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The Unsustainable Damage of the Film Industry

Several groups are creating awareness and taking the steps needed to transform the film industry into something far more sustainable.
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Samantha Garcia
(Design by Samantha Garcia | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

In the modern world, the effects of carbon emissions and general waste have become more and more apparent with rising temperatures and lowering air quality. Many know the major reasons and places to point their fingers for the Earth’s worsening environment, but one of the largest contributors often stays unblamed: the film industry. With all the people and resources involved in producing movies, nearly every production leaves a large carbon footprint that is rarely addressed.  

The Consequences of Cinema

A report released by the Sustainable Production Alliance in March 2021 found that tentpole films, defined as having budgets of $70 million or more, produced an average carbon footprint of 3,370 metric tons. According to the report, these emissions came from the housing of cast and crew, the utilities used to take care of them, the air travel to transport people from set to set and most of all, the fuel needed to run the equipment and sets used. The report claimed for smaller features, the carbon footprint averaged 391 metric tons compared to large films’ footprint averaging 1,081 metric tons, which is a considerable amount despite the lower budgets for smaller features.

What makes this report particularly alarming in 2024 is how the average price of a tentpole film has skyrocketed. For example, “Barbie,” the highest-grossing film of 2023, was made on a $145 million budget, over double the amount the SPA designated for tentpole films. It can also be assumed that since the release of SPA’s report, the carbon footprint left by blockbusters has only grown, given how commonplace reshoots have become. 

While films used to have one or two months of shooting before post-production, now it has become ordinary for films to shoot for a few months and then have another few months of shooting after script changes or notes from studios.

A recent instance of this is with Marvel’s “Captain America: Brave New World,” a film that was set to release this year after shooting from March to June 2023. However, after the film received negative responses at test screenings, the film was delayed to 2025 to allow for reshoots. The reshoots are so extensive that Marvel will have conducted two productions of the same film, creating twice the carbon emissions from flying and housing their cast and crew around the world — using twice the fuel originally planned for filming. This is only one of many recent examples where large reshoots have been used on tentpole movies. Luckily, there are quite a few studios committed to creating greener productions.

A Brighter Future

Both Netflix and NBCUniversal have made claims of plans to cut their greenhouse emissions, the latter aiming to be carbon neutral by 2035. These goals are becoming increasingly possible due to companies like Earth Angel, an organization “dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of entertainment productions.” Earth Angel has ensured sustainable sets for the productions that work with them by providing zero waste bins, serving donated meals and coordinating with other groups that can use unwanted materials from sets. Earth Angel also holds seminars called “Eco Labs,” where they share practices that productions can implement to reduce their carbon footprint.

Another small organization working to make filmmaking more sustainable is Electric Owl Studios in Georgia. Being right outside Atlanta, one of the most popular shooting destinations in the U.S., this studio hopes to attract productions to their six soundstages that use electricity generated by solar panels, replacing the diesel generators often used on sets. Beyond their energy-efficient buildings, the company also promotes greener living in every way, offering food composting, water refill stations, easy access to non-car transportation systems and a recycling program that sells old sets to other productions and donates leftover catering items to charities. 

Lastly, there are companies like the Vectar Project, a group that creates sets out of cardboard, timber waste and water-based adhesives. By creating sets out of these materials, Vectar can reduce deforestation and have smaller construction crews which can reduce the carbon footprint left by ordinary set production. On top of that, Vectar’s sets are lightweight, making them easier to transport, and can be recycled and reused over and over again. 

While these groups are small and their efforts may seem to have little visible impact, they are creating awareness and taking the steps needed to transform the film industry into something far more sustainable. It’s difficult to accept that filmmaking is a damaging process for us and the planet, but with the determination to do better, maybe someday it won’t be.

  

[email protected]

@grahamcool8

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About the Contributor
Graham Jones
Graham Jones, Assistant Arts Editor
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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