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GOING GREEN - Embracing Sustainable Sets: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

Posted By Liberty Bradford, Monday, December 10, 2018

As Film and TV sets become more elaborate and turnaround time grows shorter, materials are often at risk of ending up in a landfill. Over the past several years, the amount of waste created has become harder and harder to justify, with many productions implementing measures to reduce set materials sent to landfill. Wise reuse strategies can also save money.

Today efforts to create green sets range from daily recycling of paper and plastic, to sourcing sustainable materials for set builds, to reusing items from past productions. Studios now host warehouses on their lots or off-site, available as a first stop for reusable set pieces and materials for both in-house and independent productions.

When Becky Casey, VP of Production Operations at NBCUniversal, was first tasked with repurposing walls between shows for reuse, “It begged the question,” she recalls, “where is all this other stuff going?” Items used on a production—sets, wardrobe, props, office supplies, production expendables—are now considered assets. As awareness has grown across Hollywood, the commitment to knuckle down and substantially reduce waste has intensified, with each studio approaching the green challenge in its own way.

Independent vendors who deal in reuse of sets and supplies are a powerful resource. Should a studio’s reuse warehouse not have what a TV show is looking for or if a show is shooting on location, vendors such as Sustainable Lockup in Vancouver, Lifecycle Building Center in Atlanta and Recycled Movie Sets in Los Angeles offer a variety of recovered set materials. These are often provided for free or as a low-cost rental.

Sharing of materials between studios or productions has evolved organically. While often done by word of mouth, the process of set sharing and rentals is increasingly aided by websites such as ArtCube Nation, which connects crewmembers who have materials to give with those in search of materials to take.

Incorporating used materials and recovering them in wrap requires planning from pre-production to strike. Current best practices suggest that the construction and art departments “design for strike,” keeping material reuse and donations in mind when building their sets and tearing them down. It’s always best to create a plan for where the materials can go before the crunch time of wrap.

When building sets, if used materials cannot be located and the set needs to be built from scratch, FSC Certified Lauan/Meranti and Revolution Ply lead the way among sustainable lumber materials frequently incorporated into today’s sets. Many industry lumber suppliers carry these sustainable alternatives and can be found by searching the vendor database on GreenProductionGuide.com.

Lots of productions have similar basic set needs. Sondra Garcia, Director of Scenic Operations at Sony Pictures Entertainment, believes that standard-size pieces have the greatest repurpose appeal. The better the quality of the initial build, the better the reuse capacity. Sony Pictures began repurposing sets between shows in the mid-1980s, while NBCU has sets in stock (including a Gothic church) that have been in reuse since the 1990s, well before their official green set initiatives began.


The 133,000 sq. ft. Sony Scene Dock, which houses all scenery held for Sony shows,
as well as stock sets rented to outside productions.

With a constant influx of new sets, it’s a regular balancing act updating solid set pieces in stock for reuse, while recycling out those that have fallen into disrepair or are simply underutilized. “One challenge is to make sure I am providing the best possible service to productions, in regard to keeping unique, rentable scenery, as well as making sure our grip crews are taking the best care of our stock,” says Garcia, who documents every asset in detail, including archived drawings of sets and photos of how and when a piece was used.

Besides set walls, the most commonly reused items include large utilities such as dishwashers, refrigerators, fireplaces, elevators, plus jail and hospital sets. Some specialty items like balustrades, airplane interiors and exotic décor are kept in stock for their unique appeal, though such items generally comprise a minority of storage space.

When a show’s assets cannot be saved for future reuse on the production, the goal is to reuse the assets or materials on another production, or else sell or donate the items. Across studios, their sets, props and other resources are sometimes donated to vetted local charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, animal shelters and film schools. Donations are often aided by a designated point person managing sustainability efforts on the production. If anything remains, efforts will be made to recycle it and keep production materials out of a landfill.

The opportunities to create sustainable sets grow substantially with each passing year. Whether from home base in Hollywood or on locations across the nation, film studios’ reuse warehouses are expanding, and peer-to-peer alliances are growing. Independent reuse vendors are also expanding, and a greener entertainment industry is being realized. Whether producing at a studio or independently, the resources to mount a sustainable, eco-conscious production are readily available. Now the once lofty vision of zero-waste sets is within reach.

“The things we’re always focused on conserving in the process of making a movie are time and money”, says PGA Peter Saraf of Big Beach Films. “To that we have to add environmental resources. The three are all interrelated.

 

For more information on Set Reuse Vendors and other green guidelines, visit www.greenproductionguide.com.

Tags:  going green 

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