Behind-The-Screen Green: Hollywood Sets Go Sustainable

Jun 9, 2011
Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.
(Photo: Getty Images).

There are a lot of reasons we choose to fork over $8 to see a movie these days: we love the star, we're impressed by the special effects, we've got a thing for talking pandas.  

But what about whether the film's production was powered by a biodiesel alternative fuel generator?

Admittedly, a film's green credentials are not usually at the top of the list. But a growing number of TV shows and movies are trying to change that by embracing sustainable production techniques and trying to cut down on the waste and excess that have traditionally plagued Hollywood sets.

Last year, 32 productions were recognized by the Environmental Media Association with their EMA Green Seal, an award that honors progress in sustainable production and environmentally-responsible filmmaking.

And we're not talking about some small, eco-themed documentary helmed by a bunch of crunchy, granola-chomping hippies from Berkeley either. 2010 EMA Green Seal honorees include fan favorites like 30 Rock, Eat, Pray, Love, Black Swan, and 127 Hours

It's all part of an effort to green one of the last bastions of waste in an industry that has otherwise throughly embraced the Prius-driving, sustainable eating, recycling lifestyle. 

Green Movies and TV Shows From 2010
  • 30 Rock
  • Psych
  • Parenthood
  • Warehouse 13
  • Knight and Day
  • Water for Elephants
  • Win Win
  • Love and Other Drugs
  • Marmaduke
  • The Descendants
  • Valentine's Day
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love
  • Bad Teacher
  • Battle: Los Angeles
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • Friends With Benefits
  • Green Hornet
  • Anonymous
  • Just Go With it
  • How Do You Know
  • The Other Guys
  • SALT
  • The Social Network
  • Grown Ups
  • Karate Kid
  • 127 Hours
  • Big Year
  • Black Swan
  • Theodore Is Dying
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Just Wright

"I was visiting one of our board members who was a television star and from one of the greenest families on the face of the earth, and on the set I noticed there wasn't even a recycling bin," said EMA President Debbie Levin, describing the inspiration to kick start the EMA Green Seal program in 2003. "I'm looking at this garbage can, and there are scripts and water bottles and bananas, and I don't think anyone is noticing this, because they wouldn't do this at home." 

Hollywood was talking the green talk in their scripts, embracing story lines that promoted sustainable living and green products, but they weren't practicing what they preached on set.

So Levin called on a bevy of EMA board members, including actors Wendy Malick, Amy Smart, and Ed Begley, Jr., Fox President Kevin Reilly, and producer Billy Gerber, to figure out which simple fixes they could propose for sets, without driving the talent and the production crew absolutely crazy.

The result? A comprehensive best practices guide that walks film and TV crews through every aspect of greening their shows, from choosing alternative fuel generators to power the lights and equipment, to sourcing sustainably-harvested lumber for building sets. 

Among the other changes:

  • Water waste is a big deal on set, with everyone from talent to executives to assistants using an endless supply of bottled water. For the series Hot In Cleveland, EMA helped install a Brita water filtration system to allow people to fill up reusable containers.
  • Craft services departments generate huge amounts of trash, from individually-wrapped salt and pepper packets to disposable dishes and silverware. EMA suggests quick fixes like communal salt and pepper shakers and compostable paper goods. 
  • Rainbow-colored scripts that generate reams of paper (and are messengered to the set every day) have long been a staple of Hollywood life. But some shows, such as the now-cancelled According To Jim, replace paper scripts as much as possible with tablets. 

"It's super easy as long as you're organized," said Sarah Siegel-Magness, the Executive Producer of the kids' movie Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, which was certified as a green set by EMA (and which opens nationwide on Friday).

"We put together interdepartmental competitions so that people could actually win prizes for being the most green," Siegel-Magness said. "It gave us a strong feeling of camaraderie and also the sense that we were doing something great for the planet."

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer Executive Producer Sarah Siegel-Magness on set. (Photo: Relativity Media).

Plastic water bottles were verboten on the Judy Moody set, with cast and crew getting steel water bottles and carabeners that they could hook on their clothes and refill at water stations. 

"If you didn't have a steel water bottle you were actually looked at kind of funny," Siegel-Magness said. 

The crew also composted on location, bought used lumber for sets, hired a sustainable caterer, and even used some of Siegel-Magness' kids' own artwork that she brought in from home, rather than buying new pieces to decorate the set.

"We did this because it's what we believe," Siegel-Magness said. "And you know, it didn't add any extra time for us, and it didn't add any extra cost for us. And it was a really meaningful bonding experience for everyone. 

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