Focus in the Green

Reports from the Sets of BEING FLYNN and HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

By Scott Macaulay | November 14, 2011
Focus on Green

The Environmental Media Association recognized both BEING FLYNN and HYDE PARK ON HUDSON with an EMA Green Seal. Find out why.

“It’s not an alien concept anymore,” says Focus Features E.V.P. of Physical Production Jane Evans about the concept of “greening” film production. Years ago that wasn’t the case, though, with skeptics wondering just how environmentally friendly an industry centered around quickly building and then trashing sets could become. Now, says Evans, who has been a pioneer in bringing environmental awareness to film production, green filmmaking is simply “a reflection of what’s going on in society.” She observes, “These days you can go to the supermarket and find green products. Big companies have their green product lines. You can easily find non-toxic cleaning supplies. And as society becomes more aware, the costs for these products are coming down — there’s more demand, and that creates more supply.”

A few years ago, green efforts were driven by a few environmentally aware executives, like Evans, as well as like-minded producers and production managers. Today these practices are more broadly accepted as necessary elements of filmmaking in the 21st century. There’s even a Green Production Guide that production managers use to find green vendors and learn best practices and info on carbon calculation.

So, what goes into greening a film set? Green film production involves coordinating large-scale efforts to reduce environmental impact and carbon emissions, and to encourage recycling and the diverting of waste from landfills. “There’s a lot of tracking,” says Evans. “We collect waste measurements from the catering company, and we keep track of how much is recycled and reused. At the end of production we can say, for example, that 85% of a production’s waste has been diverted from local landfills and we’re able to show exactly how we did it. Then, with the Environmental Health and Safety Team at Universal we calculate the carbon footprint on every show, and efforts are made to purchase offsets.”

On the set of BEING FLYNN

On the set of BEING FLYNN

Also, importantly, says Evans, “We have a Green P.A. on every film now.” Maria Pia Fanigliulo was the Green P.A. on Focus’ recently wrapped BEING FLYNN, Paul Weitz’s hardscrabble father-son tale starring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano. In her wrap report, Fanigliulo says that when she first arrived for work she was impressed by the crew’s “green attitude.” “I quickly realized departments had already set up main ecological arrangements by themselves,” she writes, noting the presence of production office, set dressing and costume department recycling strategies, reusable water bottles, and dumpsters to recycle location and set construction waste.

As the shoot progressed, Fanigliulo’s job involved communicating further green strategies to the various departments and then coordinating recycling and reuse efforts. Food, set dressing, costume materials and painting supplies were donated to the Bowery Mission, which she dubbed “a versatile non-profit organization” with “a good understanding of the film industry, its tight schedules and unexpected changes.” Indeed, successfully implementing recycling and reuse methods depends on finding like-minded partners. “I believe this attitude is essential for any non-profit organization interested in getting donations from any physical production,” Fanigliulo writes. “They need to be prepared by the Green P.A. to be flexible, ready whenever required to avoid problems to the shoot.”

As the Assets/Green Manager of another recent Focus shoot, HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, Anna Hinds was tasked with implementing the green initiatives that would reduce the environmental impact of this Roger Michell period romance. In her wrap memo, Hinds notes that between 88 and 92 percent of on-set waste was carted to a local Materials Recovery Facility, with the rest being used to create “energy from waste… ensuring zero-landfill contribution from the production.” Other practices included: renting metal scaffolding to reduce the production’s use of lumber; using local, seasonal and organic foods in catering; digital distribution of production office documents; a “no-plastic water bottles” policy; and bio-degradable — rather than disposable — overshoes for the film’s primary indoor location. Another initiative, and one all green-conscious films should follow: supporting artists were emailed a memo detailing the film’s green practices before their arrival on set.

Green production assistants — every Focus film set now has one — make sure that recycling and energy conservation practices are observed by film crews. And at the studio level there’s another relatively new position, one that oversees the larger coordination of green filmmaking efforts.

On the set of HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

On the set of HYDE PARK
ON HUDSON

At Universal, that Sustainable Production Manager is Shannon Schaefer Bart, who became an executive after working as a freelancer in film and television production. She remembers, “It didn't take long for me to see that with the fast past, temporary nature of production, waste and excess just happen. I realized the need for a systematic change in the way we make films, and I devoted my career to figuring out how to do this.”

Prior to her job at Universal, Bart worked on the Focus Features film A Serious Man, on which she implemented a number of sustainability initiatives. “Our waste diversion effort was incredibly successful, we were able to compost and recycle on all of the shooting locations, and ended up diverting 80% of the set waste away from the local incinerator.”

Her work on A Serious Man brought her to the attention of other producers. "Offers to continue ‘greening’ film sets continued to roll in,” she says, and then, in May 2009, she “started working in this role at NBCUniversal full-time. The creation of the Sustainable Production Manager position speaks to NBCUniversal’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and brings the "Green is Universal" initiative to physical production.”

Of her position, Bart says, “I work with television and feature film productions to implement sustainable best practices that reduce waste, energy and source sustainable materials as part of NBCUniversal's ongoing company-wide environmental initiative, ‘Green is Universal’. While a big part of ‘Green is Universal’ is dedicated to raising awareness and entertaining audiences about the state of our environment, it's just as much about integrating these practices into our very own operations as a leading media company.”

What does she do day to day?  “Educating and engaging productions across our portfolio to make sure we actively participate in the evolution and implementation of sustainable practices, tracking and analyzing trends and environmental data to improve sustainability programs, connecting sustainable vendors with filmmakers, and implementing innovations and new technology throughout the production process,” Barth responds. “On an average day I am meeting with department heads to provide tips and resources for implementing sustainable practices, attending the demo of a new energy efficient technology or sustainable product, and working closely with ‘Green is Universal’ to continuously develop incentives, best practices and policies that drive innovation throughout the company.”

With the green filmmaking practices outlined here being increasingly adopted by the film business, what further work needs to be done? For Fanigliulo, the answer lies in greater communication with film crews about not only the ecological necessity but the essential practicality of green production. “I think people should never feel their work threatened by the green attitude,” she writes. “They should see it as a better option to how things have been done so far.” Evans too sees green filmmaking as being about changing individual consciousness. “We are cheerleaders, and we remind people,” she says. “And we hope that this consciousness extends beyond the workplace.”

About the challenge to make filmmaking responsive to the planet’s needs, Bart is optimistic. “The entertainment industry has always been full of progressive and creative people,” she says. “When we are presented with a challenge, most times we can figure out how to make it happen. This is apparent as more and more people are becoming environmentally aware. Many of the sustainable products and practices that are used today were invented, tried and perfected by industry professionals… The best part is that as environmental consciousness grows, so does our list of sustainable practices and innovations. It really is an exciting time to be a part of the green evolution of filmmaking.”

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