Sustainable film production made simple

When Anne and Debbie from MJW productions approached me to help them get funding from the Low Carbon Innovation Fund for their production of Grimes on the Beach, I jumped at the chance.  But I have to admit I thought It would be hard work, as I knew the Low Carbon Innovation Fund would want them to achieve significant carbon cuts, as well as conforming to BS8909 (the new green production standard) all on a strict budget.  But I was more than pleasantly surprised, because it was pretty straight forward, and we were able to cut the production’s carbon footprint by over 50%, as well as have some great positive impacts on the local community, foster some great team spirit on set, and save a bit of money too.

For many films, the keys impact areas in terms of carbon are the transport and accommodation used during the filming.  So we booked local small self-catering accommodation where possible rather than using big hotels, who typically use a lot of energy on making their towels fluffy and keeping guests cool (even when they don’t need it) and other things, further away from the set.  We also spent some time looking at how we could reduce carbon emissions from travel to the set, which was the very beautiful but rather remote Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk.  Hiring some local crew really helped with keeping our carbon footprint down, but the other tactic that was required was of course some pure charm to encourage car sharing, train use and other more sustainable forms of transport.

Tandem

And it turns out that the charm worked very well (as well as a few posters up on set and a persuasive call sheet sent out to everyone before hand) and we managed to cut the car mileage predicted in half.  We also hired a large coach to transport everyone to the set each day and two priuses to do all those unplanned journeys, including train station pick ups.  Some of the crew even used a tandem to get around on set!

We then looked at how we could save energy on set, through the use of either biofuel or solar generators.  Midas, a biofuel generator company handily based in Suffolk, have generators which run on waste vegetable oil (rather than virgin biodiesels which may have displaced food crops) but unfortunately the production required a particular twin set generator to run their scanner which was not available.  We also found that one of the other biofuel generators they could have used was too noisy for their live filming.  So instead we hired an efficient twin set generator from a local provider.  We also looked at solar generators from Firefly but found they were not able to supply a large enough one for the needs of the production (the most powerful was 24kVA).  Their range is growing however.

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The set itself is of course an important part of the impact of any production.  Luckily for Grimes, their set was very simple, in fact it was largely based around several boats, which were hired from the local fishermen.  It is quite rare for a set to be this simple (and sustainable) but there are other ways to keep the impacts down on more complex sets.  The most sustainable approach is to hire set materials or reuse materials from other film sets.  (Dresd can support the redesign of film sets from old film sets, and can also help to make wrap gifts and the premiere set from reused materials. )

We ensured that all materials used on set were sustainable also – including hiring timber for the set and not using any paint.  We also provided reusable water bottles to everyone and provided a water station for refills, as well as a refreshments station, with crockery instead of plastic cups.  And instead of using on set caterers, who would have had a higher carbon footprint and produced more waste, the team used the local restaurants in Aldeburgh, supporting the local economy at the same time, and eating some very local fish!

The production also managed to get their waste down to only two black bin liners over the 8 days filming, which was excellent.  We could have cut this further had we been able to compost some of the left over snack food, but sadly the local council did not provide the facilities for us to do this, so unless we had taken it home with us, it was going to landfill.

To help us manage and monitor our footprint, we used Bafta’s production carbon calculator, Albert, which was pretty good (and is being improved as we speak) and helped us keep our footprint reductions on track.  Grimes was in fact the first film to use Albert and very proudly presented its carbon footprint in the closing credits also!

Aaron Matthews from Bafta commented “We are absolutely delighted that team behind Grimes on the Beach, the first feature length production to use Albert, have managed to identify and act on their impact so successfully.”

There were also a host of other things we did to make the production more sustainable – from using hard drives instead of tape, using very little paper, using fairtrade tea and coffee, recycling everything we could both on set and in the office, and conference calling whenever possible instead of meeting to keep our footprint down.   We also kept in line with the principles of BS8909 to help us ensure a wider sustainability focus for the production, and we also threw in our own ideas.   We could not have included everything we did in this short article so I have put together a handy check-list in a separate post on One Pumpkin, to help other productions wanting to do this.

All in all, it was a great success; the production were able to save money, cut their footprint in half and have a positive impact on the local community.  The activities also helped to foster a team spirit on the production, and this we hope will mean that the crew will take all of their learnings onto the next production they work on.

The next logical step is for writers, producers and directors to start to think about how they can influence consumers on sustainability, particularly through some of the behaviours and activities portrayed on screen.   I would love to see more people cycling on TV and in Films, as well as seeing a whole host of other sustainable behaviours – from reuse, recycling, waste avoidance, to an understanding of personal responsibility.  If anyone can make sustainable living sexy, it’s TV programmes and Films, so I look forward to seeing more of that coming to our screens soon!  And script-writers, if you need some ideas, please drop me a line!!

Grimes on the Beach is on in a cinema near you now, and it’s a really powerful production – but don’t take my word for it – it also gets great reviews!

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