Guest post by Jazeen Hollings.
The energy on a movie set is infectious. There’s a certain hustle and bustle you won’t find anywhere else. The intense immersion from actors, like Leonardo DiCaprio actually sleeping in a horse carcass for Revenant, or obsessive film directors like Werner Herzog, who instructed his cast and crew to live on rafts, whereby they drifted down the Amazon River for five straight weeks. It’s not just the DiCaprios or the Herzogs that make movies great. Hundreds of people are involved in making Hollywood movie magic possible. Well, them…and a lot of plastic.
In the early stages of my first environmental documentary, The Bodhi Wave, (trailer here) I figured it would be fairly hypocritical if I didn’t at the very least educate myself on the resources used and waste created during the filmmaking process. I was astonished to find that a good chunk of the waste, like single-use plastics, is 100% preventable. What you can’t avoid, you can offset.
From plastic water bottles on set, to the props and set materials, there is an insurmountable amount of plastic used in the $38.5 billion Hollywood filmmaking machine. Actually, there are a lot of resources used, not just plastics. There is the energy consumption from powering cameras, lights, and practical effects. There is a large carbon footprint from the planes, trains and automobiles that carry stars and crew to the set. There are vast amounts of paper flipped through from assistant directors and script checkers. There is excess food waste from feeding a hardworking crew. For sanity’s sake, let’s just stick to the plastics.
From catering containers, plastic water coolers, plastics used in sets and props, and plastic water bottles, there are enough single-use plastics to discuss. Statistics from the Producers Guild of America Green Report states that studios spend $11,175 on plastic water bottles during a 60-day shoot. Never thought I’d be saying this but… Let’s use those figures and do some math for a second.
If a case of 24 water bottles costs, say, $7.00, you would have to buy about 1,600 cases to make a rounded total of $11,200. What’s 24 x 1600? 38,400. That’s 38,400 water bottles in 60 days.
Universal Studios made 21 films in 2016. Say all of those shoots were 60 days long. That’s about 804,400 plastic water bottles a year. From production alone! Good news is studios probably (hopefully) didn’t use all that plastic. In recent years film studios have clued in that choosing environmentally sustainable options can save major coin, which is all the incentive they really need.
Figures from a Los Angeles Times article, Greeener Film Shoots Can Also Save Costs, states that studios can save 51% on water budgets simply by choosing a water cooler over plastic bottles. But, there are complications if you’re shooting in weird locations. Take Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) that was primarily filmed in obscure Icelandic locations. In order to stay in line with the film’s underlying environmental message, Aronofsky banned bottled water from the sets. This is awesome. However, it resulted in a very sick Emma Watson who – usually working her scenes from 4am-7am, delirious from sleep deprivation – didn’t have access to water and ended up getting sick from drinking stagnant water in her trailer. You can read more about that in the Guardian article here.
Not only do studios have big budgets for water, they also have budgets for waste disposal. After the production of the famous 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968), notoriously paranoid director Stanley Kubrick had all the sets and props destroyed and tossed in the garbage for fear of reuse. Today, a production studio would consider reusing or recycling because waste disposal budgets can be cut by 40% by composting or recycling props and set materials. It’s even better if they are reused in other projects.
To steer clear of sick actors and eccentric directors, a good way a production can cover all its bases is by hiring an eco-supervisor. An eco-supervisor is a designated member of the crew in charge of keeping consumption under wraps. This is somebody who will donate unused food to shelters or rummage through the trash at the end of the day, separating the recycling, compost and waste. This is so vital in the success of an environmentally sustainable film. Most crew members are so busy and stressed, that everything else, even the environment, gets put on the back burner.
There isn’t just the plastic used in the production to worry about. Theatre concession stands are teeming with plastic. Plastic wrapping, straws, soft drink lids and, more recently, 3D glasses and their packaging.
The good news is that with the issues and costs single-use plastics bring, many directors, actors, producers and studios are getting on board with the alternatives. There are a ton of resources for filmmakers and other types of artists alike, from carbon-footprint spreadsheets to in-office, pre-production and post-production checklists to make sure your next film is as sustainable as it can be:
CMSI: Center for Media & Social Impact
Green Spark Group: Sustainable Production Consultant
After learning about the impact filmmaking has on the planet, I am looking forward to making the next wave of filmmaking processes as environmentally sustainable as possible. In the making of The Bodhi Wave, both my production assistant and myself used refillable metal water containers, rode bikes in town to interviews and took public transit when possible. Planting trees allowed me to offset the carbon from my flight, and using Google Drive as a way to digitally store most of my pre-production and post-production plans, allowed me to save on paper. With each film, I hope to make a conscious effort to reduce the footprint of my work.
If you’d like to learn more about the progress of The Bodhi Wave, a film focused on the four owners of a surf and yoga camp and humanity’s relationship with the oceans, please follow our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebodhiwave
Jazeen Hollings is a Toronto-based film writer, director and editor. Her first script made the quarter finals of the Screencraft Short Screenplay Competition 2017 and her first documentary directorial debut, The Bodhi Wave, screens in festivals mid-2018. Jazeen also writes film reviews in her spare time. Check out some of her work and reviews here: www.jazeen.com/blog