Film: the final frontier

Vancouver's film and TV industry is slowly pulling itself towards sustainability.

Credit: Luc Latulippe

This laggard industry is slowly pulling itself toward sustainability


To live in Vancouver is to swap tales about the film industry, which breathes in our trees and warehouses. Maybe you heard about a friend who bummed a smoke off Robert Pattinson. Or saw a car explosion in a movie and are sure it’s on a street near your house.

As with films and TV shows themselves, rumours about the movie biz tend to blend short and tall tales. Which is maybe why ones based on truth are stranger than fiction. Take, for example, the fact that a whole set is sometimes built for a scene that lasts mere seconds, then everything, down to the last nail, is carted off to the landfill. Or that execs and actors often commute weekly to Hollywood North from L.A.’s smog-filled oasis and are shuttled around on both ends in SUVs. Seems fantasy can be the most polluting escape there is.

TV and movies are two of the best things in life. Fighting words, I know. Almost daily, someone tells me, smugly, they don’t watch TV. They’re probably out doing healthy, fun things instead, but I secretly pity them, and not just because they miss out on slouching on the couch, eating ice cream, and letting their brain waves idle to zero. Sure, TV can be trashy, base and shallow, but so are humans (not you or me, of course), and giving it up is like living in a cultural wasteland.

Look, I understand the futility of trying to blend eco-earnestness with make-believe stories. But still, I’d feel better about my fix if I knew it wasn’t taking several planets to make. Thankfully, some in the biz are working on bringing in a kind of green stamp of approval, like the now ubiquitous American Humane Society’s “no animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

There are industry associations, like the Environmental Media Association, which has a self-assessment checklist that film productions can complete, then declare themselves green. Some studios are forging ahead independently, like Fox, which declared it will be carbon neutral by 2010. And many studios are working together to create across-the-board standards and certification processes.

“It’s slowly coming down the line,” says Gordon Hardwick, who coordinates the B.C. Film Commission’s Reel Green program, a gateway to resources about environmental practices in B.C.’s film and TV industry. He thinks the greening of films will follow a similar arc to that of ensuring animal or child welfare, which is now simply standard practice.

But though he is confident we’ll get there, he says it’s still a “buyer beware market,” partly because claims of greenness are based on unchecked scientific assessments. He says standards are essential but complicated, so studios and individuals need to work on it from different angles.

Warren Carr is one local insider who’s gone green. A Vancouver-based, Emmy-award winning producer, he founded The Pacific Green Group Ltd., and is producing a new show that’s recycling, composting, and using local food and hybrid cars.

“It used to be that all sets just went straight to the landfill,” Carr explains. Now, on sets around town, “wood waste is recycled and made into particle board, carpets are given away to charity . . . . If anything has come out of the last few years, it’s the idea of ‘who else can use this?’”

According to Carr and others, green production still has almost no effect on the box office, and lack of consumer demand removes a motivator that has been key in other industries. But it does influence which actors, directors or producers a production is able to attract, says Pete Mitchell, the COO of Vancouver Film Studios, a carbon-neutral facility. And that means it’s increasingly a key factor for L.A. studios deciding where to shoot. “They look to places where it’s easy to make a sustainable product,” says Mitchell, and Vancouver is “out with the lead pack.”

Seems injecting film fantasy with eco-reality necessarily an impossible dream. “A rating system would definitely help us get it done,” says Mitchell.

Read Vanessa Richmond’s past columns