Here are some simple steps you can take toward protecting the environment in film, from experts who know.
If anyone has been on a film or TV set, you have likely seen the potential for waste all around you, whether at crafty or in scenes, or even on the pages of the script itself. Research has shown that each production can create a carbon footprint of up to 3,370 metric tons. And maybe you have wondered how things could be better.
Enter GreenEyes Production, a sustainability consultancy based in Europe that endeavors to reduce the environmental impact of its production partners. Recently, they led the sustainability department on Disney+'s Moon Knight, where they created recycling and composting programs, eliminated single-use plastics, reduced fuel usage, sourced sustainable products, and more.
But you don't have to be Disney or a huge production to consider the environment.
No Film School has been speaking with GreenEyes co-founders, Júlia Tordai and Zsófia Szemerédy, about ways all production teams can help protect the planet. Learn from them below!
What do you mean by "sustainable filmmaking"?
If I have to say it in my own words it is when we are in balance with nature. Our actions don’t tip the scale. This scale is often measured as "the carbon footprint," aka a carbon debt.
Inevitably, we filmmakers create carbon debt with our work. However, as in other industry sectors, we can take action immediately to reduce consumption and waste in our profession, educate filmmakers, execs, and key decision makers on all levels from PA to head of production, and introduce policies that register the true environmental costs of production.
How can writers help with their storytelling?
Writers are the single most important creatives in this chain at the beginning, at the stage of "idea creation." Everything starts with writers! Then, of course, the producer, director, the financiers and all down the line everyone shares the weight of responsibility equally.
As a writer, you have the choice—if your story allows—to seamlessly integrate sustainability, climate crisis, and other important topics on screen. We all know how bad it feels when something is shoehorned in. So it is important it feels organic, not in your face—we call this normalising. Just an everyday thing like any other. As sustainability, recycling, almond milk, Cop 26, solar panels, and EV chargers are part of our everyday life (mostly in the westernised world), climate injustice, natural catastrophes, and such are also part of our story now.
Just look at the recent content pledge broadcasters made in the UK to raise the sustainability-related topics featured on screen. What a milestone! I’m sure we can all think of examples. There’s no longer any need for the stereotyped vegan hippy, there can be a shining prince who is an environmental engineer like in A Castle for Christmas, or we can have great car chase scenes with plug-in hybrids like in Shang Chi, and so on.
If you are a writer-producer, showrunner, or independent filmmaker who has a seat at the table you have an equally important responsibility beyond the storyline: introduce a budget line accounting for the environmental department at the earliest stage possible! Everyone complains it is expensive, they don’t have money for it (sure you can blow hundreds on terrible catering and coffee runs out of vanity or any other star-cliched requirements) but yes, recycling will be what bankrupts you.
(Let me whisper it to you, in Hungary recycling is cheaper than landfill—I bet it is the same elsewhere but no one has time to go after this and check it.)
Well, what can be done? Perhaps it helps, if there’s more time to plan ahead, also helps to have an environmental budget line from the get-go, so we don’t scramble for peanuts three weeks before the start of the shoot and say, "Huh, Green Premium is too high…" Often, it is nothing but an excuse (either out of convenience, lack of knowledge, or fear).
Plan ahead, take the time, and educate yourself. Also, educate the crew ahead of the shoot if you can. It is not their fault if they make uninformed decisions if it hasn’t been made clear the production’s agenda is to shoot sustainably. There is a multitude of free resources available at your disposal.
There are so many star allures.. what if you make this one of them? I bet that would make some changes. I know of a show that was shot in Hungary where an actress would only come and do it if there were people doing the recycling. That is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. Why does this have to be a stand-out request and not the norm in this time and age? That is beyond me.
Where is the most waste in the film world?
Not planning ahead, that’s where it is. Waste is created when you don’t know what is expected. The crew is not prepared, they haven't been briefed, and they haven’t had enough time to plan because of budget constraints, so they have to be prepared for everything. They hire more people (the electrical team don’t know what lamps they’ll use, they have to have all of it), they hire more equipment, they build more stages and bigger ones than needed—it is all waste, energy, and cost. I’m not saying anything new with this, though.
If we are talking about practical waste, then it is construction and wrap. Waste during shooting can be handled. Waste by the construction department is a mess… waste unplanned is the worst.
We have a saying: the best waste is what hasn’t been created.
How does one make a set eco-friendly?
First, you assess the size, the length, the plan, and the carbon footprint.
Then you educate your crew. If they know early on, they will make informed decisions and think with a new mindset.
Then you examine your entire supply chain and request the sustainable option from your vendors. This includes green energy from your studio, waste management, consumption figures given to you, biodegradable catering packages, recycling, rental instead of buying, hybrid fleets, and shuttle services.
There are some common-sense decisions you can apply—for example, is there a new innovative technique that could cut down on my man-hours? Is there a new app that would streamline my admin work and help everyone’s job? Yes, there are!
What are some sustainable practices and how can writers and filmmakers actually implement them?
Ask us! Haha. Seriously the most important thing, educate yourself a bit—a lot of free training and resources are available, and then have a dedicated green steward on set! One person, or an entire department—depending on the size of your production—whose job is solely to care about this. Give them the green light, take the time to understand what they do and why they do it. Ask, instead of saying "no" straight away.
Please plan on an environmental budget line early on. We promise it’ll change your life.
What should we expect from the future of green filmmaking?
It is here whether you want it, like it, or don’t care about it. All big studios have commitment goals. We all are responsible to hold them accountable. We have a voice, an important one, and the more people say it and request it the more likely change will happen. The way the industry came together and handled COVID, the same can be done with sustainability.
COVID budgets are currently 10%, and sustainability budgets—if they ever exist—are less than 0.005%. We are talking about the long-term gain here, and that is worth some consideration hopefully in everyone’s playbook. It is very much a joint effort.
So dig in, embrace it. I do have to warn you, though—once you immerse yourself it is impossible to not be passionate about it. Like scriptwriting or filmmaking itself—the common denominator in all of them is that you will do it whole-heartedly or not at all, and, "This is the Way."