Building Sustainability… On Location and In Education!

When we shot “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher,” we did our best to produce the film in a sustainable, green-minded way. Some of the things we attempted include:

  • Using Bio-Diesel
  • Reusing Clothes for Costumes
  • Eco-friendly Flatware
  • Shooting On-location
  • Shooting Digitally
  • Being Carbon Neutral
Using Bio-Diesel

We secured a bio-diesel donation from Tulsa Biofuels for our trailers and trucks. In the future, film producers who’d like to make use of bio-diesel for their diesel vehicles and generators should take caution: bio-diesel has a specific freezing point. So if you’re planning on shooting in cold months, find out what the specific freezing point is of the bio-diesel that you’re using.

Reusing Clothes for Costumes

Most actors in the film either wore their own clothes or clothes that had been rented from costume shops or purchased from second-hand stores. We also incorporated organic and sustainably manufactured pieces that were donated. In the future, I might like to see any wardrobe that has been built specifically for a film be donated to an organization like Dress for Success or simply Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Sometimes “sustainability” can be akin to helping those less fortunate.

Eco-friendly Flatware

With our catering department, we used mostly local produce and products as well as utilizing ceramic plates and stainless steel flatware. Also we used eco-friendly cups, plates and utensils for our craft services department. However, I’d still like to run the numbers on the difference between manufacturing a few eco-friendly plates (etc) and the amount of water and heat it takes to clean 45 ceramic or glass plates for each meal. It may not add up… Somebody want to do that and get back to me?

Shooting On-location

This is an easy one for independent film producers. Because it’s often difficult to rent studios, shooting “on location” is often a default. But the good news is, that default is also the sustainable choice. Using existing locations means that sets aren’t being built that will be trashed eventually. Ideally, we’d have the resources [read: money] some day to gut-renovate a dilapidated location and leave the place better than we found it! What a dream that would be! But for now, we’re happy with not creating more garbage.

Shooting Digitally

We shot on digital hard drive cameras, as opposed to film. For me, the jury is still out on whether this saves energy or not. Film is rarely trashed – most filmmakers keep their film “in the can” in safe storage, under lock and key! But it sure does take a lot of energy to power hard drives! Also, I can’t deny that shooting on film requires more people, more time, and more money, so shooting on hard drives makes a lot of sense financially; but I have yet to be convinced that “shooting digital” is the more sustainable choice.

Recycling When Possible

We had recycling bins distributed all throughout the set at each location – in our catering tent, in our roving production office, in our trailers. Even with this accessibility, it was still a challenge to get our crew to recycle diligently. Part of the problem was that, in the beginning, no-one was assigned to bring the recycling to the recycling depot. Admittedly, as Line Producer, that was my job (to assign that job to somebody) and I eventually did just that, once I was aware of the problem. This being my first time on a set that was attempting to be “sustainable,” it’s just not something that I’d had to think about before; but I will certainly think about it in the future.

Being Carbon Neutral

Through a donation to a company called Native Energy, we were able to offset the entire film-making process, from development through post-production, and then some! So not only is the film carbon neutral, it’s actually carbon negative. When all else fails, this is a great way to support sustainability.

Regardless of my thoughts and opinions, successes and failures, regarding my recent sustainable filmmaking efforts, I do intend to continue making progress toward not only an economically sound method of independent filmmaking, but also a sustainably profitable method of filmmaking. The two ideals may be difficult to marry, but I’m committed to the challenge.

And because of my experience and commitment, as well as plenty of other experiences with film production, I’ve been asked to be involved in a mentorship program at the University of Western Ontario, specifically for the Building Sustainable Value Research Centre at the Richard Ivey School of Business (aka “the Harvard of Canada”).  I’m listed among some pretty amazing people and am totally honoured to be participating!

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