Movies and mu­sic: the price for the planet

Do we have to pay a high en­vi­ron­men­tal price to feed our love of mu­sic and movies? Davin O’Dwyer re­ports on the tricky trade-offs be­ing made be­tween the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try and the planet

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Feature - irish­­icket/

LIGHTS, cam­era, action – a catch­phrase that has long cap­tured the magic of film-mak­ing, evok­ing the tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry that brings cin­ema to life. But in­creas­ingly, it also points to cin­ema’s un­der-dis­cussed en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem – all those lights are usu­ally tung­sten in­can­des­cent lights, those cam­eras of­ten con­tain vast amounts of film re­quir­ing harm­ful chem­i­cals to process, and all that action, es­pe­cially of the ex­plo­sive, Michael Bay-va­ri­ety, doesn’t come without emit­ting a few tonnes of green­house gasses. In short, for all its loudly pro­claimed lib­eral ide­al­ism and en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, Hol­ly­wood has a car­bon foot­print prob­lem – a size­able fea­ture film pro­duc­tion will have a foot­print of King Kong pro­por­tions, emit­ting about 450 tonnes of CO2 and up to 10,000 tonnes of construction waste for fea­tures with par­tic­u­larly large sets. And that’s be­fore you con­sider the di­rec­tor and stars jet­ting around the world for press-the-flesh pub­lic­ity, or all those prints that get pro­duced for what are ever shorter release pe­ri­ods.

And it’s not just the film and TV in­dus­try – while block­busters such as Trans­form­ers 2, say, al­most make a point of ap­pear­ing as de­struc­tive as pos­si­ble, the world of mu­sic has its own equiv­a­lent in those gar­gan­tuan sta­dium tours and seem­ingly bu­colic mu­sic fes­ti­vals. And then there’s CD packaging, par­tic­u­larly the ex­as­per­at­ing plas­tic jewel case, which ac­counts for one-third of the record­ing and pub­lish­ing sec­tor’s green­house gas emis­sions in the UK.

In ad­vance of the Copen­hagen Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber, it’s worth re­mind­ing our­selves that all in­dus­tries have an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, not just those ob­vi­ously pol­lut­ing sec­tors such as min­ing or oil ex­trac­tion, and that all in­dus­tries have an obli­ga­tion to min­imise their car­bon foot­print and green­house gas emis­sions. But when an in­dus­try dis­plays enough hubris to put on an event such as Live Earth, or shower a doc­u­men­tary such as An In­con­ve­nient Truth with such ac­claim, then those in­dus­tries have an even more acute obli­ga­tion not just to im­ple­ment high stan­dards of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity, but to be seen to lead­ing the way. In­evitably, there are nu­mer­ous peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions cur­rently at work who are do­ing just that.

The New Zealand film in­dus­try, in par­tic­u­lar, is pi­o­neer­ing sus­tain­able, en­vi­ron­men­tally sound film­ing prac­tices, with Film New Zealand go­ing to great lengths to en­sure that all as­pects of the film-mak­ing process ad­here to en­vi­ron­men­tal best prac­tice, go­ing so far as to sug­gest that char­ac­ters be seen to drive hy­brid cars and re­cy­cle waste.

A sim­i­lar project by Film Lon­don re­vealed that Lon­don’s to­tal screen in­dus­try emis­sions are es­ti­mated to be in the re­gion of 125,000 tonnes a year, equiv­a­lent to the emis­sions pro­duced by about 24,000 Lon­don homes. Mean­while in Toronto, the large num­ber of Cana­dian and in­deed Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions has prompted the lo­cal film-re­lated com­mu­nity to band to­gether to form Green Screen Toronto, an as­so­ci­a­tion that pro­vides a frame­work for en­cour­ag­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing cleaner film-mak­ing.

Candida Paltiel, the chair of Green Screen Toronto and head of Planet in Fo­cus, an en­vi­ron­men­tal film and video fes­ti­val, and Ed McNa­mara, Green Screen’s re­source di­rec­tor, de­scribe the chal­lenges the group faces in help­ing the in­dus­try al­ter their habits.

“Green Screen cov­ers a broad cross-sec­tion of as­so­ci­a­tions, and a con­flu­ence of forces brought us to­gether,” says Paltiel. “Each of us was work­ing in­di­vid­u­ally on try­ing to deal with sus­tain­abil­ity and what that meant for the in­dus­try. I re­alised in essence we were a clus­ter, we could join forces and find some ways to start tackling is­sues to­gether. Be­cause if we didn’t find some way of putting up a uni­fied front it wouldn’t work.”

“We have an op­por­tu­nity to be an agent of change for the in­dus­try,” says McNa­mara. “Here, it’s pretty de­cen­tralised, so hav­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that can take charge of some of this lob­by­ing is cru­cial. In­stead of ad­mon­ish- ing those who do poorly, we can be an or­gan­i­sa­tion to of­fer lead­er­ship from within.”

But while the film busi­ness in On­tario is size­able enough to war­rant an ini­tia­tive such as Green Screen, the Ir­ish in­dus­try is a much smaller op­er­a­tion. Still, there are ef­forts to keep the in­dus­try as green as pos­si­ble. Tom Con­roy, pro­duc­tion de­signer on The Tu­dors, as well as on films such as East is East, In­ter­mis­sion and Break­fast on Pluto, has long been aware of how waste­ful his in­dus­try has been.

“On The Tu­dors, we made sure all the tim­ber we were sourc­ing came from sus­tain­able forests, as a point of first prin­ci­ple. We have some stand­ing sets here in Ard­more for The Tu­dors, but nearly all the tim­ber we use is re­cy­cled by a com­pany in Wick­low. In the old days it used to be skipped. We also re­cy­cle within our­selves, so we’ve de­signed the sets on a mod­u­lar sys­tem, and each part can in­ter­link with an­other part – kind of like a so­phis­ti­cated, large-scale Lego. This works with episodic TV pro­duc­tion, be­cause we can let sets stand from year to year.”

As for turn­ing Ire­land into a green-film pro­duc­tion cen­tre, Con­roy is re­al­is­tic.

“We are an ab­so­lutely tiny, tiny seg­ment of the film-mak­ing scene. In re­al­ity, we have to plug into other in­fra­struc­tures that are in place, such as the construction in­dus­try. For in­stance, the wood­chip re­cy­clers ex­ist for the

Work­ers build the claw cen­tre­piece for U2’s con­cert at Camp Nou sta­dium in Barcelona in June. The band have a car­bon-off­set­ting scheme, but is it enough?

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