The entertainment industry is a behemoth that employs millions of people all over the world. Film-making, advertising, video production and visual effects are just some of the industries that exist under the umbrella of the entertainment industry, many of which collide on filmsets, a fun and exciting place to work if ever there was one. The buzz, the activity, the silence that falls on set as soon as the clapper is dropped and the thrill of the pursuing scene once the camera rolls are all worth experiencing. While all of that sounds amazing and glamorous — and it is — these spaces also generate a colossal amount of waste. When making a big-budget Hollywood movie or creating a top-notch commercial at an advertising agency, the sky is not the limit. Budgets, resources and energy are pushed to the hilt for that ‘perfect take.’ As an illustrative example, let’s take a look at some statistics to understand the resources that go into making a movie.
According to a 2021 study, a production produces anywhere between 391 to 3370 metric tons of CO2. To put that in perspective, it’s 7 million pounds of carbon dioxide produced per film. To simplify this further, a vehicle produces 4.6 metric tons of CO2 annually when used daily. This means that a single large Hollywood production produces 732 cars worth of carbon dioxide. An average of 46 trees offset 1 ton of CO2 annually. Thus, 155,020 trees are required to offset the carbon emitted from a single blockbuster film. Here is another eye opener: the film industry’s carbon footprint is greater than the aerospace industry or the semi-conductor industry or the hotel industry.
How are these statistics so appalling? How does a film set produce so much waste? To answer that question, we need to look at a film set and explore all it’s moving pieces. A film set is a complex space. It brings together multiple departments and utilities. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger moving pieces that are part of a film’s production.
The film set itself uses raw material to replicate or build a city or a scene. Here, you can find everything that you would see on a regular construction site — from concrete to wood, plastic, iron, etc. These sets are built from scratch; then, once filming is complete, they are dismantled. All of this material needs to be transported to the place
where it is put together, and once filming is complete, it needs to be carried away. That also adds to transportation costs and emissions, which we will discuss next. Hollywood did find a great new way to minimize the carbon footprint that is generated from set building: virtual production. Seen for the first time on The Mandalorian, virtual sets are an efficient new way to reduce the waste generated by set building.
Even with virtual production gaining traction, the transportation factor still remains. People, including crew, actors and other staff need to be on
set. Equipment and all the other peripherals need to be transported to and from the film set. The fuel consumed to transport people and supplies and to power generators on a film set remain the highest contributing factors. According to an article in Variety magazine, they account for 48–56% of a film set’s carbon footprint. In this case, better management of equipment and people would help to reduce the number of trips. Moreover, in terms of on-set generators, the technology is improving, and LED lights and panels for virtual productions are replacing traditional power-hungry lights and other equipment.
To keep such massive sets and crews running, they need fuel as well. That is when food and beverage come into picture. Plastic bottles, plastic food packaging, plastic utensils, coffee cups, plates, etc., all create a huge amount of waste on the film set. Using reusable personal bottles or flasks goes a long way. As an active crew member, I always carry my own flask and refill it throughout the day. It is a simple and cost-effective choice. Once that is addressed, the next issue is food wastage. It is said that a film set wastes or dumps 72 tons of food. If you factor in the environmental footprint of producing that food, getting it to a table on the film set and then just throwing it out in the dumpster, the loss is painful. Big budget movies are known to have a lot of food options, especially meat. While it sounds good to be well fed, a lot of this food just ends up in the dumpster.
The equivalent of 3 buffet meals for the entire cast and crew is reportedly thrown out. This can be changed. Whenever possible, I carry my own food on set. This reduces waste and the overall carbon footprint. While it isn’t possible for everyone to do so, a better way to provide food is to order it for each individual. That way, the correct quantity of food gets ordered and consumed. Bigger productions can even have an on-set menu-based catering option. This reduces the distance that food has to travel to reach the set, thus reducing fuel consumption. If there is an option to order what you want to eat, only that much gets made; hence, waste is reduced. Film sets can aim to go vegan. Given the increase in vegan options and meat alternatives, a vegan movie set will have a much lower carbon footprint.
These are some of the major points showing the current unsustainability of film making. There are even reports of how some movies have directly affected the environment by being careless regarding the location where they were filming. This could have been avoided easily. Dumping or leaving behind waste in the filming location is a rookie mistake. For a long-term and sustainable trajectory, this needs to change. And, most critically, it will need to change at an uncomfortable pace in order to facilitate a huge shift in mindset and the subsequent reduction in resource consumption. There are many initiatives being put into place,
and many movie sets and studios have stepped forward to go green. The Producer’s Guild is also coming up with guidelines and incentives to make movie sets greener.
Films are fun, and film sets even more so, but the current unsustainable trends are not good for the environment. Small, definite and concrete steps taken every day will push the trajectory toward sustainability. The medium of film can drive powerful social change. We must come together to use that very medium efficiently, sustainably and consciously.
About the author
With over 9 years of industry experience in film and visual effects, Shreyans Zaveri has worked and studied across the globe.
Shreyans Zaveri is an author and filmmaker. He works towards sustainability and conservation. Some of his films are also focused on the same. You can read more about him here.