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Can An Indie Film Really Be Green? Pt. 1 of 3

This post first appeared as a guest blog on the site

Even though I have been working in indie films for the last 10 years I never thought about the waste my company or my industry was creating and outputting each time we went into production on a movie; that is until my company Ambush Entertainment got involved on a film called The River Why. As with all indie films there are struggles along the way in making any movie and most of them revolve around money. There is never enough. So when I heard the producer of The River Why wanted to make the film “green” right after a discussion concerning the fact that we were actually going to try put the film in the can with out the completion funds in place, I thought everyone who was up for this idea might have gone mad.

What did that even mean? GREEN? And how much was that going to cost?

In order to find out, I met up with Lauren Selman of Reel Green Media, the environmental consultant that the production wanted to hire to go “green”. I expected her to be one of those earthy granola old hippie types or perhaps a eco science professor type. Boy was I wrong. She was a cute, bubbly blonde fresh out of Berkeley who really hadn’t even dipped her foot in the world of films except for a student project here or there, and her thesis working on an indie film in San Francisco helping them recycle. “Oh Great”! I thought. “This is the person who is going to GREEN our film? Please, what does she know”… apparently a lot. Quite a lot.

When we sat down together and she started telling me about specific productions and what they have done to our eco systems or landscapes and I was shocked! I thought to myself… “Well, that isn’t me. I don’t’ do that!” but do I? And that is where my interest in “Greening” productions began.

I decided to follow Lauren and film her journey to green The River Why. I wanted to know how to do it. How filmmakers avoid all the waste we were apparently producing? When I started filming Greenlit I thought it might be a cute little behind the scenes footage type of thing for the DVD or something small like that. But it got a lot bigger.

The reasons it got bigger were because so much DRAMA occurred with “greening” of this film. I figured the crew would be totally into “greening” since the film shot in Oregon. I assumed that they would be a bunch of Birkenstock wearing, vegetarian eating, eco nerds. But they weren’t that at all. They were a skilled, insightful, film crew who knew what they were doing and what they needed to do their job and unfortunately that meant that some of them ended up revolting against most of the ideas set in place by Lauren.

Maybe they were upset because they thought she was getting paid more than they were, or maybe they thought she didn’t belong because she wasn’t in any of their unions. Have you ever seen a line item for Green Consulant? Who knows, all I know is it ended up being Gossip Girl meets An Inconvenient Truth, and I thought it was extremely interesting and also hilarious.

I had to make this into it’s own film. So I did. It is called GREENLIT. It premiered at SXSW in 2010 and is now out in VOD and DVD. (Btw- VOD is super green…no packaging!) You can see some of the drama on the trailer here:

The biggest lesson I learned about “greening” a film also applies to “greening” our lives. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to change even the nominal things. That is why it really isn’t done on sets in Hollywood, at least not like everyone says it is.

When we began in pre- production I thought that Lauren would be implementing change in every department. Perhaps she would be making sure that the wardrobe department was using bio degradable soap and all the costumes would be donated or used or organic cotton? Maybe she would make sure craft services is all local and organic, serving no paper plate products, and that the transpo department would consist of all hybrids or bio diesel vehicles. I was sure everyone would carpool. The make up department would only use phalate, paraben and cruelty free makeup right? Turns out I had an overly idealistic idea of what “greening” a film was. All of these things were suggested and encouraged by Lauren but they didn’t happen– not fully anyway.

The main change that occurred going to a green set was that there were absolutely no disposable water bottles on set. And man, was the crew pissed. They wanted their water bottles. It was hot and the big jugs of water with tiny cups weren’t going to cut it. A few other minor changes happened as well. There was recycling on set, which shockingly had to be micromanaged by Lauren, and only on one day were they able to compost.

The reason more ‘greening’ didn’t happen on this indie film is because it wasn’t realistic. Not then anyway. And frankly, it was too expensive. Seventh Generation donated some stuff to the film, which was awesome, but we had to pay product placement services for that. Using 100 % recycled paper was definitely not in their budget so they used 30% recycled here and there, and when they could, they tried to double side scripts. Although that proved time consuming and caused more problems than it solved. Some of the crew camped out at one of the sites which production sold the idea to them that it was “greener” when no one had to drive to set every day, but I’m pretty sure that was due to the fact that they didn’t have the money to put the crew up in any hotels and it was just a few miles shy of the union rules which would require housing. After a 14 hour or + work day no crew would want to drive an hour home and back. So they pitched their tents and camped.

It was tough being “green”! Even the “green” producers who stayed in the same housing together drove separate cars to set, which confused the crew with their agenda. Were they really into being green or was this a publicity thing for the film so they could say they were? That is a question I ask now whenever I read about a studio or film “going green”. Not that it is bad, we have to start somewhere and doing the right thing for other reasons can’t be so bad if it is really for good, right? Hell, I made a movie about it-that I want people to buy and download so I can recoup my budget… how “green” could I be?

Read Part 2: The Hard Road To Indie Green.

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