“The Hollywood film business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson likely wasn’t trying to be funny and it’s really, only mostly true. In 2022 I worked on some of my all-time favorite Hollywood gigs. I met ‘Animal’, ‘Dr. Teeth’ and the entire muppets band. I became part of a TV show-family with an unheard of 10 year run. I walked on Mars, attended a 1980’s Madonna concert and watched Larry Bird play for the Boston Celtics, courtside.
None of this was real of course. It was all a fabrication, a production, a story to provide audiences an opportunity to escape reality. Film crews are self described ‘production carnies’, corporate outcasts who ran away to the movie circus. We love it! But we also hate it. The ‘dream job’ comes with trade offs. It leaves many of us feeling conflicted between our personal values and our careers.
This article explores the sustainability of the industry that inspired Roboro, and looks at its triple bottom line; planet, profit and people. Let’s go in for a closeup on these three areas and you be the critic on where Hollywood struggles and where there is hope for the future.
Big budget productions produce 33 metric tons of CO2 and go through 700 plastic water bottles every shooting day. That is the equivalent of driving nearly 85,000 miles in a gas powered vehicle everyday and studios would need to plant 546 trees a day, to counteract their emissions.
Film crews and heavy equipment are flown to locations around the world, despite Los Angeles having all the necessities to shoot a movie within its city limits. Few projects are actually filmed there, due to tax incentives, specific location needs and actor’s schedules. Additionally, when shooting on location, trailers and production trucks are reliant on gas powered generators that run consistently for 16+ hours a day. But the environmental cost does not stop at gas and travel. There is an enormous amount of waste produced and thought is rarely given to the ‘end of life’ of production needs such as costumes and sets.
Items are often stored in warehouses, to be rented out to other productions. It’s not uncommon to see costumes rented from companies like Western Costume (US) or Angels Costumiers (UK), being used in multiple films over the years.
Companies like Good Planet and Eco Sets work with studios to improve sustainability efforts. Both LA based organizations do everything from collect and rent out sets and costumes, monitor on-set practices like recycling, composting and ensure refillable water stations are plentiful.
Movie making is a profit-oriented business after all, and studio executives make tens of millions of dollars a year. The magnitude of those profits come at the expense of environmental and human impacts. The engrained systemic exploitation of labor and resources are painfully obvious on every film set. Examples of the economic unsustainability of Hollywood are regularly on display in the form of strikes, on-set accidents caused by inexperienced cheap labor, insufficient oversight, and cut corners.
That said, some production companies are taking steps to make changes. A more economically sustainable Hollywood spends a little extra money to make sure the set is safe, spends the time to utilize resources appropriately, and schedules more production days so crews can work reasonable hours. Most studios now have their own sustainability programs, like Netflix’s ‘Net-Zero + Nature’ or Sony’s ‘Road to Zero’, which track their carbon emissions and highlight their long term sustainability goals. Any filmmakers who are interested in making their sets more green, should check out The Sustainable Production Alliance, a powerful resource made up of the world’s leading television, film & streaming companies, which provides sustainable production resources.
Hollywood’s biggest offense is arguably the negative impact on its own community. There is a herculean effort behind the scenes of every production. Long hours, physical & emotional strain and lack of job security are amongst the countless stories of sacrifice from every crew member. Filmmakers are passionate about their craft and for most, the early days of sacrifice are paying dues for the later days of being able to call the shots. But in reality, promotions and key positions often go to the leaders who can minimize a budget while maximizing what can be extracted from the crew. The passion that drives so many into the industry leaves them burned out, and often without transferable skills to make a move into another profession.
Current industry standards make it difficult to make changes that would improve the quality of life for its community. But there are simple solutions that could be implemented at a corporate level that would have positive ripple effects. For example, currently women only account for 24% of the film industry, largely because the demanding lifestyle does not allow for children. There is no affordable childcare that can accommodate a 3am calltime. The fashion industry, a similarly demanding industry with a workforce that is 80% female, has successful examples of supporting their community by providing free childcare. If Hollywood truly wants to elevate women’s voices, balance the gender gap and support their own community, perhaps they should consider replacing the occasional free food truck with free childcare.
So, is Hollywood sustainable? It’s very much still in its ‘working title’ phase. But I have hope and I see the change happening. In a post-Covid world there have been noticeable shifts in the work culture. Any true Tarintino fan knows that he rallies his crew when calling for another take with a question and answer call back – “Why!? Because we love making movies!” and it’s true, we do.
And we want to keep doing it, for years to come.