Easy steps to sustainable filmmaking
Unfortunately, climate change is starting to show its life changing impact on the planet, resulting in shocking weather conditions, devastating natural disasters and creating climate refugees. Fortunately, more people are becoming conscious of this and beginning to make changes to their daily life and habits. People are starting to educate themselves more on the topic, reducing their plastic waste, eating plant based, switching to renewable energy companies, doing whatever they can afford to do to help reduce their carbon footprint.
It’s true that one single individual cannot save the world alone, but every person’s actions do make a difference, especially when we inspire others to follow in our steps and live a more environmentally conscious life. A great way to do this is to bring sustainability into the workplace, and one industry that can cause an unexpected amount of waste is the film industry. From building and throwing away entire sets and props, to feeding an entire crew and cast with one-use plastic containers, filmmaking can add a lot to landfill, and sustainable filmmaking can make a big difference.
This is why I want to take a look at some simple and easy steps to more sustainable filmmaking, that any set can implement.
1. Production design
The art department of any film production has to source various props, often resulting in a lot of waste, especially if building a set instead of shooting on location. These are some simple and cost efficient tips to reduce the waste in this department and move towards sustainable filmmaking.
If you are building a set for your production, make sure it’s as recyclable as possible, by using nails instead of glue for example. This holds the set together but makes it easy to deconstruct afterwards. You can also contact organisations, or other productions which are willing to accept the materials and sets as donations and make sure they’re ready to do so when you wrap. Many great TV shows have recycled their sets, such as Scrubs or The West Wing, see a list of examples here.
When prop sourcing for sustainable filmmaking, remember not everything needs to be new, and not everything needs to be bought. You can find most items second hand, in charity shops, on eBay, or apps like Olio and Trash Nothing, where people often give things away for free. Once you’re finished using them, you can continue the cycle of sustainability by donating them, or even selling them back on eBay to reduce production costs. You can also rent items instead of buying them. All these options not only result in more sustainable filmmaking but also much more affordable filmmaking.
Sustainable filmmaking requires a very similar approach to costumes as it does to props and sets. Simply embrace second hand clothing! The fashion industry has a devastating impact on the environment, accounting for 8-10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater. It is theorised to use more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. You can read more on these facts on this BBC article.
So once again, check out those charity shops, eBay, and second hand clothing apps like Depop and Vinted. And if possible, rent clothing for the shoot and return in when you wrap. You can re-donate to charity shops or re-sell any purchased items on the previously mentioned apps. This would result in zero waste in the costume department, not contributing to landfill and not supporting fast fashion. It would also be very cost efficient.
Keeping cast and crew well fed is extremely important, not only for their energy levels, but for morale as well. However, lunch, snacks and coffee breaks really add up when it comes to their environmental impact, so it’s important to try to provide the same amount of food and drink, while creating less waste for sustainable filmmaking.
If you have a relatively small crew, consider using regular, reusable plates and cutlery, rather than the usual one-use plastic you’ll find on a film set. Of course, if you’re feeding over 20 people this might be inconvenient, so you can source compostable and biodegradable plates and cutlery. There are countless options nowadays, made from various eco-friendly materials that can even cost the same as their plastic equivalent.
You’ll want to especially avoid polystyrene, commonly used for coffee cups on sets, as it can take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose. Ask everyone to bring their own reusable water bottle, and if they make a coffee or tea on set, leave markers around so they can write their name on their cup and reuse it. Ask people to take home any leftover food at the end of the day, to avoid food waste.
One thing which can make a massive positive impact on the environment is switching to fully plant based catering. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reported in 2006 that livestock production releases 18% of the Greenhouse Gas emissions we produce. Animal agriculture is also reported to represent 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions, 44% of nitrous oxide emissions and 75-80% of total agricultural emissions!
So consider hiring a plant based catering company, or if you’re self catering, google some delicious and easy vegan recipes, they can often end up being more affordable too. All these easy changes to your catering will immediately result in more sustainable filmmaking.
We’re all aware of the environmental impacts of transportation, it is in fact ‘the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, producing 27% of the UK’s total emissions in 2019’, according to the UK Department of Transport. So it’s very important to keep that in mind when aiming for more sustainable filmmaking.
First you need to spend some time during pre-production planning travel. Find all the public transport options, such as the nearest train and bus stations to the filming location, and make sure everyone who is attending is provided with this information. Encourage carpooling for anyone who can, by checking who plans on driving in and asking if they can pick up other crew members local to their area.
If you or some of your crew members need to travel far for a shoot, try to use more environmentally friendly travel options, such as trains instead of planes. Unfortunately, trains can often be more expensive than short flights, so you can try to book them as early as possible to find cheaper seats, or you can pay slightly extra to offset the carbon emissions of a flight. This is also good to keep in mind when flights are essential due to very distant travel.
If your production does include a lot of travel, for example if you are UK based but filming scenes in Latin America, try to hire as much crew and cast local to the shooting location as possible. This will significantly reduce the environmental impact of your travel and save you a lot of money on travel expenses. Yet again, sustainable filmmaking can save you money!
If you do need to book accommodation for non local crew and cast, make sure it is as close to the shooting location as possible, to avoid them having to travel very long.
Camera, sound and lighting equipment are all absolutely essential to creating a film, so how can we reduce our energy consumption when we have so many things plugged in on set? Raindance suggests the simple change of switching things off when they’re not in use. It’s common and convenient to leave all the lighting on, even when filming is paused, for example during a lunch break. As much as this saves the gaffers time, it results in much higher levels of energy consumption. Simply switching lights off can make a big difference in sustainable filmmaking.
Another small thing these departments can do is use rechargeable batteries, and make sure any one-use batteries are properly recycled at designated disposal sites. Lightbulbs can also be recycled, and LEDs are more energy efficient. You can see a list of sustainable filmmaking tips for each department on this pdf.
If you want to further your knowledge of sustainable filmmaking, you can take the Albert Sustainable Production Training. It is a free, online training session that will educate you in depth on the climate crisis and everything you can do to make your sets more environmentally sustainable.
As a video production company in London, we often get asked how much it would cost to produce a video ourselves. The truth is, with the right equipment and some know-how, you can save a lot of money by creating your own videos. Of course, there is an initial investment involved in purchasing the necessary equipment.
However, once you have your own set-up, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create. And if you’re willing to put in the time to learn the ropes, you can start producing high-quality videos that will save you money in the long run. So if you’re looking to create video content on a budget, don’t be afraid to go DIY. With a little effort, you can create professional-grade videos that will help you save money and reach your target audience.