Hulk producer says going green is easy

Gale Anne Hurd isn’t as famous as her movies. But the producer of the Terminator trilogy, Aliens and the upcoming The Incredible Hulk made sure that the latter’s US$125-million production was ‘as green as possible’ when it shot at Toronto Film Studios last summer.

‘We’ve got an enormous green character, so it seemed like an ideal film where green could mean more than one thing,’ Hurd tells Playback on the phone from Los Angeles.

The Incredible Hulk lends itself to green marketing.

As the story goes, physicist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) takes flight in order to understand – and hopefully cure – the condition that turns him into a monster when angered. The story is about fixing what humans have screwed up, and that could be spun into green at the worldwide box office when it’s released by Universal Pictures this summer.

Hurd had introduced basic recycling practices on her films such as Æon Flux – shot in 2004 in Berlin’s legendary Babelsberg Studios – but Hulk’s green theme presented her with a unique opportunity to begin producing eco-friendly enough to get ‘EMA certification,’ even in Canada.

Pronounced ‘Emma,’ EMA is California’s Environmental Media Association watchdog that has a checklist for green-spirited filmmakers, and it hands out awards to green productions.

EMA also publishes an Internet list of filmmakers who make a commitment to stop using rainforest lauan wood to build sets (a list that includes Canadian Paul Haggis), and Hurd could make the list for 2007 (see Hulk checklist, opposite page).

In an exclusive Q&A with Playback, Hurd candidly offers some pragmatic advice for producers who are inspired to join the green movement and would like some tips on where to start.

After your experience making The Incredible Hulk shoot as green as possible, is there any particular advice that you’d like to offer to your fellow producers or the studios at large?

I truly think this is something that people want to embrace, and I think they’d be surprised to find out how easy it is.

Firstly, the resources are there, and if you’re thinking about it in advance, prior to the start of preproduction, it’s very easy to implement. So the earlier you get started the better.

I also think it’s very important to get everyone in every department involved initially.

Let’s walk through the process of how the Hulk shoot became green. Rumor here is that you and Edward Norton insisted on a green production shoot. Is that correct?

I would characterize it differently. Edward Norton and I are very committed to environmentalism. On the other hand, it was not an unwilling imposition that was forced on Marvel [Studios] or forced on [distributor] NBC-Universal or forced on the production. Everyone shared that same vision.

How did you and Edward get this green thing going together?

Edward Norton attended that very first or second [preproduction] meeting to talk about how important it was to minimize our carbon footprint. And he was the person who introduced me to one of the organizations we worked with called Carbonfund.org [with the slogan 'Reduce what you can, offset what you can't'], and they were very helpful, as well as EMA here in Los Angeles, which gives green certification to shows.

So is this your first green shoot?

In smaller ways, I’ve always tried to implement green on previous productions. When we were doing Æon Flux [starring Charlize Theron] in Berlin in 2004, there wasn’t recycling in our offices at Babelsberg Studios. We started recycling, which was interesting, because Germany is actually pretty green, but more so residentially than in an office environment. We had to be responsible for that and find places to take the paper and the bottles and cans, etcetera.

Is it fair to say that green is becoming a priority for you?

It’s always been a priority at my house, and that’s where a lot of people begin that journey. We recycle at home; why shouldn’t we recycle at work?

Would you now consider it a priority for each of your shoots?

To the extent that everyone is on board, yes. I have an initial meeting with the department heads to talk about how we can be more green; that was something I actually did for the first time on The Incredible Hulk.

Did you have green standards as a condition to shoot at the Toronto Film Studios? Or were they already green, so to speak?

They were very green already, and they were very open to some of the suggestions that we had, and it wasn’t just lip service. You know you can get a lot of lip service, but [TFS topper] Ken Ferguson began composting the organic waste as a result of the Hulk shoot, and we talked about other ideas. In fact, they embraced it…to the point where it became a goal of theirs to make [upcoming Toronto megastudio] Filmport the greenest filmmaking facility in the world.

Playback has a copy of your green checklist undertaken during the shooting of The Incredible Hulk, which includes using sustainable forest yellow pine wood instead of rainforest lauan. You used a substitute?

We tried to whenever possible. And from what I heard from the production department, you need to find a reliable source, and that is something important to develop.

Does that cost a lot more?

It does cost more, but it doesn’t cost a lot more.

Could you make up the cost difference in other areas, such as using hybrid cars to be more fuel-efficient?

It did cost less [for vehicles] when you have the director [Louis Leterrier] driving a [Toyota subcompact] Yaris; I had a hybrid [Toyota Prius]; [costar] Tim Roth had a Prius, and Edward Norton had a Prius. We also had ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

Can costs be offset? Does it balance out?

We haven’t done that evaluation yet. There are things that cost more, like recyclable containers for takeaway food, and the fact that we used as many cloth grocery bags as possible, rather than the plastic ones for free.

Why do you think it’s important right now, even if it’s going to cost a little more to do it?

We only have one planet and we know we have had an adverse impact on it and we’re at the tipping point right now. I don’t think we can wait and say ‘Well, it’s not my problem.’ It’s everybody’s problem. We created this situation and it’s coming back to us to solve it.

Do you think producers can actually make a difference?

Yes, and the great thing actually is how the major studios and their owners have embraced it. I know that NBC-Universal is owned by GE and GE has entire eco-orientations and we have big meetings to discuss it. We exchange a lot of ideas.

So the studios like Universal or their parent companies are willing to pay the difference it costs for a green shoot?

Yes. And Marvel [Studios] as well, because Marvel financed the film.

They’re going to gain a lot of good public will – on top of there being an urgent reason to do it – so it’s kind of a win-win for the studios, isn’t it?

I think so.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

I truly think that it is something that people want to embrace, and I think they’d be surprised to find out how easy it is to embrace.

If you think about it during preproduction, it’s very easy to implement.