Filmmaking vs. the environment

As part of blog action day, I thought I’d take a moment today to write about how fillmmaking doesn’t have to destroy the environment.

I keep reading reports about how the film industry (especially in Los Angeles) is one of the pollutingest industries per capita on the planet. This has to do with a lot of factors, the major ones being electricity and fuel consumption. A lot of gas gets burned moving equipment and people from place to place, and a lot of coal-generated energy gets routed into those 10,000-watt solarspot lights that big productions like to use. But that is (slowly, far too slowly) beginning to change.

First, there’s a really quick way to drastically cut energy consumption: stop using tungsten lights. Most energy on the typical film set goes into blasting light all over the place, but the tungsten lights that are the bread and butter of manufacturers like Mole-Richardson, Lowel and Arri are not efficient beasts. A great deal of the energy running through them gets converted to heat instead of light. Not only is this not environmentally friendly, it makes them incredibly inconvenient to work with and they make the set uncomfortably hot, often leading to even more energy being pumped into massive air conditioning units.

The solution: more efficient lights. Fluorescent bulbs use four to six times less energy per lumen than traditional incandescent bulbs, and can be manufactured to match daylight color balance. Need a demonstration? Go buy a compact fluorescent bulb from any hardware store. Use it to replace any traditional 60-watt bulb. Turn it on. Same amount of light, right? Well, that fluorescent bulb is only 14 watts. That’s a tremendous energy savings. Of course, fluorescents aren’t perfect. They contain mercury, and they can’t really be used to produce hard, directional light. But they’re a step in the right direction.

Fuel consumption is a tougher issue, but there are people leading the way on this issue. In fact, one of those leaders is MCAD adjunct faculty Ali Selim, whose 2005 film Sweet Land was one of the first major feature films to be certified carbon neutral, a process in which an attempt is made during production to reduce emissions and the remaining emissions are offset through the purchase of carbon credits. This is, again, not a solution to the problem, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Selim mentions on the DVD commentary that one unintended benefit of making the film carbon-neutral was the amount of positive press and public attention it generated.

These are a couple ways us filmmakers can reduce our energy consumption. Most of all, though, we just need to be conscious of it. This sounds like a totally lame thing to say, but I am positive that a tremendous amount of energy could be saved on film sets by simply turning off the lights when they don’t need to be on. My point is that we just need to pay attention to the impact we have on the environment, and that in itself will be enough to make a big difference.

3 thoughts on “Filmmaking vs. the environment

  1. Yay! Something I can intelligently comment on!

    I’ve often considered the environmental impact of shows, and more so when I’m directly involved (I’m the master electrician for this current show).

    We’re currently using about 150 lights, averaging out at about 575 watts each, though that number runs as high as 1.5kw and as low as 250w for the new style of intelligent lighting. That averages to, give or take some, 86.3kw of power. Multiply that by the number of hours they’re on (average of maybe 2 hours per production, plus ten hours a day for the preceding three weeks = about 250 to 300) and we get about 24,000kwh per production. That doesn’t include the other odd times the lights are on, and doesn’t include work lights, which consist of about a dozen 1.5kw mega-lamps, often on nearly 24/7 throughout a show’s production.
    Considering the average home uses about 9kwh per year, this is an immense amount of energy.

    The most obvious solution? LEDs. ETC (Electronic Theatre Controls), makers of the most famous and common light on the planet, the Source-Four, and MAXEnergy have teamed up to create what they hope is a 180-190 lumen per watt LED by 2010. At the current rate, that seems very probable. This could cut energy costs for lighting by a tenth, depending on the usage stats.

    Just a brief comment about it. I know tons more. When I’m not so busy maybe I’ll make a post or something.

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