Thursday, April 30, 2009

Toward Greener Filmmaking

Away We Go, which will be released later this spring by Focus Features, is more than a romantic comedy directed by Sam Mendes--it was a pilot project aimed at not only reducing the film's environmental impact but measuring it.

On Earth Day eve, the Paley Center and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) brought together several filmmakers and others involved with Away We Go to speak about their pioneering efforts. Moderated by Katie Carpenter of Earthlink/Green Media Solutions--the environmental consultancy that first suggested the project and partnered with the filmmakers--this was one of the most enlightening and inspiring panels I've ever attended.

Executive Producer Mari Jo Winkler, known for her efforts to reduce environmental impacts on previous films, told us that on Away We Go they'd recycled or composted 49% of the production's waste and given the compost to community gardens, had the caterers use local food sources and biodegradable dishes, and made extensive use of hybrid vehicles and biodiesel fuel, including some from reclaimed fry grease.

Jane Evans, executive VP of physical production at Focus Features, said that, instead of the ubiquitous disposable plastic water bottles, they'd used refillable aluminum bottles, meanwhile counting the plastic bottles used in another shoot. "In five days, we collected 1,500 bottles"--probably just 70% of the total used. "When I started in production, there weren't water bottles," Evans said, and from now on, on Focus shoots, there won't be either.

Post-production supervisor Jeff Roth described the use of "desktop dailies": "We did away with DVD distribution of dailies. People watch them online."

"The biggest challenge--" said Producer Peter Saraf of Big Beach, "shooting film's not so great." So Away We Go was shot on three-perf film, which requires less stock and fewer chemicals than conventional film. Saraf now reads scripts on Kindle to save paper and told us about another paper-saving device: "a little $400 projector you can plug into your iPod."

Beth Colleton, VP of Green Is Universal, the green initiative of Focus Features' parent company, NBC Universal, said the studio is making a play-by-play guide to environmental-friendly production, based on what was learned making Away We Go.

Among future challenges, said Winkler, is "a dialogue that needs to happen with agents and managers and studios about how to accommodate your cast." Stars need to get used to thinking about putting the environment ahead of perks like extra-large trailers.

The producers of Away We Go devised the following credit, which also appears on Universal's State of Play: "This motion picture used sustainability strategies to reduce its carbon emissions and environmental impact."

I'll be looking for such a credit on future films. And I'll do my best to see that films made from my scripts are worthy of it.

For further information, see the report "AWAY WE GO: a Pilot Study of Sustainable Film Production Practices," which can be found on the Green Media Solutions website,,
Scott Macaulay's articles on the Focus website,,

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