Jonathan Victory continues his series of articles on green filmmaking by looking at the role of an eco-manager.
Last week the concept of green filmmaking was explored as a way to reap the financial, organisational and social benefits of reducing the environmental impact of the film and television industry. Industries around the world should identify substantive ways to contribute to this emerging field if they do not wish to be left behind by other resourceful film industries. A novel approach would be the appointment of an eco-manager to set: a crew member with the specific role of maximising sustainability.
Efforts to maximise the environmental sustainability of film sets will be difficult to implement and hard to measure without assigning a specific person or team of people to organise them. Conceivably, the unit production manager could be assigned the additional duty of overseeing sustainability policies on the film set but there could be concerns that this would add to an already considerable workload. Production accountants could also be tasked with some kind of auditing of a set’s waste production, energy consumption and carbon footprint but implementing the environmental measures necessary to mitigate these is most likely outside the skill-set of accountants. Thus a relatively new phenomenon has emerged on certain film sets whereby a single crew member oversees environmental initiatives on-set.
This role has been referred to variably as “eco-manager”, “eco-supervisor” and “green production manager”. A specified term has not yet emerged nor has a recognisable framework for how this crew member does their job. But a clearer definition of this role may emerge in years to come if film productions seek to maximise their environmental sustainability.
This person would be responsible for researching and implementing sustainability solutions and facilitating ease of compliance on-set. They could oversee the responsible disposal of waste during and after the shoot. They could even promote this work being done on-set through social media, press engagement and where possible, the application of celebrity endorsement, in the hopes that it would raise awareness for the feasibility of green filmmaking.
The advantage of assigning these duties to a specific role is that responsibility can be delegated to a crew member of expertise who can monitor the progress of green initiatives in order to audit savings in energy, waste and finances and to identify the practices that would be most effective when applied elsewhere in the industry. If net savings can be secured for the production then this should justify the salary of some kind of eco-specialist who understands the particular challenges faced by film and television production.
This role has already emerged in a variety of production contexts. It has been performed on big-budget Hollywood productions such as Noah and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 by Emellie O’Brien, whose New York-based social enterprise Earth Angel NYC offers sustainability consulting and on-set eco-supervisors for film and television productions.
Emellie graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a B.F.A. in Film and Television and a minor in Producing. Her passion for film production and her passion for the environment were combined as she pioneered the role of organising responsible waste disposal on film shoots around New York. This caught the attention of the Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky who was shooting the Biblical epic Noah near New York with a particular focus on the environmental themes of the Noah’s Ark story. Insisting on an environmentally-friendly shoot, he contracted Earth Angel to work on this large-scale Hollywood production. The Earth Angel website claims they ended up avoiding the use of 67,485 plastic water bottles, recovered 10,038 meals of leftover food for local homeless shelters and reduced waste overall by 55%.
She then worked on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which ended up being virtually carbon-neutral in spite of it being the largest-budget production ever filmed in New York. With such resources behind a superhero franchise blockbuster one would think the environmental impact couldn’t be mitigated yet Earth Angel claims to have reduced the production’s waste by 52%. They also set up the Twitter account @ecospidey to promote the work they were doing through social media.
Those still of the mindset that environmentalist policies are costly could make the understandable assumption that while blockbusters backed by major studios have the money to invest in them, lower-budget projects have no time or money to be spared trying to organise something new like this. Yet in Ireland we do in fact have a case study on applying the principles of green filmmaking to the production of micro-budget features under great pressure.
Students based in Dublin on the Filmbase Masters in Digital Feature Film Production Programme produced two feature films in 2014, Poison Pen and The Light of Day. Sustainability on these films was overseen by a student and former Green Party politician John Gormley, who acted as a green production manager. Over his political career, Gormley had built up many connections in fields of green innovation having been Lord Mayor of Dublin, leader of the Green Party and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He used these connections to provide Filmbase students with resources such as an electric car, reusable drinking flasks, vegetarian catering and locations powered by renewable energy through Airtricity.
Savings were made which helped the production of two features, each of which only had a five-figure budget largely acquired through crowdfunding. Challenges remained regarding the differences in circumstance between the two productions. For example, Poison Pen accessed many on-grid locations which could be powered by renewable energy, whereas much of The Light of Day was shot on one off-grid location that made the use of a diesel generator unavoidable. This is due to the lack of provision of sustainable alternatives to diesel generators as was discussed in last week’s article.
Nevertheless, crew members were open to pioneering green filmmaking in Ireland and in any event completed their films on schedule for premieres at the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh. The Filmbase students were eventually recognised by winning 1st prize in Strawberry Earth’s international Green Filmmaking Competition.
Productions of all sizes could make significant reductions in cost and environmental impact if this role becomes more commonly practiced and accepted within the industry. The experience of eco-managers thus far suggests that someone performing this new role must have a consistent, agreeable presence on-set, demonstrate the benefits of their measures and communicate clearly throughout pre-production, the shoot itself and production wrap, particularly when it comes to organising the responsible disposal of waste. On the other hand, there is a responsibility on the part of industry to help facilitate this role. For a start, assigning them the status of a head of department would afford them the respect needed to implement their policies.
In general, there is much more that is needed to support the transition to green filmmaking. While introducing eco-managers to film shoots is one worthy avenue to pursue, there are a range of policies and investments that could be made. We will explore the emerging international best practice next week.