March 30, 2023

Why Sustainable Filmmaking Should Matter to All of Us

By Meryl Thomas

I am passionate about sustainable filmmaking because I am passionate about environmentalism and mitigating our negative contributions to climate change. When I came to SCA last fall as a graduate student in the Peter Stark Producing Program, I realized I needed to share this passion with the rest of the USC community and enlighten people about the possibilities of sustainable filmmaking. I have produced a number of shorts and one feature film sustainably, and I wrote a 40-page research thesis paper in my senior year of undergrad on sustainable filmmaking in Hollywood (I am happy to share it with you!). I believe that it is our duty as filmmakers to make sure we are not damaging our environment while we make beautiful art.

I am working with the incredible MISC team (Media Institute for Social Change) to put on a panel on April 17th on sustainable filmmaking aimed at educating all of us in the USC community on what sustainable filmmaking is, how students can practice sustainable filmmaking at their current level, and what sustainable filmmaking initiatives the Hollywood production companies are practicing today.

The panelists work at a variety of companies in the sustainable filmmaking space—major studios, sustainability coordinators on specific shows, documentarians, and climate
activists. They include:

- Juli Shultz, Senior Manager, Sustainability & Climate Action at the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences
- Heidi Kindberg, VP Sustainability at HBO & HBO Max
- Lena Welch, Sustainability Advisor at Next Earth
- Allison Begalman, CEO of YEA! Impact

MISC Executive Director Michael Taylor says the push towards sustainable practices is an important social impact issue. “Sustainability is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, and I believe by sharing how the film and television industry is embracing change we can serve as an example for other
Industries,” he says. “In an ongoing effort by the USC Media Institute for Social Change to call attention to a different social issue every semester, I am pleased MISC is highlighting Sustainability this Spring.”

MISC is the School of Cinematic Arts representative on the Green Film School Alliance, a consortium of schools committed to sustainable film production.

The processes of sustainable filmmaking can seem confusing or daunting at first because they
require considering a ton of new factors. Waste is inherent to filmmaking because of how many resources are required to make a film and how many other industries are involved in the process—everything from transportation to construction, food distribution, electrical usage, paper consumption, and so much more. To get into the nitty gritty details, key areas in need of more accurate sustainable development include: measuring and reporting CO2 emission activities, setting up a sustainable chain of custody across industries, developing sustainable transportation strategies, managing the use of fuel and electricity, effective segregation of waste and recycling streams, and educating filmmakers on environmental standards and practices.

Sustainable filmmaking is actualized with a case-by-case approach. Each film, from student shorts to mega Marvel movies, encompasses a unique combination of filmmaking practices. Some films require large set builds using tons of wood, others require filmmakers to venture to distant locations. Sustainable filmmaking involves asking oneself what choices can be made to reduce a negative environmental impact. Where is the wood used to build our set coming from? Which vendors are approved by a credible source that validates they are not contributing to deforestation? What kind of transportation am I using to get to the locations? How many people can carpool to reduce our carbon footprint? Do we need to use generators or can we plug into a local power grid? Can we use an electric
generator instead of a gas-powered generator? Questions like these are the conversation
starters used in sustainable decision-making. 

There are myriad resources that filmmakers can use to understand what areas of their specific film need to be considered from a sustainable point of view. One such resource is the Green Production Guide which houses a toolkit that lists out many potential situations to consider prior to production. Sustainable filmmaking is best practiced as a part of the pre-production phase as budgets are being formed and decisions are shaped because this is where positive environmental choices can be found and implemented.

The MISC panel will explore the best practices that have evolved from asking these questions about creating our projects in ways that reduce waste.