Film industry debates whether it can go clean

Electric generators play only a supporting role: Sustainable Production Forum

From left, moderator Zena Harris, president of Green Spark Group, speaks to Keith Woods, Ian Neville, Jeremiah Benskin and Billy Baxter about the film industry’s carbon footprint at the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Sustainable Production Forum | Submitted

There’s an old joke in the film industry: directors of photography like using available light on their sets.

“Every light available,” cracked lighting technician Bill Baxter while presenting with experts at the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Sustainable Production Forum on October 4.

The daylong conference gathered industry professionals to debate solutions to environmental problems facing an industry known for burning fuels on location and tossing away new sets after filming has wrapped.

Baxter, who’s worked on projects ranging from Canucks commercials to Mission: Impossible movies, acknowledged the industry’s extensive use of lights comes at a high cost of energy, which in turn produces emissions.

Keith Woods, a rigging gaffer working on Deadpool 2, said B.C. sound stages are relatively clean because they rely on hydroelectricity, but he admitted the industry is too reliant on diesel generators that burn fuel all day when crews go on location.

Baxter had his own road-to-Damascus moment after using an emissions-free unit from Vancouver-based Portable Electric, which he said ran perfectly over a three-day shoot.

“I was converted,” he said.

Woods acknowledged that while a Portable Electric unit would work for smaller productions, larger on-location studio features require so much power that the electric units would run out of power too quickly.

Ian Neville, a climate policy analyst at the City of Vancouver, said city hall is in the midst of adding more “EHubs” – fast-charging stations for electric vehicles – the film industry could plug into. However, Neville acknowledged there would not be enough of them in the city to accommodate the film industry. Plans have been confirmed to install the EHubs at Vancouver City Hall, Science World and Homer Street.

Meanwhile, independent filmmaker Jeremiah Benskin recalled using Portable Electric units to power the entire production of A Thousand Days of Solitude.

“It was scary… I didn’t have a backup budget for a generator,” he said, adding the production was a bit of a “gong show” but he was ultimately able to prove that a film could be shot with emissions-free units.