Over recent decades, climate change has been one of those topics that was ever present but so easy to ignore. However, thankfully there seems to be a growing chorus in the media which makes it impossible to remain complacent in the face of such impending urgency.
With a few notable exceptions it seems like the general consensus is that yes, without taking a long hard look at the way we live our lives we are destined for an unpleasant, fiery future. The problem here is that the issue of environmental catastrophe is massive and daunting – it’s almost impossible to know which bit of our lives we need to change and wether it’ll actually make a difference. Also, as humans we aren’t very good at being told things over and over so the worry is that a burst of saturation on the topic could cause us (once again) to avoid it all together in the hope that it goes away. Its much the same for the people of Britain who have lived through several years of Brexit – in the beginning everyone held a passionate opinion on the subject wether they understood it or not. Now they’ll do just about anything to avoid having to think about it.
However, looking out for the future of the planet needn’t be daunting. There’s hard choices to be made for sure but it’s not about having all the answers and recycling your car, its about mindset and being open to change.
When it comes to change, the production industry is notoriously stuck in its ways. We openly embrace innovation in technology but the logistical process of actually making a film, TV or advertising project looks pretty much as it did when I started out 20 years ago. Some companies are getting serious about their carbon footprint but so many are choosing to carry on as normal.
“…people don’t like being told about a serious problem that they can do little about.” says Aaron Matthews, Head of Industry Sustainability at BAFTA.“What a production can achieve is largely down to two things – location and determination. If a production is trapped in a studio that has’t had much love since the 1980s, options are limited. Now, with the first electric generators on the market, huge improvements in lighting and solar powered toilet blocks – there is much more than can be done …and while no production can do everything (yet), we have seen that much is changing and much more is possible.”
Obviously we cant say that all types of production carry the same impact, but they definitely share some characteristics and only by getting into the details can we understand where to make changes. The gains made by losing a monitor here or asking a crew member to take public transport can be negligible but the accumulated effect of this thinking is significant.
“Depending on the type of production, its carbon footprint varies from 30 tons to 200 tons of CO2”, says Howard Ela, production manager of Mammoth Screen.
If we consider that a TV monitor produces 0,03 kg of CO2, a water bottle of 5 lt, 4,58 kg and a 4-bulb Illumination kit of 180 watts produces 66.6 kg of CO2. An 8-person crew, for 5 days of shooting can produce around 2,072.18 kg of CO2 in that amount of time.
Then add a couple of international flights (3 tons of CO2 in a round flight from London to say, Indonesia), hotel stays (66.9 kg in 3-star hotel for 3 nights), food, equipment transport, land transfers (74 kg in a 100 km round trip) and possibly some domestic flights (316 kg in 1000 km round trip) to the mix, the carbon footprint increases considerably. So, roughly, the same 8-people crew, on an international shoot can produce, 45.6 tons of CO2, only on transportation (air and land). To that, we have to add the use of electricity, consumption of water, food and other expendables.
If we accept the assumption that the average car emits 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year then its not hard to see that the thousands of productions going on at any one time are cause for concern.
According to Matthews, “The bulk of the industry’s carbon footprint comes from aviation the national grid and cars and currently all these things are pretty carbon intensive … we’re simply doing more of the everyday – a lot more.”
The demand for content is higher now than its ever been, and increasingly global which means more boots on the ground, more planes in the sky but for many the machine keeps turning as it always has. The media industry is often fast paced, with high expectations and an entrenched hierarchy within a work force that is largely freelance – so the impetus to train staff in non-essential skillsets is reduced.
It is therefore not only something we should be leaving to our employers to instigate, it’s also up to us as individuals to get wise about sustainable production. We have to adjust our mindset to work how we always have, but continually question what our impact might be and what can we do to change it. Do I need to print 30 call sheets a day? Does any flight over 3 hours really have to mean the crew fly business? Can we light this scene with LED’s?
At Fixation we work across roughly 120 productions to some degree, all internationally. We help clients find local kit/crew/producers/logistics etc. in every corner of the globe. Each job has a different configuration which keeps it exciting but whilst we still see some companies travelling with every crew role and piece of equipment from their home country, we well know that a lot of it is available in the place they are headed to.
According to Ela, “there’s the belief that foreign countries don’t have the quality, or the talent to outsource some of the work we do”. However, the world has changed, the workforce is more experienced and international whilst equipment easier to come by and more standardised.
I used to work as a DOP many years ago and the uncertainty around hiring kit I didn’t know would be terrifying. The cost of excess luggage wasn’t my problem to worry about and back then the environment was ‘apparently fine’ so that didn’t enter my mind either. Now though, we routinely work with our global network at World Fixer (.com) to understand what resources we can rely on and urge clients to consider ‘hiring local’ whenever possible.
“For production companies it’s difficult to go to a strange country where they don’t know for sure what they will find in terms of quality of personnel and equipment,” says Gregg Koenigsberg, a local fixer and producer based in Guatemala. “However, there is a well-developed production community here and it is possible to carry out almost any type of production professionally”.
And as producer, Khuyen Tuong in Vietnam points out it’s a great way to combat the squeeze on budgets we’re all seeing. “Local producers know exactly where to rent the equipment the production company needs. A filming crew can be hired in Vietnam locally (cameraman/DoP, sound recordist, camera assistant). By hiring local crew, production companies at least save the cost of flights”… not to mention hotels and the rates are lower there.
But gaps do exist – for some locations there’s a certain amount of catching up to do so its always best to lean on your local producer for a clear picture. “We basically only tell their shooters to bring their cameras, lenses and LED’s and we supply everything else,” says Trace Cuesta, a Dominican fixer in our network (He also states that they can arrange for specialised catering services which reduces the use of plastics and disposables).
When it comes to crew we’ve worked with top level people all over. On a recent job in Morocco we were using art directors, gaffers, grips, HMU + DIT’s who were enjoying some down time from a long stint on the new series of Homeland. On a project for Uber we used local kit, DOP’s, photographers and gaffers in six countries and whilst we had to put in the work making sure the style was universal across the film the results were excellent.
Hiring locally is a big decision but there’s many smaller choices you can make with a little guidance – fortunately there are an increasing number of resources out there to help you. In the UK for example there’s ‘Albert’ (http://wearealbert.org), an initiative backed by BAFTA which offers free training, practical advice and an online, easy to use carbon calculator for productions of all shapes and sizes. It was born at the BBC as they were trying to understand wether drama or entertainment carried the largest carbon footprint but since then has become and industry wide initiative with a huge amount of support. Resources such as this are a lifeline for productions looking to reduce their impact but there is also a growing wave of conversation across social media, forums and chat rooms. Its never been easier to explore ways to address this issue.
Production is exciting and rewarding, the results of which are more relevant and in demand today than they’ve ever been. However, in the scramble to get the job done we sincerely hope that those in the industry can take a moment to put its work into context and consider the big picture. An environmental approach shouldn’t be the elephant in the room thats too daunting to deal with, it should be an automatic part of our training and practice.
As Aaron Matthews puts it, “Sustainability used to be pitched as sacrifice and obligation but now many more realise that a sustainable way of working is often more efficient and enjoyable, and no-one can hold back this new tide of optimism.”
FIXATION WILL BE AT THE FOCUS EVENT DEC 3rdand 4thin LONDON. COME AND TALK TO US ABOUT HIRING LOCALLY – YOU WILL FIND US IN THE GREEN ZONE