VIFF's Sustainable Production Forum suggests even more room for improvement on Vancouver film sets

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      When four sustainability directors of Hollywood's major studios assembled for the Vancouver International Film Festival's inaugural Sustainable Production Forum, they praised the city's screen industries for their progressive green practices. But when asked, they noted some areas where there are still some possibilities for growth.

      Held on October 14 at Vancity Theatre, Creative BC CEO Prem Gill led the discussion entitled "Sustainability at the Studios".

      Many of the representatives praised Vancouver as leading the way in green film industry practices.

      Fox Filmed Entertainment energy initiative director Lisa Day said she often cites our city as an example when she hits roadblocks.

      "Sometimes when we speak with a production in a different city, and they say, 'Well, that's absolutely impossible to do on productions', we say, 'Well, they do it in Vancouver and they kinda figured it out there'," she said.

      Day said her company became carbon neutral by 2010, and that they first initiated sustainable practices while shooting the 2008 films The X-Files: I Want to Believe and The Day the Earth Stood Still at the same time here in Vancouver.

      NBC Universal sustainability director Shannon Bart said her company's first green production was the 2009 comedy-drama Away We Go. That same year, they launched a food-donation program in which all excess food was donated to local non-profit organizations.

      They run such programs in New York City, Toronto, and L.A., and are hoping to start something similar in Vancouver.

      She said that they donate about 28,000 to 30,000 meals worth of food from their productions. She added that it's important not to overlook how even small amounts of leftovers each day can contribute to a bigger amount.

      "When we first start a program in a city, a lot of times production or caterers will say, 'Oh, I really don't have that much left over.' Well, we know but if there's just one tray of chicken or a couple of trays of pasta salad, all of that does add up. And you can set up programs or we have refrigerators and all the food goes in the refrigerator, the non-profit comes in the morning and empties it, and serves people that afternoon. So if you don't think you have that much leftover food, I would try to look again because you probably do."

      As another example, she said productions can also reduce their environmental impact in less obvious ways, such as cutting down on beef or red-meat consumption to serving it only once a week, as the Vancouver-shot Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce did.

      Bart also talked about how one of their main initiatives is LED set lighting and Universal even has its own line called Mac Tech LED Lighting.

      "Last television season we tripled the amount of the LED lighting used across all of our TV productions on Universal lot," Bart said, who added that she sees LED lighting as the future of filmmaking.

      Warner Bros. Entertainment sustainability director Mike Slavich, whose studio's first carbon-neutral production was the 2005 feature Syriana, said he doesn't see a lot of inventory here for LED lighting and that it needs to be built up.

      He pointed out how 5K and 10K lights can added to the heat on set, which is particularly a concern during when temperatures are high in L.A.

      When they replaced 5K lights with solid-state space lights, he said they found there were multiple benefits.

      "It dramatically decreases the power we need to use, the amount of air-conditioning that we need to cool the stages, the sets are quieter, the sets are more comfortable for the cast and crew," he said. "The challenge is oftentimes the availability of this equipment. Sometimes it's the cost but we need to look at the full cost of what we're doing—the fuel that we're using to power the generators that are powering the lights, all of this comes into play."

      Meanwhile, Sony Pictures environmental sustainability manager Heidi Kindberg Goss, who said her studio first tackled greening with 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, also pointed out that it's important to integrate green initiatives not just off-screen but onscreen as well.

      "When you have a story that allows for characters to model sustainability behaviours that has a huge potential to influence the viewers," she said.

      As many of the representatives pointed out, a lot of measures can be done very simply, such as replacing print-outs with digital distribution or "reduce waste in the first place", as Slavich said.

      Bart pointed out that small decisions like cutting down on beef-consumption by a producer can have a beneficial impact.

      "There's little things like that, decisions that can be made at the top, that really don't change the quality of the product you're serving but have really good benefits," she said.

      The sustainability forum continued for the rest of the day, and included sessions on clarifications about misconceptions, taking action, and how to set up recycling programs on set.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook