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Greening the Screen
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by Francesca Birks

Most of us can recall an awe-inspiring natural landscape from a blockbuster or independent movie that made us wish we could project ourselves from our seats to the other side of the screen. What we might not realize as distant viewers is the environmental impact and degradation that the film may have caused in the process of its production. In recognition of the film production industry's reliance on the beauty of dramatic, unspoiled natural landscapes, the New Zealand film industry responded by establishing the Greening the Screen project, which was funded by the Ministry for the Environment, Landcare Research and Waitakere City Council, and developed in association with South Pacific Pictures and the Screen Production and Development Association of New Zealand. Project Greening the Screen involved the creation of an environmental toolkit in the belief that "there should be credible and defensible environmentally responsible practices at all levels of the industry, starting with top management commitment and including practices behind the screen as well as on and off the screen and in the public eye". The toolkit takes a thorough look at the entire film production process from start to finish and stresses taking action by identifying, assessing and addressing the environmental impacts. The Greening the Screen toolkit goes a step further by not only considering the direct environmental footprint of the filmmaking process but also taking into account the lasting brain-print that the motion-picture industry leaves behind on its audience via the film content's messaging. The rationale being that the film industry has the ability to influence consumer behaviour and should incorporate that within the scope of its responsibility.

In the past few months the Greening the Screen project has come under the scrutiny of three international film commissions, including the UK Film Commission , and have approached the project for assistance in piloting its very own environmental sustainability initiatives. There has been a realization on the part of the production industry that success will hinge on the commitment of the industry and flexibility of environmental advocates to achieve environmental objectives within the tight timelines and pressures of filming schedules.

New Zealand, however, is not alone in pursuing 'green' innovation and excellence within the film industry. British Columbia's Film Commission established Reel Green BC to encourage green initiatives within film and television. While BC's film and television industry is already known as a green sector, BC's production community soon realized that more could be done to makes its activities green. Reel Green BC intends to capture the grassroots movement already active within the province. Reel Green targets the potential environmental impacts of the motion picture production on location (transport, environment, and infrastructure) and within offices and studio facilities, which includes the key considerations of energy consumption, water consumption, resource consumption, waste generation, discharges and emissions, and then proposes courses of action to effect positive change and impact reductions.

In the United States, California is historically known as the home of the motion picture industry. But it is also the source of much environmental toxicity. A report prepared by UCLA on "Sustainability in the Motion Picture Industry" found that in California, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with the Film and Television Industry (FTI) activity account for roughly 8,400,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents per year. This represents almost 8.5 million tons every year. In the LA metro area, the Film and Television Industry accounts for approximately 8 million tons of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions. This figure is only topped by the Aerospace industry. Within the LA metro area, FTI makes a larger contribution to conventional air pollution than all other sectors analyzed, including aerospace. The UCLA report pinpoints exemplary practices by certain films such as the carbon-neutral production of The Day After Tomorrow, and the re-use of sets from The Matrix 2 and 3. Other carbon-neutral films have included An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana and indie documantary Sweet Land. Most recently NBC Universal has launched "Get On Board," a comprehensive corporate program designed to improve the environmental impact of its operations by reducing greenhouse gases, raising awareness about green issues and stimulating change in the media and entertainment industry. The program is being led by NBC Universal's CEO and President Jeff Zucker, and the campaign also falls under parent companyGeneral Electric's Ecomagination initiative. As part of the launch, NBC Universal announced that this summer's film debut Evan Almighty is its first movie to 'zero out' its carbon emissions.

The current green frenzy is enough to make you wonder whether it is all just another passing fancy, but groups such as Friends of the Earth are keen to make the movement last and have also jumped on the movie making bandwagon. In their current One Minute Green Film competition, they are asking for environmentally themed short film entries around the creative proposition of: How do we look after our planet and use it like there is a tomorrow? Friends of the Earth is working closely with Filminute to jointly promote and encourage filmmakers, animators and designers to create their own 'one-minute with meaning' and submit their green films by August 20th. Suggestions for how to 'green' a production include 'Going Retro,' by buying a second-hand camera, Hiring Not Buying, Keeping Old Faithful, by repairing a well-loved-kit as opposed to replacing one, and lastly, Making Do, by making props and costumes from things you already own or can borrow.

And while some observers may remain sceptical, there is increasing acknowledgement within the industry of the underlying triple bottom line; the idea that an organisation's license to operate comes not just from maximizing shareholders value but from improving and balancing its environmental, economic and social responsibilities. Because like everything else, the future of filmmaking depends on securing a healthy future for the planet as a whole.

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Posted by: Ken Schreiner on 28 Jun 07

Just wanted to pass along that the Environmental Media Association (EMA), a non-profit based in California, hosts an annual awards ceremony that includes the EMA Green Seal Award. It recognizes environmentally conscious efforts to green such things as set construction and energy usage, and urges more recycling and repurposing during film and video production. Our crew has found their guidelines to be very helpful. EMA also hosts seminars on greening behind-the-scenes. Their's is mainly a drive to increase awareness and they use celebrity spokespeople pretty effectively to do so. It's not on the scale of the campaigns that you discuss above, but hopefully it's a signal that green film production is gaining ground and can help make the message on screen that much more powerful and credible. There's more information on their website if you are interested. It's emaonline dot org.

Posted by: Lisa Walker on 29 Jun 07



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