Going green is one of the hot topics in the film/TV industry, and a fascinating panel in Los Angeles brought the topic home at a panel organized by Wiredrive, held at Ground Zero, with member outreach by AICP. To be on the mailing list for future events, attendees were encouraged to email green@wiredrive.com or follow the Twitter postings at #spotgoesgreen. The event was sponsored by Wiredrive, Ground Zero, AICP, Hype, Daniel Edlund, Cut and Run, 24/7 Studio Equipment, Soundwell and SpotGoesGreenCoconut Vitality. The large crowd at Ground Zero spoke to the eagerness for more information on how to bring sustainability to  production and post.

Moderator Jessie Nagel of Hype introduced the panelists, each of whom would discuss how everyone in the industry can alter the process and move towards sustainability. Panelists included Isadora Chesler, Senior Producer, Deutsch LA & Co-Founder, GLASS; Shelley Billik, VP of Environmental Initiatives, Warner Bros.; Gabe Ramos, Environmental Health & Safety Director, 24/7 Studio Equipment; Bill Sewell, Co-Founder, Wiredrive; and Lisa Day, Associate Director, Fox Filmed Entertainment Energy Initiative; and Bonnie Goldfarb, executive producer at Harvest.

First, each panelists described his or her actions towards greening the workplace. Day began, noting that fully 50 percent of her job is related to greening production. “Four years ago, Rupert Murdoch said the entire organization would be carbon neutral by 2010,” she said. “Each organization [within the studio] is tasked with reducing carbon footprint, an 50 percent of my time is working with productions to figure out how not just to reduce carbon footprint but overall environmental impact.” She said that Fox developed best practices that were then tested three years ago on productions shot in Vancouver. What was learned on those productions was then integrated into best practices, which are now rolled out on every feature production.

BillSewellAt Warner Bros., Billik said she was hired in 1992 to start a recycling program for the corporate side of the company and the waste generated in offices. “It became apparent that the waste generated from production far exceeded what we were generating in offices,” she said. Her focus shifted to all the resources used in creating and striking sets, and the program expanded from there into the core business of TV, film and home entertainment.

At Wiredrive, said Sewell, the company has provided digital delivery for eight years. Describing his passionate  response to a TV program about an architect who developed products that broke down into components that could be re-used in other products, Sewell says he “didn’t realize that the core of a business was to get people to stop shipping by courier and send it online.” A show of hands proved that most people in the industry are no longer couriering DVDs to clients.

The owner of a production company and on the board of AICP West, Goldfarb said she hopes to impart suggestions on how to disseminate information and help turn the commercial production community into a more green place.

Deutsch LA’s Chesler said she sees waste everywhere in advertising and ad agencies. Wanting to be a catalyst for change, she decided to focus on getting rid of plastic water bottles in production and post. “Over the course of two years, we started gathering production people to ask how we could approach this behavior modification,” she said. “We knew if the client asked, the vendor would respond. Say if the client went into a session at [post house] Riot, saw a basket of water bottles and asked them to take it out of the room. How can we make people think before we act?”

At 24/7 Studio Equipment, Ramos notes that a company that runs large machines that run on gas and diesel fuel “doesn’t lend itself to being a green company.” Even so, they found a way to drastically reduce the company’s carbon footprint by switching to propane and encouraging their clients to run the machines with propane. “We’ve been able to change some of our business practices and run a cleaner business,” he said. “I’m tasked with interfacing with you guys and educating you to run propane in machinery that ordinarily uses gas.”

Nagel asked the panelists to talk about some of the things they expected to work that didn’t, and things they didn’t expect to work that did.

Ramos noted that when he was hired in 2006, they wanted immediate dynamic, large-scale change. “We quickly found out that wasn’t possible,” he said. “We thought we could use bio-fuel, but manufacturers wouldn’t let us. We started implementing smaller change. When peoples’ behavior started changing a little bit, that’s what we realized that small change was the way it would go. Before I knew it, guys started coming up to me and ask about recycling other things.”

At Fox, recounted Day, they also wanted to ban bottled water at the studio. “We ran the numbers and figured out we were going through 20,000 bottles of water a month for studio employees, and that went up to 70,000 to 80,000 when you included production.” But Day said there was tremendous resistance to letting go of bottled water. Her solution was creative. “We built a massive plexiglass structure and put two weeks worth of bottles in it that went up 15 feet high and we left it up on the lot for two weeks,” she said. “We put up signs saying, This is how many we used on the lot, with a sign about the resources used to make them.” At the end of those two weeks, the studio sent out a lot-wide announcement that they would no longer purchase bottled water. “Within a month we had an 80 percent decrease in bottled water on the lot,” reported Day. “It was that educational piece. Then people wanted to make the change themselves, rather than the studio forbidding it. On the feature side, we’re almost 100 percent no bottled water, and getting close with TV production.”

Goldfarb also experienced ups and downs with banning bottled water on productions. “I instilled the notion there would be no bottled water, but the first shot happened to be in the middle of a lake with a camera boat trailing,” she said. “The people not linked to land really had a problem because they were not near the water cooler.” Getting rid of bottled water, she admits, has “been a learning curve.” “We go through 20 cases a day and now we need to provide water coolers and non-BPA water bottles,” she said. “There are lots of little tricks. Now our crews know if you’re on a multi-day shoot you have to come to set with your bottle.”

Billik reported that when she first started at Warner Bros. she thought that installing solar power was out of reach as a goal. “But framing the proposition to the right people in the right way and showing there was a business case and taking a longer payback period, I was able to get approval to do a small photovoltaic installation in 2002,” she said. “It got our feet wet. A couple of years later, I proposed a 72-kilowatt system. Last year, we installed 500 kilowatts. I never expected to get the support to do it. Things like the water bottles are much more difficult.”

Chesler noticed that on jobs, clients tend to reinforce efforts to go green. That, she said, is much easier then effecting change within her own agency. “Inside the office, if it doesn’t pique the interest of the person setting up the kitchen, then it doesn’t work,” she said. “But crews and talent have been encouraged by seeing this kind of movement.” Outside North America often means going back to square one, she said. She reported about a shoot in Argentina where she sent a fax saying no plastic water bottles. “They were incredibly supportive,” she said. “Then we got to the set, and craft services had 2- liter plastic bottles pouring into Styrofoam cups. There is only so much you can change. The hardest thing is to be patient with people who don’t have the education, awareness or interest.”

Nagel asked panelists how the economy was impacting efforts to go green. “We’ve been saying there are a few things that cost up-front money but the savings can be huge,” she noted.

Chesler noted the success of people adopting the digital pre-pro book. “Now we have that time to finesses scripts and boards until 10 minutes before the meeting,” she said. Bonne agreed. “The pre-pro booklet on a PDF is key,” she said. “The fact we’re not purchasing lots of big 3-ring binders and going to Staples. The quality of image is much better in digital. And now we don’t have to worry about the afterlife of the pre-pro books and where to store all those 3-ring binders.” She also noted the significant cost-savings of using Wiredrive, since they no longer have to assemble DVD cases and ship reels. “Now we have the ability to put together a project for a presentation in 15 minutes because it’s all stored in this (digital) library,” she said. “We’ve transformed [this part of the] business in a surprisingly short time.” Chesler also noted her use of Wiredrive with clients. “My perception of companies has changed,” she said. “If I see DVDs, I’m shocked. Who in their right mind would send that? It shows they’re not with us in this technological momentum. With Wiredrive, I can prod the creative director to take a look at the work we posted.”

Ramos pointed out that “green options are not more expensive.” “Propane is going to save us,” he said. “It’s cheaper than any other kind of fuel. It does boil down to behavior modification.” Sewell said that, with the economic downturn, the interesting side effect is that “all of a sudden, budgets are one-third of what they used to be, and the time frame is accelerated.” “These incredible pressures have worked together to shake those habits out with producers who have worked the same way for a long time,” he said. “They can’t afford to do it this way. They know they have to take the leap of faith and try something new: the digital workflow from capture to distribution.”

Nagel asked Day and Billik how they are getting people to change. “How do you change the people you already have a relationship with?,” she asked.

“The eventual conversation is if you don’t change, we’ll go to another company,” said Day. “But it’s that educational piece with vendors. It can be a generator company and you want to run it with bio-diesel and they don’t want to because I think it’ll void their warranty. They’re use B-5. The next project, after they didn’t have a problem with B-5, they’ll move up to a B-20. It’s taking baby steps. Our vendors and suppliers have been more than willing to move along with us. They see the industry is moving with us, and they’re also concerned with these issues. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with vendors and don’t be afraid to take baby steps. Incremental is the way to go.”

Billik reported that they pushed a little harder in the 1990s. “Often when we asked the question, we knew the answer would be they didn’t have it,” she said. “It was a way to gently push them in that direction: There’s a market for recycled content or reduced packaging because we’re going to have a market for it. I had to make sure that when they came back with that project, if it were more expensive, that we would purchase it. We were willing to pay a little bit more because we understood internally that virgin paper was artificially priced low, because it’s subsidized. That’s not an easy conversation to have with our CFO. After time, they realized there was a point there: to use our power to push the marketplace and show there was a demand for these parts and services. Now we’re not paying that extra amount; it’s not more expensive. Long-term thinking is critical.”

The panelists briefly discussed runaway production and how that figured into the carbon footprint. “If there’s a 100-mile diet for eating, should there be a 1,000-mile diet for production?,” quipped one panelist.

Billik described how Warner Bros. uses a calculator to keep track of the carbon footprint of each production.  For Valentine’s Day, which was shot in LA, they were able to power base camp with solar energy. “It was an astounding difference in Co2 emissions,” she said. “It was off the chart mainly because of that base camp. I’m not sure that will drive local production because we still chase tax incentives, but these carbon calculators that show reduced impact may change minds. The difference for Valentine’s Day was really incredible.”


Twentieth Century Fox’s green guide to best practices is available online:  http://www.Foxgreenguide.com

There will be a new URL by April 2010: http://www. greenproductionguide.com

This site includes the industry standard for how to calculate the carbon footprint of a production. All the other carbon companies don’t understand our industry.

More info on Fox’s green initiatives: http://gei.newscorp.com/what/

For getting rid of water bottles: www.Giveaglass.org