Film sets are notoriously wasteful places. Big movies can generate 225 tons of scrap metal, nearly 50 tons of construction and set debris, and 72 tons of food waste.
But Hollywood crews are starting to change their ways — and the results could have surprising effects on their bottom lines.
That’s the key take-away from a study recently released by PGA Green, the nonprofit formed by the Producers Guild of America in 2009 to spread awareness about how filmmakers can go green. The research is the first of its kind to be published by the nonprofit.
“We’re getting to a place where we can see the future of it as a cost-cutting method,” said Scott Franklin, producer of films such as the Darren Aronofsky-directed “Noah” and “Black Swan.” “It’s the right thing to do.”
Among the report’s tips: Replacing bottled water with coolers and reusable bottles can slash water budgets 51%. Composting, recycling and offering up props and set materials for reuse can cut waste disposal budgets 40%. Exchanging disposable nine-volt batteries for rechargeable batteries can shrink battery costs nearly 60%.
The report battles Hollywood’s misperception that “green” is synonymous with “expensive,” said Lydia Pilcher, PGA Green East Coast chair and producer of films such as “The Darjeeling Limited.” But the entertainment industry still has a long way to go.
Film crews are attached to bottled water because it’s convenient. But it’s also wasteful — and replacing it with coolers and reusable bottles can be like pulling teeth.
It takes 17 million barrels of oil to meet America’s annual demand for bottled water, which is enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year, according to the report. Americans trash 38 billion empty water bottles a year, more than $1 billion worth of plastic.
The average cost of bottled water for 60 days of shooting is $11,175, according to the PGA Green report. That cost could fall to about $5,489 if productions instead used reusable tools, such as water coolers and reusable bottles.
On sets, Emellie O’Brien is known as the trash-digging woman wearing the green rubber gloves.
Producers hire her to be an eco-supervisor tasked with making sure productions are environmentally friendly. This even includes seperating trash from recycling.
“The crew sees me fishing through the trash. It forces them to think about what they’re throwing away and educate themselves about environmental issues,” said O’Brien, who has worked on films such as “Noah” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
So O’Brien sorts through the limp remains of salads, sauce-covered pasta, smoothies and greasy burgers to separate them into compost and recycling. She even had some 2,000 leftover meals from the “Spider-Man” set donated to charity.
Composting includes buying cups and dishware that break down in soil more easily than plastic brands. The report compares prices of Costco’s non-biodegradable brands with the more green World Centric products that disintegrate within 90 to 180 days. When bought in bulk, the World Centric products are 6% cheaper, the report shows.
This helped “Spider-Man 2" save 5%, or $4,732, of its total waste hauling expenses by composting and recycling, the report read.
The film also earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling excess construction and set materials. In that same vein, Paramount Pictures’ “Noah” recouped about $45,000 from selling scrap steel.
The potential perk of cost savings could spur an even bigger business boom for Chase White. He owns Recycled Movie Sets, a Los Angeles service that cheaply rents and sells entire sets, individual pieces of lumber and more.
His company goes to studios and hauls away construction debris, props and other set pieces. In the last two years, White says, he’s saved about 80 dumpsters’ worth of materials from going to a landfill.
“The dump is the last stop. The middlemen take items that are created for a single production and find them new homes,” he said.
White’s business relieves productions of their construction debris for roughly the same price it would cost to throw them away, he said. They do it free of charge if the production’s budget is small and if it can be delivered to the Recycled Movie Sets warehouse.
Right now, a lot of White’s inventory is splayed out over a 3,000-square-foot lot. That’s because he’s in the process of moving to a larger warehouse. At 12,000 square feet, his old location is too small for the rate at which he wants to divert filmmakers’ leftovers from the landfill. So White is considering a 27,000-square-foot warehouse.
“If a television show can send out 15 to 20 dumpsters daily, then we compete with the landfill to take that many dumpsters,” he said.