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GOING GREEN - Let's Get Small: "Downsizing" Uses Green Production To Shrink Its Carbon Footprint

Posted By Kate Fitzgerald, Friday, February 9, 2018

One would not have expected a dystopian, sci-fi-orientated, environmentally conscious piece of film to have been the next move for Sideways and Nebraska director Alexander Payne. Lo and behold, this was the most recent route he took and will likely be the talk of the town. Downsizing is a comedy based around a fictional solution to a very real and pressing issue facing humanity today—overpopulation of the earth.   opens in the not-so-distant future. A scientific institute in Norway has finally perfected the process in which the size of humans can be reduced to a mere 6 inches tall. This offers a radical way to cut down on the earth’s consumption of resources and a major windfall for those who take part in the program and subject their bodies to this irreversible change. Downsized individuals are able to live at a royalty-level of affluence. Upon arrival, they settle into sprawling and luxurious (size-appropriate) mansions and begin to live their hedonistic lifestyle in “Leisureland.” Smart viewers readily see this to be a Faustian bargain.

Throughout the process of writing, Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne became increasingly concerned with honoring the science behind global warming. They were aware they were working on a subject matter that was by no means an unrealistic catastrophe. The script actually was written 10 years ago, but a mixture of fate, luck and context has enabled it finally to come to fruition at just the right moment.

And given the film’s subject matter, it’s worth recognizing the ways the producing team was particularly conscientious in the sustainability of the resources and practices being used throughout production.

It began with the smallest details. At the very start of filming, every member of the cast and crew was provided with a canteen; the set was declared a water bottle-free zone. The amount of plastic saved through this endeavor alone was enormous, but the crew didn’t stop there—implementing a rigorous recycling bin system, even including an entertaining “how to” video passed amongst members of the team.

Great efforts were made daily to source food locally, choose organic when possible and work with companies that shared their environmental values. The tea was provided by Pluck Teas, a company from Toronto which specializes in sustainable and fair-trade products. Coffee waste was minimized by support from a company called Office Coffee Solutions, providing recycled, compostable cups. To properly recycle the Keurig capsules used during production, Office Coffee Solutions and its partner, TerraCycle, provided a dedicated receptacle for the purpose. (TerraCycle specializes in recycling and upcycling waste management for challenging waste streams.)

  Producer/writer/director Alexander Payne (left)
  on the set of

  Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon and fellow cast
  members in a scene from

In set construction, numerous steps were taken to reduce environmental impact, mostly in the form of reusing and repurposing. One example was choosing metal as opposed to wood whenever possible, as it’s far easier to repurpose. The team also focused on reusing sets for different scenes of the film. Two of the film’s largest sets, the “Alondra Apartments” and the “Norwegian Village,” were both constructed using recycled elements from other sets. Additionally, the “Movie Theater” set was built reusing the same panels that had also been used for a previous set, “The Downsizing Chamber.” Every other set piece was donated after completion of the film.

Perhaps one of the most integral parts of the production’s recycling strategy was the choice to hire a liquidator to ensure that everything that could not be donated after the film found a useful home. For example, the gurneys used in a hospital scene were ineligible to be donated to any nearby hospitals as they were no longer up to code after being customized for the film. The liquidator did painstaking research and eventually found a hospital in Ghana that could put them to good use.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that parts of the filming took place in Norway, which is renowned for its progressive environmental politics. A large proportion of the country’s population drives electric cars, as the practice is incentivized by the government. Norway’s societal norms are based on long views of preservation for the world around them. The film’s executive producer, Diana Pokorny, explained that the Norwegian spirit of sustainability was contagious and intrinsic to the film’s green production practices. She remarked upon how she was struck by the country’s winding roads, a result of civil engineers’ choice to follow the lay of the land as opposed to carving it out. The environmentally conscious ethos stuck with the team throughout the rest of the filming in Toronto.

After the cameras were put down, the efforts toward a greener future did not stop. Paramount’s employee screening did its part, asking viewers to “Downsize for Good” by bringing new or gently used clothing and household items to donate through Clothes for the Cause. All of these individual green efforts across the film added up to the studio’s taking a huge step closer to producing an environmentally sustainable film.

These various green production techniques are becoming more and more commonplace in the film industry with tools like the Green Production Guide facilitating these practices and providing a framework through which they can be carried out, assessed and recorded. The Green Production Guide ( helps film and television professionals find the resources and partners necessary to integrate sustainable practices and vendors into their productions. It makes greening productions simple with easy-to-use tools such as carbon calculators, best practices, resource checklists and more, including a database of over 2,000 vendors that supply sustainable products and eco resources to help green TV and film production sets.

If films continue to utilize practices and processes akin to how Downsizing did things, the whole industry will begin to move toward a more sustainable future. In order to do so, they will have to follow suit and mindfully do some “downsizing” of their own to reduce their environmental impact. Hopefully this won’t include the need to reduce ourselves to a height of 6 inches in the process.

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