Filmmaking and the Environment

As you probably heard yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. I’ve not always been a big supporter of Al’s, but I was definitely feeling some pride for the local boy done good (the second native Tennesseean to be awarded the Peace Prize, actually.).

Though the press reports usually got it wrong, as AJ Schnack reminded everyone yesterday, Gore did not win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (because he didn’t direct it), but I have little doubt that the film — because of how it drew attention to the cause of global warming, and because it drew attention to Gore’s advocacy in the process — was a factor in Gore sharing this year’s Peace Prize. Looking over the list of previous Peace Prize winners, I couldn’t think of another instance in which cinema played such a central role in the awardee’s recognition.

Anyway, in the spirit of the announcement, I thought I would share some links and notes on environmentally-friendly filmmaking for those folks out there that, whether or not they like Al Gore, accept the findings of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world that shared the Peace Prize for their work on man-made climate change research…

First, you might check out the Environmental Media Association’s website, particularly their EMA Green Production Checklist (PDF download on the linked page). Most of their tips are basic “reduce, reuse, recycle” guidelines within a filmmaking context, but they’re worth a look.

On a related note, in my searching online for other green filmmaking resources, I came across New Mexico’s “Green Production Best Practices”, which were outlined by Gov. (and Presidential candidate) Bill Richardson. No surprises here – this is a very similar list to the EMA guidelines above — but it does have New Mexico-related resources to help you “go green.” It would be great if all the other state film offices would draw up similar resource pages. If you agree, contact your local film office and make the suggestion. Or go a step further — do the research yourself and provide it to them!

If you consider yourself deeply committed to these principles, you might want to track down a copy of Larry Fessenden’s Low Impact Filmmaking. The book was originally published in 1992, so some of the information is dated. Still, this is the most extensive green-guide to filmmaking I’ve ever seen, and it’s written with a true spirit of self-reliance. I only wish Fessenden would make it available as a PDF — that would help disseminate the book more widely AND it’d be that much more environmentally friendly.

Finally, one of the most — if not THE most — significant things we filmmakers can do to help (or at least not hurt) the environment is to “work small.” As I looked over the EMA Production Checklist I couldn’t help but think about how the EMA’s and the New Mexico film office’s guidelines are geared toward Hollywood productions that feature hundreds of crew and dozens of vehicles and trailers. Without even considering the extensive things that happen in front of the camera on some of these sets (stunt car chases, explosions, etc), the fact remains that Hollywood filmmaking practices leave a big environmental footprint, no matter how much re-using and recycling they do. “Reduce” is the first step — and it’s one that the producers of so-called “Major Motion Pictures” would do well to remember.

Indeed, some of the most basic elements of low-budget, DIY regional filmmaking — working with a small crew, shooting films in your own city with local crew, and using a modest amount of equipment (lights and vehicles, especially) — also happen to be great practices for environmentally-sound filmmaking. Most filmmakers that “work small” (including a lot of people reading this right now) may not do so out of a commitment to the environment, but you know what? That doesn’t diminish the effect. We can all do more, but working small is a big first step.

2 Responses to “Filmmaking and the Environment”

  1. Christina Says:

    Documentary films should be out to change the world. Desert Bayou ( is opening in LA on October 26th at the Laemmle Sunset 5 theater with Q&A sessions after the 7:30pm showings on the 26th and 27th with the film’s director, Alex LeMay. Hopefully if people see the film and it gets enough national attention, it too can affect at least national change not only of post-Katrina policies, but nationwide views and policies regarding race and poverty in America.

    Lisa Katzman of the Village Voice writes that it is “..a poignant indictment of a social disaster that began long before New Orleans’ poor, black, and elderly citizens were abandoned to die”

  2. From The Hip » Blog Archive » Green Screen Says:

    […] Al Gore’s recent Nobel Peace Prize has lots of people focusing on the role that An Inconvenient Truth played in the decision to award him the prize. If films really can change the world, what about filmmakers? Paul Harrill has a list of resources to keep filmmakers on their environmental toes on his Self-Reliant Filmmaking blog. […]