Issue: February 1, 2009


Our industry has typically been a little more crunchy granola than most, so to hear that many production, post and film studios have easily taken to greening doesn’t surprise me. And they do it not because it’s granola, but because it’s the right thing to do… and, in these difficult economic times, they might just save some money along the way.

Not only are individuals taking measures in their businesses, many are getting involved in their personal lives, starting Websites separate from their company’s  that help spread information on how to be more environmentally aware and how to cut down on your carbon footprint. The big film studios have staff dedicated to saving energy and the environment, and there are green studios being built, like Plymouth Rock Studios in Massachusetts. There are green craft services on sets, green PAs and green motor homes that run on biodiesel. Progress is being made.

But companies don’t have to dive in head first, go solar and grow their own organic food, although that would be nice. Just a little bit of effort helps. And most agree it’s not all perfect — we are in a green evolution of sorts. Hybrid cars are great, but their batteries pose a danger during accidents and disposal. The energy-efficient CFL light bulbs are wonderful, but they contain small amounts of mercury and need to be disposed of in a similar way to batteries and paint cans. (We eagerly await the upcoming LED bulbs.) So going green is a work in progress that benefits from education. The following share their insight in a bid to make our world a bit more energy efficient.


For producer Lesley Chilcott, a producer on Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, her path to greening the planet began in third grade after she received a conservation pack in the mail from her local utility. “They said if you do these list of things you can put this sticker in the window of your house. So I went around and checked the seals on the doors, turned out the lights and put on my sweater… all of those things.”

While living her life with the environment in mind, Chilcott didn’t officially start on her current path until she helped launch The Detroit Project a few years ago with Arianna Huffington, Lawrence Bender, Scott Burns and Laurie David. The site helped raise money for an anti-SUV ad campaign.

“We created these commercials that said if you drive oversized SUVs you are helping to support terrorism in the Middle East,” she explains. “They were very provocative, and every time one was about to air, the network would find a reason not to air it. Instead, the news would report that our spots were yanked and then show them in their entirety, which ended up working in our favor.”

Through this experience she realized that you actually can use advertising to create social action. “I sort of fell in love with that,” she says. “As the years went on — I have been producing commercials for about 14 years now — I would get pickier about what types of commercials I felt comfortable working on.”

Through some of the the people she worked with on The Detroit Project, she heard about Al Gore’s slideshow and he was approached by David, Bender, Burns, Chilcott and director Davis Guggenheim about turning it into a movie. The movie turned out to be the Oscar-winning documentary about global warming called An Inconvenient Truth. “I thought I knew a lot about global warming from the books that I read and the lifestyle choices I had been making, but I learned a lot more during the extensive research we did for the film and, of course, from Al Gore.”

Since working on An Inconvenient Truth, Chilcott started her own non-profit called Unscrew America (www.unscrewamerica.com), which she founded with Roy Spence, a founder of ad agency GSD&M Idea City. Unscrew America wants people to unscrew their regular light bulbs and switch to energy efficient ones.

This is her current obsession, and she reports “55 million bulbs are sold every day, and due to this astounding fact, our choices in lighting have a tremendous affect, especially since lighting accounts for almost 20 percent of the average home’s electricity bill.” She says for our industry, in terms of set lighting, there are more LED lights becoming available. “It will take some time to get the right color temperatures and exactly what we need for a number of different applications, but I think lighting is going to be a big way we can make a dent.”

While easily available CFL bulbs do contain a small amount of mercury, according to Chilcott, they can save 2,000 times their own weight in greenhouse gases. People just need to be made aware how important it is that they be disposed of properly. Mercury-free LEDs are becoming easier to find and they use 97 percent less energy than a regular bulb. “The way I remember it,” she says, “is CFLs are 10x as efficient than regular light bulbs and LEDs are 10x as efficient than CFLs.”

Chilcott points people to www.Earth911.org, which, after you type in your zip code, tells you where in your area these bulbs can be disposed of.

A key to getting people involved, she says, is making it easy for them, and probably the easiest way to help is by getting rid of bottled water. “I am sure you have read the statistics of how many water bottles we throw away, how much fuel goes into transporting them, and how much it takes to create a plastic bottle, which has petroleum products. It’s one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done on this earth.”
Chilcott is always sharing green tips, and here are just a few: plug computers and peripherals into a power strip and shut it off at night so there is no stand-by power being sucked; call the phone company and tell them you don’t want a phone book this year; take your own bag to the dry cleaner; have a recycle bin for electronic waste — CDs, DVDs, cables, old Palm Pilots — in the office and send it out to an e-waste recycler every couple of months.

Chilcott doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk, putting her own tips to good use on her productions, like the recently completed documentary about the electric guitar for Sony Classics called It Might Get Loud. It comes out later in this year and features Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White.
“We banned the water bottle, we carbon offset the entire film, we set up the e-waste bins for post production in the office,” she reports. The film’s three editing systems were on power strips that were shut off at night, nobody used a plastic bag for lunch, instead they were offered reusable ones provided by the production, and we carpooled to mixes, etc.”

According to Chilcott, in her offices, “the lighting that we can change, we change to CFLs, if we print at all, we print draft quality and double sided and we buy recycled paper.” She points out that her films don’t have a lot of waste by nature. “When we make documentaries we don’t have wardrobe department, we don’t build sets, so it’s easy for us to make greener choices.”

She sums up, “As an industry, whether it’s through the AICP or the AICE, we need to continue all of our greening efforts, but there is inherently a lot of waste and that is where carbon offsets come in. We should create a new line item in both our post and our production budgets, and call it the carbon offset line.

“It is not that expensive to offset your carbon output, and in the process you learn exactly where the waste is. Companies like Native Energy have forms that you fill out that make it very simple to do.”


MiShawn Williams, owner of KENTcollective (www.kentcollective.com), a Santa Monica-based music, sound design and branding company, knew she wanted to make a difference. “I wanted to do something that was environmentally responsible for myself personally, and realized the one place I could really make a difference, and that we could all do easily enough, was getting rid of plastic bottles.”

As Williams researched the impact of the single-use plastic water bottle on the environment, she discovered just how many people in developing nations have no easy access to safe drinking water. It was then she realized that her quest was going to be two-fold; she would help the environment and her fellow man as well.

Two years ago, Williams started the non-profit GLASS (www.giveaglass.org), described as an advertising/post/production effort to decrease waste in the environment and increase clean water supply to the world. Her goal for GLASS is to end our industry’s dependence on individual plastic water bottles in the office and on shoots, and to contribute to clean water projects for the 1.1 billion people in the world in need.

Williams started off small — changing things in her office. “A couple of years ago, if you had a client come in for a meeting, it was easy and preferable to give them their own individual bottle of water. The solution was to ‘give a glass’ of water instead. At first the reaction was mixed, but now they embrace it wholeheartedly.”

Through her Website, Williams gives people “different resources and options to buy reusable bottles that they can provide to everyone — crew, client, talent — on set. We have an easy and economical choice, which is the $2 bio bottle [biodegradable and recyclable], and people are encouraged to reuse that  on a several-day shoot. And there are stainless steel bottles if you want to take it up a notch.”

The site also offers tips on how to communicate the change to your staff in a way that they will embrace and not resent. “You tell them, ‘We have a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint or we have a commitment to be more environmentally responsible, and that is why we no longer have individual water bottles in the office or on set.’”

Also on the site are alarming facts like these: 60 million plastic water bottles end up in landfills daily. That’s 38 billion water bottles per year; one out of six people in the world do not have safe drinking water; it takes 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and one billion pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere, to feed the American demand for plastic water bottles; US commercial productions use 700 single-use, plastic bottles per hour.

According to Williams, 10 percent of the proceeds from bottle sales go to clean water projects via non-profit partner WaterPartners International, a US-based organization committed to providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries.

On www.giveaglass.org there is a list of companies who have made a commitment to keep single-use bottles off their productions. “Some of the companies, like Deutsch in LA, have mandated that their production companies, their productions, their post companies do not use individual plastic water bottles — whether it’s a session or on set,” reports Williams. “Goodby has started doing it as well, and while some of the other companies might not do it all the time, they have done a GLASS shoot at least once.” To date, Williams estimates that there have been over 50 GLASS shoots with about 26 commercial production companies participating and many post companies.

While eliminating water bottles on production and in offices is a big step, Williams knows it’s just the beginning. “There are so many other things that people in production can do to be green, like changing to CFL lights in the office to using lumber approved by the Forest Stewardship Council for sets.”
“What works about GLASS is that it’s simple to implement, simple to replicate and simple to keep consistent. Doing this one simple, single thing begins to impact how the individual views the next ‘one’ thing that he or she can do to be environmentally responsible, which is what we want to accomplish beyond just getting rid of the plastic bottle.”


Joseph Uliano, executive producer at LA’s Merge@Crossroads (www.mergefilms.com), believes that conservation can permeate all aspects of one’s life. Not only does he implement energy- and environment-friendly policies while on the job producing spots and music videos, he and his wife Sophie — author of Gorgeously Green, a NY Times bestseller — have a Website (www.gorgeouslygreen.com) where they sell green products and share tips for green living.

Uliano believes that while green is currently just a talking point for most it will become standard in five to 10 years. “For me, this next decade is going to be about thoughtfulness in terms of saving money, about the planet and one’s personal environment. We are just starting the process.”

A key to getting companies on board, he says, is showing them that in helping save the planet, they will save money. “You feel good doing it when you are saving yourself money and getting a better quality of life out of it.”

Merge@Crossroads, like many companies in the industry, is using the Internet to cut its carbon footprint, especially in showing work to potential clients. Uliano says, “In the old days you would make a tape, put it in a package, a truck picked it up, took it to an airplane, then to a truck, then to a place. They would look at it and it went in a trash can.”

All of Merge’s reels are online. “Not only is it instant and fast, our shipping and our dubbing bills came down about 60 percent. For me, it’s about saving money and the planet at the same time, and that’s when it makes sense to everybody.”

The Internet also helps in the post process in terms of doing reviews and approvals remotely. “The editor posts it and I’ll look at it,” he says. “I don’t have to drive to Santa Monica three times and neither does the director or the client.” It also cuts down on airplane travel, saving money and your footprint.
Uliano has found that if you explain to people that being green won’t cost them more money and change can be simple, they will do it. “It’s hard for people to focus on the polar ice caps and do something different in business, but if you can actually show someone the benefits, people will do it,” he explains. “It’s just education.”

And it’s been as simple as requesting that the post houses they work with get separate garbage cans and recycle. Uliano has also suggested to some that instead of bottles of Pellegrino, there’s a machine for $50 that will carbonate water. “You don’t have to bring in bottles or worry about throwing them out, and you don’t have to buy anything — it comes with reusable bottles.”

Back at Merge, instead of water bottles the staff refills its glasses from a large water cooler, they make sure the sprinklers in the yard are only in use every other day, and they shut down computers at night. “All those things add up,” reports Uliano, “and it’s the right thing to do.”

Spending much of his time on sets, Uliano sees so much waste, and water bottles are just a small part of it. “In just one day you see all the garbage, and then you see it go into one trash bag.” He suggests putting a “green PA” on set who is in charge making sure the plastic goes in one place, glass another.
Merge@Crossroads’ production book states that they don’t want Styrofoam cups on set, they want compostable or recyclables. “It doesn’t cost me more and it won’t sit on a landfill for a hundred years,” says Uliano. The same rule applies to the caterers — no Styrofoam, paper plates or plastic utensils. He points them to a restaurant supply store. “It’s not a big expense, and they just keep washing the stuff,” explains Uliano. “You never have to buy it again and it reduces your trash. Over a period of time you actually make money from not having paper plates because your are not buying them again.”

For Uliano, seeing the waste in the production process is difficult. All the lumber from the sets going into the trash… but he is seeing a change. “There is a new thought process going on, but it takes time, which equals money in the production business, and it’s hard to cross that line of using screws and taking them out and reusing the lumber or having a company come and reclaim it.”

He has also noticed that stages have become more aware of what is running when not in use. “When stage facilities are not shooting, they want to shut down as much as possible and have lights and air conditioners be on timers. That’s how they can save money and make a profit.” Again, it’s all about showing people that conserving and preserving could equal savings.


Along with some industry pros who have started grassroots endeavors, the big guys are stepping up too. Sony Pictures Entertainment (www.sonypictures.com) in Culver City is just one of the major film and television studios taking the environment into account in all aspects of its business.

“Here at Sony Pictures Entertainment, environmental sustainability is a comprehensive effort to change our corporate culture and the way we think about our work and our impact on the environment,” says Jon Corcoran, VP, corporate safety & environmental affairs. “Our sustainability initiatives span all areas of our business — from facilities to production, manufacturing and distribution to our interaction with the community. We have seen a positive impact, not only in the numbers — reduced waste, increased recycling and reuse — but in operational efficiency and, importantly, employee morale.”

According to Sony Pictures, in 2008 they recycled 48 tons of electronic waste, and copy paper used at the studio is 30 percent post consumer waste recycled content.

The studio has been reusing set pieces on TV and feature productions in order to reduce the studio’s environmental impact on natural resources. They have also implemented an electronic production management system for its TV business, meaning all call-sheets, crew lists, script revisions, production reports and other production related documents are distributed and stored electronically instead of being printed. They are also experimenting with LED lighting, which consumes 50 percent less electricity and 70 percent less heat, and other lower energy profile technologies to aid in reducing the studio’s production footprint. And the studio says interior scenes from the new Bond film Quantum of Solace were often shot with LED lights.

Here’s a quick look at some other areas Sony Pictures has been going green: They are using 100 percent renewable energy for its Arizona data center, which will help reduce its carbon footprint by up to 19,710 tons over the next three years, equal to removing nearly 3,240 cars from the road; the studio is also moving toward digital distribution of films, supporting the proliferation of digital cinema (reducing the need for production, distribution and disposal of mass quantities of film stock); they are switching to email distribution of newsletters and other communications previously distributed on paper; they established a “green” production policy that outlines and enforces best practices in reducing environmental impact in movie and TV production; and the studio is shooting digitally with the Panavision Genesis camera featuring Sony chip technology.