Christine Bunish
Issue: February 1, 2008


As more of us strive to live greener lives and lessen our environmental impact on the Earth, increasing numbers of studios and post houses are sharing those same goals. No matter if their initiatives involve major infrastructure changes or simple day-to-day practices, they’re making a difference.


Environmental stewardship is nothing new for Warner Bros. (www.wbenvironmental.com), which has been a leader in greening its studios for the last 15 years. “The studio was an early adopter of many programs and policies that have now become more common,” notes Shelley Billik, VP of environmental initiatives.
She believes Warner Bros.’ most significant programs have been devoted to energy efficiency. “We’ve been reducing our energy consumption while growing our business over the last decade. This was before the energy crisis in California, before the awareness of energy consumption and its impact on climate change.”
An example of energy efficiency is the installation of a solar electrical system on the roof of the Mill Building, one of the original crafts buildings dating back to the 1930s. The system feeds the Burbank grid, which means the studio can draw less from non-renewable energy sources. “It’s a great success,” says Billik. “We may not have a lot of room on the ground but we have plenty of square footage on our roofs. We’re talking about enlarging the system, and we’re staying in close contact with companies developing thin-film solar technologies which could be used for our soundstages.”
The studio’s transportation fleet is fueled with ultra-low sulfur diesel and serviced with re-refined motor oil. “Half of our courier fleet is comprised of hybrid vehicles with the other half small, very fuel-efficient vehicles,” Billik points out.
Warner Bros. also maintains a hands-on materials recycling program in which it finds new uses for furniture, set pieces, computers and other electronic equipment about to be discarded. Theater groups and students have been among the beneficiaries of this material.
On the post production side, the introduction of reusable water bottles has cut the order for disposables in half. Digital cue cards for post audio are replacing the use of heavy card stock as much as possible. As theater projectors get red LED-reading capabilities, CYAN dye analog for film soundtracks replaces silver-treated soundtracks eliminating a lot of toxic chemicals in production and in the film recycling process.
When Warner Bros. remodeled the structure housing its International TV Distribution division the building became the first in the entertainment industry to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for green building. “We’re working on a new soundstage and are going through the process to see if it can be a LEED stage, which has never been done before,” she says.
Thanks to its leadership role, Warner Bros. has been approached not only by other Hollywood studios, but also by film commissions in other states and countries, and by Canadian studios, which “are interested in doing what we’ve done and more,” Billik reports. “Now we’ll have to keep up with the competition!”


Santa Monica’s Cut + Run (www.cutandrun.tv) couldn’t have more solid green credentials: Executive producer Lesley Chilcott was one of the producers of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and company owner Dan Swietlik edited the Academy Award-winning documentary. Swietlik owned an electric car back in the day and now rides a Vectrix electric scooter to work.
“Sadly, our industry is inherently wasteful, although there’s much greater awareness than there used to be,” says Chilcott, who recently penned a piece on the Top 10 Ways to Green Your Post House that appeared in the trades. After that “we got calls from other post houses trying to do the same thing,” she reports.
Among the simple measures Cut + Run has instituted are installing a water filter and offering downloadable show reels. “We have pitchers with ice and sliced fruit and real glasses instead of plastic bottles,” says Chilcott, “and when people call us for a reel we ask if we can post it for downloading instead of shipping it.”
Cut + Run’s offices “incorporate a lot of natural daylight with skylights and windows, and we get cross-ventilation with the ocean breeze,” notes Swietlik. “With properly positioned windows you can really cool a place.” Working with a green architect and green interior designer in designing its edit bays, the company has decided not to install carpeting, use no-VOC paint and choose furniture made from sustainable materials.
Post production technology has even turned a bit greener itself. “On some jobs there’s no tape involved: they’re shot to hard drive” and remain tapeless through post, Swietlik points out. Every edit bay has its editing equipment on a power strip which can be shut off at the end of the day lessening the draw from standby power, which occurs even when devices are switched off at their source. The company’s thermostat is also turned off overnight.
Working with Native Energy, Cut + Run has created a carbon offset line in its budgets amounting to about $9 a day per job, on average. “Some clients say okay, yes, but when clients say no we always offer to pay it, trying to set a good example,” says Chilcott. Native Energy allows the post house to specify where it wants to allocate its carbon offsets, for example to wind power and methane projects.
Chilcott reports that staff are all supportive of Cut + Run’s green measures. “Everybody’s a creature of habit. When plastic water bottles disappeared the world turned upside down, then a new rhythm was established with pitchers and glasses. Going green is a bit of trend now so most clients are very happy to do something, too. With a bit of effort and guidance you can open people’s eyes.”


Finger Music, which has offices in LA and London (www.fingermusic.tv), has been carbon offsetting with Native Energy for several years, but creative director David Hodge wanted to do more, so for every project they work on, the boutique music house has been making a donation on the client’s behalf equivalent to reducing 20 tons of carbon emissions. “That doesn’t necessarily get people to work with us,” he notes, “but it raises awareness. We send an online newsletter to 5,000 people a month and have an advertising partnership with Native Energy. We also encourage people to check out the Native Energy portion of our Website.”
Hodge feels strongly that “those of us in the advertising industry have an obligation to be responsible since we’re often involved in selling people things they don’t really need. The least we can do is be more eco-friendly.”
Finger Music is phasing out show reels in favor of online viewing. “DVDs are still available, but only by request,” he says. “Hundreds of music and production companies are sending DVDs that may be watched once then thrown away. It’s a really wasteful part of the business.” The company’s overall communications are “very Internet-based” as well. “We don’t use a lot of paper,” Hodge reports.
Finger Music has also reduced its office space, opted for filtered water instead of bottled and uses compact fluorescent light bulbs. It offsets carbon emissions generated by business air travel, too.
“In an industry dedicated to consumption you can feel guilty” about wasteful practices, Hodge remarks. “So do you quit or do something to help? I feel a moral obligation to start getting the word out about what we can do.”


When 1080, Austin, (formerly Match Frame) moved to new digs the full-service post facility (www. 1080.com) chose a particularly “green” site: the world headquarters of the organic food retailer, Whole Foods.
“The building is part of Austin’s smart growth policy to increase density downtown by renovating and creating new spaces so people can live and work downtown and contain travel” to outlying suburbs, reports GM Tobin Holden. “Most agencies are now located within a 12-block radius, and our employees can ride bikes to work now that we’re in the center of town.”
The Whole Foods headquarters offers a number of green innovations. The building buys chilled water from the City of Austin for air cooling; the city chills the water at night to use otherwise wasted electricity from their power plants. Air conditioning enters the suites in a unique way — via floor diffusers —  which are more efficient than wall vents. 1080, Austin, however, supplements the building-provided AC in its machine room to cool equipment.
The building uses computer intelligence to maintain temperatures and control carbon dioxide levels and monitors the system via the Internet. Manual window shades are specified for offices to screen the strong Texas sun. Most tenants use compact fluorescent bulbs. Glass, paper and plastic is sorted and picked up by the building for recycling. Bathrooms and public spaces are stocked with organic or recycled products.
Offices overlook a landscaped plaza, which is watered by an 11,000-gallon rainwater collection system. The leafy lanai serves as a community gathering spot, and part of the patio boasts an ice rink in winter.
“We live in a particularly environmentally-conscious community,” Holden notes. “Our new location is a perfect fit for Austin’s ‘green personality.’ It is very characteristic of the companies that live and work here.”
On a day-to-day basis 1080, Austin sees the biggest move to greening the post business in the reduced use of tape as a delivery format. “The industry is moving toward electronic files and storage,” Holden observes. “Project files are posted to Websites or emailed to clients for approval. We even upload the final product for distribution. All of these files flying around cut fuel costs associated with traditional tape-based transport and delivery.”


When Fred Ruckel and his wife talked about building a log home they looked into taking a green approach. “The cost differential between a normal log home and an eco-friendly one was not so great,” says Ruckel, creative director/Inferno artist at New York City’s Stitch Motion Graphics (www.stitch.net). “We could build a green log home for less than the median cost of a brand-new house in New York State.”
Although the Ruckels are still looking for a building site, the progress they’ve already made has manifested itself in the form of a comprehensive Website and a broadcast project for Stitch.
“We discovered so many cool technologies for the house that we didn’t want to keep them to ourselves,” says Ruckel. “We wanted to show others how to do this, so we built a Website, www.greenloghome.com, with information and links to manufacturers and incentives, all written so normal people can understand it.”
Then Ruckel got the idea of documenting the story of a couple and their green log home. “Between Stitch and our live-action production company Steam Films, our editorial company Refinery and the audio house Sound Image, we could do it all.”
Steam will shoot the construction with Panasonic DVCPRO HD cameras recording to P2 media. Four live Web cameras will be stationed around the building site to capture the work for live Webcam viewing.
“Steam’s Todd Broder, who’s done a lot of reality TV including Extreme Home Makeover and Discovery Channel’s Eating on the Edge, will direct the show, and Robin Wilson, who’s highly regarded in the green community, will be our on-camera talent,” says Ruckel. The Sopranos’ Dominic Chianese will be the narrator.
Ruckel is scripting episodes with segments such as how the wildfires in Southern California inspired the Ruckels to opt for a metal roof to enhance safety and lower insurance costs, and how a factory in Brooklyn is producing kitchen countertops from concrete and recycled glass. Ruckel’s wife, Natasha, has assumed a full-time producing role for the project.
“We’re preparing a pilot now and aim to pitch it to Discovery’s new channel, Planet Green, and National Geographic’s HD channel,” Ruckel reports.
“I’ll be finishing the show on our Inferno at Stitch, with a cool design package, so it will far surpass the quality of the usual reality show.”