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GOING GREEN: Big Bird Is Going Green

Posted By Claudine Marrotte and Christina Delfico, Thursday, January 28, 2016

Don’t worry, kids; he’s not dying his feathers green. But Sesame Street, which has been entertaining children and adults alike for 45 years, has begun implementing "green” strategies in its writing and producing departments.

The green initiative was inspired by Sesame Workshop’s new creative director, Brown Johnson. Brown met with Sesame Street producer Mindy Fila to discuss ideas; Fila then teamed up with script supervisor Jennifer Capra and script coordinator Lynda Holder-Settles to uncover the costs of printing each script revision in pre-production. After reviewing the show’s distribution list and calculating the cost of the paper, ink, script fasteners and shipping, the producing team discovered it cost, on average, $250 per person. With that number in mind, Sesame Street began the planning stages of implementing a greener and more cost-effective strategy.

Benjamin Lehmann, a long-time PGA member and senior producer for Sesame Street, encouraged the script department to tap into the PGA Green Committee for guidance. As the newly appointed Co-Chairs of the PGA Green Committee East Coast, we were thrilled to be contacted by Mindy Fila to provide tools to help complement their new initiative. Armed with actual costs, Fila sent the entire producing team an email outlining what she had uncovered along with an action plan to print less. Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente led by example, enthusiastically adopting the new digital distribution strategy and making a positive impact on the team.

As with any change, there was some initial resistance. But before long, most of the staff found that the benefits outweighed the challenges. The writing staff was already submitting scripts electronically, so it was relatively simple for them to embrace the change. Pushback mostly centered around the concern that producers would not have the ability to handwrite notes on scripts.

For the PGA’s part, we shared our successful experiences with apps like XODO and GoodNotes to give the producers the ability to electronically hand write notes. In addition, Claudine showed off her new "electronic pencil,” Pencil by FiftyThree, which writes and feels like a pen on an actual pad and can be paired with multiple apps and tablets. Fila also connected with other departments within the Sesame Street family to find out what tools, if any, they were already using. She found that many of the show directors already enjoyed working with PDF Expert, iAnnotate and Good Reader.

The producing team worked hard to encourage change without alienating any staff members. With that in mind, during the first phase of the transition to digital distribution, some of the staff members have continued to print their own scripts. The new strategy must be resonating, because the producers have reported that the team now playfully teases staff members who bring printed scripts to meetings.

The overall feedback from the writers and producers has been positive. The fear that these changes would be hard to implement dissipated quickly after the team was armed with knowledge and practical tips. In addition to the cost savings, the staff began taking greater ownership over their own scripts. Producers now spend their time focusing on core functions instead of the time-consuming task of printing and managing scripts that are physically distributed to each person. Desks are less cluttered, and the need to sift through countless physical scripts has been replaced with a quick scan on an internal server.

Next Steps
Moving from pre-production to production represents the producers’ next challenge. The puppeteers, many of whom have worked on the show for years, are accustomed to working from printed scripts. For most productions, including Sesame Street, using electronic scripts instead of printed scripts and sides during physical production have been resisted by the talent and AD dept.

The team is now researching unique ways to use tablets, soon to be put to the test by the puppeteers. Solutions need to improve workflow and not hinder it. As they move into production on their new season, the team will communicate their preproduction success with production management and attempt to bring the same level of change to the production process. After all, they have a head start: Oscar the Grouch has been green for years.

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