Ontario productions are budding

Ontario took giant strides towards creating an ecologically friendly motion picture sector last year, and although production was noticeably down, the stage is set to reduce the industry's carbon footprint this year.

Ontario took giant strides towards creating an ecologically friendly motion picture sector last year, and although production was noticeably down, the stage is set to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint this year.

In 2008, the Green Screen Toronto initiative effectively came together to provide a resource guide handbook for the industry – also available on its website at www.greenscreentoronto.com. And the group is also nearing completion on a massive ‘best practices’ compendium that will offer production companies practical and ethical ideas and solutions to issues in the working environment.

With sponsorship from such partners as the City of Toronto, NABET, the CFTPA, ACTRA, Deluxe, PS Production Services, the Directors Guild of Canada-Ontario, Filmport, Panavision, IATSE Local 873 and Comweb/William F. White, Green Screen is developing in a sustainable way, entirely appropriate to its creed.

Both Jennifer Arnold and her team at EnviroTrack, which assembled the Green Screen Toronto Resource Guide, and Melissa Felder, who along with her associates is working on the ‘best practices’ guidelines, report to Playback that the province’s film and television industry has been helping them in every way possible. Each cite ‘local heroes’ such as IATSE’s Melissa Morgan, cinematographer Lance Carlson and John Talley at PS as being particularly conscientious in their aid to the green cause. However, support for their work, including potentially contentious environment audits of the industry, has been all-pervasive.

The Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund has sponsored the Green Screen initiative, turning a lobbying effort led by Candida Paltiel, executive director of the environmental festival Planet in Focus, into an effective force in the industry.

Ed McNamara, resource coordinator for Green Screen, assesses the past year’s efforts as undeniably positive.

‘The major goals in the first year of our project were to publish our Resource Guide, complete an environmental assessment of the industry in Toronto, and come up with a series of recommended practices for the local production community. We should have accomplished all three [in 2009].’

Undertaking the environmental assessment and the best practices guidelines is Melissa Felder, a veteran consultant whose clients have included Pollution Probe, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Corporate Knights.

Felder and McNamara found that creating an accurate assessment audit for a film or TV production is difficult to achieve.

McNamara explains: ‘Melissa’s group took the approach of getting its numbers [aside from estimates or interviews] by way of auditing a production after it has wrapped, looking at budgets, cost reports, etcetera.

‘What we quickly learned was, even if ultimately accurate, how complicated this could make things. An example would be diesel fuel. If you want to know how much was used by a show by looking at how much was bought, you may not have an easy time finding your answer because diesel is spread throughout a budget, not just in a transportation section… The solution seems then to track certain key elements throughout production so as to give an accurate, constant measurement of where the show/industry is – i.e., are we improving, getting worse.’

In fact, Felder did exactly that.

‘We wanted to focus on the production phase because we felt it would be the area in which one could make immediate change, and could also see this more tangibly,’ she says.

Within that phase they focused on six impact areas: generators, studio power including electricity and natural gas, production vehicles, paper for script generation, craft and catering, and set construction.

‘We quantified each of these things in different ways,’ Felder continues. ‘For example, a generator in terms of liters of diesel used, or craft and catering in tons of organic weight produced, and set construction in terms of meters-cubed of construction material being sent to landfill. So we had these very dry numerical quantities of what on average small to large television series [or a feature] could produce in any of these areas.’

Both Felder and McNamara feel that following more productions as they are happening will yield better statistics in the future. Clearly the last year hasn’t been a stellar one for production in Toronto. Still, the audits provided a basis for the next step – the creation of a ‘best practices’ document.

‘The assessment proved to be useful because we can generate cost benefits for a film,’ points out Felder. ‘For example, using hybrid cars can actually save money for a production – and it’s good for the environment. You can figure out how much fuel is saved, how much carbon-based dioxin is saved, and how many dollars are saved. We can make a business case on a basic level.’

Felder’s best practices guide is now in its third iteration. Along with her associates, she’s been working on it for more than four months and it ‘keeps getting bigger.’ In fact, it’s now almost 60 pages and, Felder notes proudly, ‘It provides a context for why this is being done. It talks about ethics, about the potential impact on the environment.

‘It’s supposed to be a guide with options,’ she explains. ‘For example, in the set construction section, there’s a suggestion that people use refurbished materials whenever possible. Why not consider using older sets or pre-existing structures? There’s also a suggestion to substitute materials when possible, like avoiding toxic compounds like formaldehyde or arsenates. Or looking into using sustainably harvested, locally sourced manufactured materials. Considering using materials that are rapidly renewable, like bamboo and wool. Waste management sorting, that sort of thing.’

Clearly, Felder wants to change the way people in the industry think. She’s particularly pleased with PS, which, as a production service provider for the industry, has ‘the most to lose’ by having to spend money to ‘green’ their equipment, particularly their electrical generators. ‘And they’re the most supportive,’ coninues Felder. ‘They’re trying to evolve their business. I got a call from them recently in which they offered to create a carbon offset fund they could pay into when their older [non-green] generators are rented.’

Felder is looking forward to releasing the best practices guide in the upcoming weeks.

‘I anticipate that the documents will be published early this year after layout and final edits,’ she says. Felder is already hard at work creating a voluntary certification for the film-based industries and a simplified handbook that people can use quickly while on a shoot.