Shade Grown Hollywood: Can a Film Shoot Ever Really Go Green?

ColumnWhere celebrity goes conscious.

Walking onto a film shoot, you’ll first notice trucks. A lot of them. It’s like a five-year-old boy’s Dr. Suessian dream – there are big trucks, little trucks, blue trucks, red trucks. They are there to transport cable, food, sets, props, and sometimes people. And carbon footprints be damned, much of the time they are turned on, idling for hours.

Then there’s the craft services. This usually entails a delicious abundance of food carefully laid out for consumption. Not so bad, until you see the piles of plastic cutlery and plates, the water bottles forming a giant pyramid of waste, the reams of unrecycled paper scripts and the actors and executives arriving by private jet.

This may not seem like a big deal – so a scrap of paper goes unrecycled, a bottle of water gets consumed – but then you multiple these by the thousands of movies shot each year, and it seems like well, a tremendous waste.

The good news is that there’s lots of greening going on and it has nothing to do with special effects. At the forefront is an upbeat environmental consultant, Lauren Selman. Lauren is the CEO and Producer of Reel Green Media, an organization designed to “help green the entertainment industry both on and off screen and create a new culture of entertainment that is committed to environmental protection and sustainability.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lauren, who took me through the greening of Hollywood and the weirdest thing she ever had to recycle on set.

Lauren Selman from Miranda Bailey’s “Greenlit.”

So tell us about Reel Green Media.

When I was in college, I studied Conservation Resource Management and Theater Performance Studies. And I began to see the amount of waste produced in production. I wrote my thesis on the environmental impact of entertainment. The result was Reel Green Media, an environmental consulting company to support the entertainment efforts to “go green.” The company started with me going out and talking to people about what I had learned. Then I started going on set to see what I could do. From composting to product placement, I have tried to do the best I can to help green production.

From a layperson’s standpoint, film shoots just look one big black hole of waste. Trucks idle spewing exhaust. Generators hum. Actors arrive by private jet. Craft Services purveys a seemingly endless parade of water bottles and wasted food. How do you perceive this changing and what steps, if any, are studios doing to green their shoots?

Yes, from the outside it seems that way and also from the inside. People in production will be the first to admit how wasteful it is.

I believe there are two things to consider in terms of next steps. Firstly, production is a temporary system. You set up a group of people and you have very little time to complete a project. So the solutions have to fit that model. Can we produce alternatives that match the speed of film production? We don’t keep normal business hours and we needed everything yesterday so what are the fast, convenient solutions?

Secondly, productions for the most part tend to be mobile. So unlike a concert that may put out a couple sorting stations and a trash monitor and call it a day, productions are moving. They are going inside houses, into rivers, over mountains and are spread out. Base camp and set may be two miles away, so the question becomes, how can you set up sustainable system and support staff that is fast moving and can pack up and go just like production? The group of people move from location to location, bringing with them all of the things they will need.

What I see is the possibility of vendors providing better alternatives for production to use. The “stuff” they use is going to change a lot faster than the way they do things. The studios are being very active in trying to green their shoots. From employing environmental PA’s to supplying recycling bins, there are definitely positive steps in the right direction.

One thing to consider is that studios have varying levels of participation with a production. If a production is filming on the [studio] lot, a studio has more control over the services they can offer the production to help them be green. But when a production goes out on location, those services become less controllable. A production will then need to look to the city and local services to support their efforts.

Lauren on the set of “The River Why.”

I understand you’ve been working to green Hollywood since 2007. Tell us about what it was like promoting a green agenda in Hollywood in the earlier years?

Yes, things are different. The overall awareness about the impact we have on the environment has increased and people want to make a difference. It is still not the norm, but we are moving in the right direction.

Can we all go green? Yes, but it does take effort. In the early days, I spent a lot of time trying to convince people or explain the situation to people. Now the conversations are more solution based. Sometimes crews would say, “Oh, we went green on a set last week.” Then they would start sharing what they did with me. It was great to hear that efforts were spreading from set to set. And that’s how this is going to continue to spread. Teach the crews and have them engage in the process. As they move from set to set, they will bring what they learned with them.

You produced a documentary called “Greenlit” displaying the trials and tribulations of greening the film shoot, “The River Why.” What was the hardest green hurdle to overcome during that shoot?

A lot of the information [used during that shoot] is from my thesis. In addition to being the subject, I was one of the producers on the film. Miranda Bailey was the director and I absolutely loved working with her.

There were many hurdles. First, I didn’t have a vehicle on set the whole time. So a lot of what I did was coordinating with other people to transport items and haul things away. Second, people had their preferred vendors for many things. So when I would make a request or a suggestion that a certain vendor didn’t provide, it was difficult because the crew wanted to use the vendors they were comfortable with.

Third, being out in a rural situation was challenging. Just like backpacking in the outdoors, you need to prepare, plan and pack all of your stuff with you. The same goes for water and trash. In a studio, it’s easy to have 10 five-gallon jugs on water on standby for the crew. But it is a different conversation to lug that water out to a field and have it be clean, healthy and if you can get power, cold! The convenience of having a cooler of ice with water bottles is hard to compete with. You have to choose your battles.

Hollywood, like any business, is motivated by dollar greens. Do you find it is easier to green a film shoot with a smaller budget or a larger one?

Lauren: I would say bigger budget is easier, but it is also up to the line producer to itemize with environmental considerations. You can have a very green small budget film depending on the choices that are made. Is there room in the budget to hire a consultant? Is there space to hire an additional dishwasher to clean plates? Can you hire people who already have green practices?

What I have seen is that smaller budgets tend to stretch their resources more often and “make do” with what they have more than what I see for big budgets. For example, imagine a college film and the impact that a group of people with a camera is going to be compared to a 120 person crew with a dozen trucks. Just by the size of your production you decrease your impact. I think the big thing is to have the environment in mind when making financial decisions and also see where you are wasting money when you aren’t being environmentally friendly. Re-route that money and now we’re talking!

That’s great. But then how does the crew generally respond on either set to green initiatives?

Depends on their experience with a “green set” and where you are shooting. I have found that making it fun and educational often works well. Oh, and throw in a free reusable water bottle and that helps too. Basically, just make it seem easy and part of the production.

It seems like you’ve seen it all. So what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to recycle on set?

From pumpkins to gels, duvatine and electronics, I think I’ve recycled some weird things. But what I love is that often times recycling requests becoming donating opportunities. It’s the good ol’ saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Want to know more about what it takes to green a film in Hollywood? Check out Lauren in Greenlit. From director Miranda Bailey, it’s a fun, educational foray into what it takes to conserve on set. You can watch it on Hulu or purchase it on Amazon.

This is the latest installment in Katherine Butler’s column, Shade Grown Hollywood, where celebrity becomes conscious. “Shade grown” refers literally to shade grown coffee, a farming method that “incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.” Shade Grown is our sustainable twist on Hollywood.

Photos courtesy of Ambush Entertainment

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.