It’s the Fourth of July in 2011. Among those celebrating in the small seaside town of Chesapeake Bay, Va., is an unwelcome guest — a deadly creature known as an isopod parasite created by the town’s contaminated water supply. Carrying untreatable disease, the bacteria- laden ocean dweller eventually replaces its human hosts with itself. Soon the town’s entire population is wiped out, save for some old videos left behind.
That’s the conceit of the film The Bay, and while it may seem like some far-fetched sci-fi fantasy, it actually has its basis in fact.
Director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Bugsy, The Natural) originally set out to make a documentary about the real contaminants threatening Chesapeake Bay, including dangerously high levels of man-made chemicals. He soon felt that he could make a stronger statement — and create more of a discussion — telling the story as a narrative, or "ecological thriller” as producer and PGA member Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, The Tooth Fairy) likes to put it.
The film’s origin and theme translated into a keen awareness of environmental issues on set, with the producers deciding it would be nothing short of hypo- critical if they failed to make the production itself as ecologically friendly as possible. The idea, Blum says, was "to create a communal sense of practice what you preach. The decision [to adopt eco-conscious practices] was made early on.”
Jeanette Brill, The Bay’s line producer and a member of the PGA Green Committee, adds, "We all care about these issues. Fortunately, we’re finding that implementing green measures on set can actually save money, rather than adding to the final cost.”
That’s good news considering the film’s low budget. Exactly how low is a secret, but it is part of Blum’s Blumhouse Productions five-picture deal with Alliance Films. The deal requires no outside funding to be raised, allowing for a very short development and pre-production period. In fact, Blum received the script for The Bay in June of last year and production started in September.
The film was shot on location in Georgetown, South Carolina. Some of the green measures implemented during the one-month shoot included:
But perhaps the most creative idea was borrowing things such as wardrobe from the TV show Army Wives, which shoots in South Carolina but was on hiatus at the time.
"The hardest part on location was finding the vendors (who could meet our ecological needs),” says Brill. "They are not used to hearing these kinds of requests.”
But, she adds, people are willing to learn. "Once you’re tuned in to these things it’s easy. We had signs up in the office and on set (for recycling and energy saving). As long as you help point people in the right direction, they’re willing to go "down that road,” — a road the crew went down on bicycles and skateboards when on set and traveling to and from base camp.
Brill says the producers also asked questions like "Can you limit the amount of lights you use in the office? Share materials between departments? Repurpose flats so you don’t have to buy new wood?” Adds Blum, "You have to make a lot of decisions very quickly without making everyone crazy. The trick is getting departments to coordinate.” Still, the producers were pleased to find that once the idea of being an eco-friendly production was out there, crew members started taking matters into their own hands, carpooling to the set each day, recycling batteries, making fewer and double-sided copies, and buying craft services in bulk to minimize waste. These measures didn’t just help the environment, they helped the film’s bottom line as well.
The producers also found that going green could boost both the local economy and morale. The pro- duction, wardrobe, art, and special effects makeup departments worked out of buildings that had been vacant for several months and nearly 75 percent of the crew were local hires, both of which helped infuse money into the area.
The search for extras was also kept local. More than 600 Georgetown residents responded to a casting call for people who could "Walk back and forth, fill up scenery, and eat a helping of blue crabs” during shooting of the Fourth of July festival. And local jewelry, food, and crafts vendors were enlisted to hawk their wares in the scene.
Since the movie is meant to depict "found footage” (à la The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield), filming was kept mostly hand-held and recorded digitally. This meant no environmentally unfriendly tape and no running back and forth to processing labs, both of which have obvious ecological and economical advantages. It also meant less disruption to the location, including places like Georgetown’s Front Street where the Fourth of July festival was staged.
If all of this seems like a win-win-win situation, it is. Still, Brill notes that most productions are only just beginning to integrate sustainable practices as a matter of routine. "The trick is implementing awareness and discipline,” in addition to combating misinformation, such as the idea that recycling, re-purposing, or donating backdrops and set pieces tacks time on to the schedule. "It doesn’t,” says Blum. "In fact, that kind of give-and-take tends to make people more productive.”
The question becomes how producers can go about incorporating the awareness and discipline that Brill has taken to heart. She admits that it can be easier for a smaller production like The Bay. "We basically took over Georgetown. We were our own little family — sleeping four to 10 people to a house.”
Still, increased industry awareness is making it easier for all productions, no matter the size, to minimize their environmental impact. Some studios are requiring producers to sign a green-awareness agreement. Others have created the position of "green liaison” to help producers make better choices. And productions are beginning to work together to share resources, including things like office supplies, which may seem small but have always been an issue when things wrap. Vendors, too, are getting in on the act. Productions can now buy and sell back such things as used expendables. Blumhouse Productions also works out long-term deals with suppliers, holding on to things like walkie-talkies from one production to the next, cutting down on running back and forth to drop things off and pick them up.
While all of this is a huge leap forward from just a few years ago, these are clearly only the first steps toward more environmentally friendly production. So what does the future of green production look like? Brill has at least one prediction. "iPads will be a wonderful tool for tracking scripts, script notes, production reports, and call sheets. They’re both ecologically friendly and great for ultra-lazy people,” she laughs, "since they require no copies to be made.”
But moving forward, the real trick is to continue raising awareness, creating dialogue, and making green efforts not only easy but a matter of course for all productions. Of course, for more information and useful tips on greening your production now just log onto www.PGAgreen.org, featuring the international and interactive "GreenProductionGuide.com” as well as a list of "25 Best (Green) Practices.”
Maria Gavin is a producer and writer of non-fiction television. She is also an associate professor at Columbia College Hollywood and a member of the PGA Green Committee West.