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
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?