Sustainable filmmaking

What impact could a little film production in the neighborhood have? They come in with their actors, sets and camera crews, play it all out and then leave, neatly closing the door behind them. Sounds like the best “green business” ever, right?

Well, not always. Sometimes what’s left behind are cartloads of luan flats headed for the landfill, enough water bottles and paper plates to hint that the circus has come to town and idling production trucks excreting a full dinosaur’s worth of gaseous waste by day’s end.

It may be preaching to the choir to bring a heavy-weight environmental panel to Woodstock, but the stewards of green filmmaking hit town at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 at Utopia Studios to raise consciousness and lower carbon footprints. Panelists include Lydia Dean, president of Cine Mosaic; filmmaker Catherine Carpenter of Green Media Solutions; Joe Berlinger, winner of Best International Green Film in Berlin; producer Mari Jo Winkler; National Geographic filmmaker Jon Bowermaster; filmmaker Larry Fessenden, author of “Low Impact Filmmaking: A Guide to Environmentally Sound Film and Video Production: and Eva Radke, founder of Film Biz Recycling.

I had a chance to sit down with Radke to learn about some of the ideas filmmakers can use to reduce a production’s impact on the environment.

“Watch your petroleum use. Watch how far you travel and consolidate locations. Having a no-idling policy is really important,” Radke said. It seems like good business to keep fuel costs low and recycle, re-sell or donate set materials after production, but Radke said that’s actually a newer trend.

“Taking Woodstock was an extremely green production. They donated all their materials to us and we did a green clearinghouse. I like to use the acronym WRAP: waste reduction always pays,” Radke said. She recommends production companies find reuse centers in the area and let them to process the set materials. “Find a theater or a high school and deconstruct the sets and give it to them to use. Send it to Habitat for Humanity. In New York City there’s Build a Dream, where they’ll recycle materials or sell it to the public for 20 cents on the dollar, so it’s win/win.” 

Radke pointed out that green film production starts with the leadership and attitudes of the producers and the onus is on them to make sure everyone understands the ideas, from the 17th electrician on a night shoot to the one-day location shoot caterer.

“Some producers will say ‘I’m all about the green thing, but I just don’t want it to cost me any more money.’ If productions simply bought reusuable water bottles, they’ll save thousands of dollars. If they donate leftover materials instead of putting them in a dumpster, they’ll save thousands of dollars AND get tax deductions. I’ve done the math for two and a half years and it has never, ever cost more to think green,” Radke said.

Woodstock will be home to more than 100 filmmakers from several countries during the Sept. 29-Oct. 3 festival, so the ideas of environmental responsibility, green filmmaking and leaving no trace except thoughtful films behind has a chance to take hold.

For tickets to the panel event, go to www.woodstockfilmfestival.com. If you miss the panel discussion but are interested in the ideas, check out Carpenter’s Green Film/TV Production Guide at www.greenmediasolutions.net; Fessenden’s book on low impact filmmaking at www.glasseyepix.com/lowimpact; and Radke’s site www.filmbizrecycling.org.

–Deborah Medenbach

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  • Blog Author

    Deborah Medenbach

    Deborah Medenbach brings her multimedia coverage talents to the film shoots, stage productions, celebrity stories, film festivals and basic business of film and theater in the Hudson Valley. Read Full

    Timothy Malcolm

    Timothy has been the arts and entertainment editor of the Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown, N.Y., since 2008. He covers a wide array of topics, focusing on performing arts, film and the visual arts. Read Full
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