produced digitally by a small team of motion graphics artists in Denver or on-set by a top production house in Los Angeles, film production leaves carbon footprints. The industry can’t be edited out of the world, but the business can do something to cut its carbon emissions.

Hiring a Third-Party Carbon Emission Analyzer

Celebrity posing on the red carpetFilm producers, actors, directors, and everyone involved in a movie production are aware of the dangers of pollutants, waste, and the carbon emissions they produce during filming. But, these people are no experts on calculating exactly how much movie sets damage the environment.

To that end, producers should hire a third-party contractor who can give an estimate of a project’s carbon footprint based on many aspects of the production including:

  • Transportation requirements
  • Utilities (e.g., electricity, water)
  • Food and dining utensils
  • Construction of sets
  • Materials used in props

This report should help film producers identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency and waste management plans.

Switching to Alternative Fuels for Onsite Generators

Many films shoot on location, which means they rely on heavy-duty generators for their electricity needs. Generators are fuel-intensive, and both small and big sizes usually run on gasoline, propane, or natural gas. Often, they emit particulate matter that contains burned hydrocarbons, which can result in carbon monoxide then air pollution.

But here’s an option: movie sets can use generators that run on biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel is renewable, made from recycled vegetable oils, animal fats, or restaurant grease. Compared with petroleum diesel, biodiesel produces fewer greenhouse gases and soot including carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

Recycling Excess Materials

Films use a lot of materials to create backdrops, props, and clothing. When production is over, these materials often end up in landfills.

The practice of waste diversion can help make film production sustainable. Production houses can partner up with not-for-profit organizations that recycle or accept the excess materials as donations. Even excess food should not go to waste. Instead, the meals should be donated to homeless people or community kitchens.

Major film studios have worked with the Producers Guild of America to produce the Green Production Guide, a set of guidelines that include the Production Environmental Actions Checklist and the Production Environmental Accounting Report. This guide aims to track and minimize the carbon footprint of the entire film industry. Without practice and effective implementation of sustainable filmmaking, however, the guide remains part of a script, and the art remains destructive.

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