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I have the privilege of working in one of the most influential and glamorous industries in the world: the film and TV industry. The glamor, glitz and excitement of this industry are enticing, but I’m not here for the limelight. I’m here for its sustainable revolution. Everything we see on TV has an environmental impact; what we see at home is just the tip of the iceberg.
It is often said that the making of a film or TV production is akin to running a city. Many departments are needed to make a film production run smoothly, and each of these departments relies on material, energy and human resources to bring consumers stories that entertain us, affect us and connect us. We need stories, and we need to start telling them in a way that preserves the health of our planet. Making storytelling sustainable is the art of sustainable production.
For years, I’ve been observing how crews acquire, organize, use and discard resources. Every time I go to a set, I am amazed at the masterful coordination of people and logistics. This organized chaos, underpinned by a flow of energy, fuel and materials, is what the film industry runs on. On a large film or TV production, there are typically over 20 departments that specialize in everything from talent, design, construction, logistics, transportation, props and set decorating, wardrobe, food service, accounting and many more. Each of these departments generates its own contribution to the production’s carbon footprint.
The biggest impact area of a production is most often fuel consumption in equipment and vehicles. According to a report published by Sustainable Production Alliance in March 2021, we know that on average, high-dollar, tentpole films emit roughly 3,370 metric tons of carbon dioxide or 33 metric tons per shooting day. You’d have to plant 55,723 seedlings and have them grow for 10 years to sequester that much carbon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
As leaders in this industry, what are we going to do about it? The solution that makes the most sense to me is radical collaboration.
The film industry ecosystem thrives on collaboration. Stakeholders like unions, guilds, creatives, suppliers and governments are vital to sustainable production as a whole. We do not have the luxury of delaying action by pointing fingers and saying it’s the employers or the unions or the crews that need to act. It’s the responsibility of each and every stakeholder in the industry to collaborate and contribute to the cause.
Coming together in a pre-competitive space, engaging in multi-stakeholder ideation and listening to the crew are all part of the solution. Now is the time to embrace creative ideas and lean in to change. The only sensible choice is to come together to make meaningful content with a lighter footprint.
Climate change will not ignore the film and TV industry. The risk of disruption to filming locations, supply chains, set safety and daily work is reasonably expected. Many in the industry have already had firsthand experience with climate change affecting their work. Drought conditions, for example, pose a wildfire risk. In 2019, multiple sets were shut down when wildfires ravaged the San Fernando Valley in California. Beyond the irreparable environmental damage and social upheaval these events cause for local crew and communities, these disruptions are costly. Shutting down a film production for one day due to fire, smoke or flooding can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Content creation is on the rise and we are entering a time of reckoning. Awareness of our industry practices and impacts is spreading. No one person will make a production or the industry sustainable, and if my experience has taught me anything, it is that we must all work together to ensure industry and environmental success and resiliency. I realize that it might seem like I’m calling for a full-blown revolution here, and I want to assure you — that’s exactly what I’m doing.