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GOING GREEN - The Wild Call To Action: Even In A Remote Location, A Green Production Can Be Second Nature

Posted By Katie Carpenter, Wednesday, April 3, 2019

It seems like a massive undertaking that a production as large as Call of the Wild, with so many cast, crew and locations, would attempt an ambitious green-production protocol to reduce environmental impacts.

Sure, it’s based on a novel about the natural world and features Harrison Ford, one of the country’s most outspoken climate activists. Yet it’s also a full-bodied adventure script, requiring the construction of several 1800s Alaskan towns and Klondike camps from scratch, mostly covered in snow on locations in Southern California. 

Fortunately executive producer Diana Pokorny had “greened” quite a few movies since Valentine’s Day in 2010, and she’s a pioneer of on-set sustainability. A gigantic rig and crew with hundreds of day players to feed, water and educate every day didn’t deter her. Conditions on the set were extreme, and shooting Yukon scenes on a hot hillside with people standing around in fur coats meant they needed cool, clean water served up constantly. That was handled by a full hydration team, delivering water in compostable cups to hundreds of people in between takes.

“It was hard at times, but people were excited about what we were doing. The word ripples out quickly. It’s not just one movie, it’s a movement,” says Pokorny.

Pokorny and the team developed a strategy that used renewable energy sources at every turn. They had solar-powered work lights by DC Electric, portable solar-powered VOLTstack generators and Ecoluxe solar trailers. They even provided EV Safe Charge electric charging stations for crew members, enabling them to carpool up to the ranch from L.A. in electric vehicles.

Top: Call of the Wild hydration team was led by Darin Eppich
(center) with Walter Myal (left) and Conte Matal.
Bottom: 20-pound medicine ball of recycled plastic
salvaged from the set.

Catering and craft services did their part: It was a tall order to feed 500 to 750 in cast and crew some days. They generated more than 30,000 pounds of compost, which when diverted from landfills means some 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide was avoided. Organic meal options were served every day, and leftover food was donated to Rock and Wrap It Up, who in turn served more than a thousand meals to homeless people in L.A.

Environmental sustainability manager Adrienne Pfeiffer, now of Green Spark Group, was charged with implementing this multipronged strategy on a daily basis.

“I tip my hat to Diana,” says Pfeiffer. “Things that should have been challenges were not, because she takes an innovative and very inventive approach. We educated day players every morning with a short pep rally, and we built excitement around donating leftover lunches and composting. The response was positive, though, and people were so grateful to be a part of it, that they embraced it.”

Since they were sometimes shooting frozen Arctic scenes on a broiling ranch, they had tons of extra plastic to recycle—including their massive plastic ice set. Pokorny and Pfeiffer saw this as an opportunity. They wanted to recycle every plastic item, from hairbrushes to latex sponges, camera covers to makeup containers. But they had more than 10,000 pounds of it, and mixed plastics are hard to recycle.

A fortunate ally appeared in the stunt department. Stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell had a side project recycling ocean plastic, and he took up the challenge. With the help of his not-for-profit organization, Earth’s Oceans, the plastics from the set ended up in exercise equipment like medicine balls and kickboxing punching bags, as well as boat cushions and dog beds.

Croughwell spent most of his time on set fist-fighting with Harrison Ford or making it appear actress Karen Gillan was trapped in a rushing river, but he’s especially proud of the recycling effort. “If you can change the way the world thinks, provide alternatives to this business of using things then discarding them, you can make a real difference,” he explains.

That huge plastic island floating out in the Pacific that most people have heard about does rivet the attention. “The most effective way to eliminate plastic pollution in our oceans is to make certain it never reaches the water in the first place,” says Croughwell.

Ford now has one of the recycled plastic medicine balls, and director Chris Sanders does too. Croughwell agrees the ripple effect can be powerful. “People come to me and say ‘Hey, I never thought that much about plastic until you taught me about the different kinds and how they can be used. Now I’m picking it up on the beach, putting plastic caps in my pocket, just being more aware.”’

It helped that the studio, 20th Century Fox, was already an industry leader in terms of environmental practices and policies. The studio has been tackling issues related to recycling and energy for years, and another of their high priorities is responsibly sourced lumber. Their policy states: “Avoid the use of lauan altogether by reusing or recycling wood from previous sets—and if you must use new lauan, buy only FSC-certified lauan (or vetted sustainable alternatives.)” 

Getting this and other environmental policies in place was the job of Lisa Day, who with her team, oversees sustainability efforts across Fox. Day sets the pace for producers wanting to take their productions green. She was thrilled with the Call of the Wild green effort, their clean-power setup and the recycling firsts. She called the construction efficiencies “groundbreaking.”

The construction department had the difficult task of creating multiple Alaskan towns  and camps, all from recycled wood where possible. Construction coordinator Stacey McIntosh says, “All clean woodcuts were reused or recycled, and we gave workbenches, tables and sawhorses to other shows that were just gearing up.”

The crew was also aware of another important point: more than 20 million tons of electronic waste is generated worldwide every year, and only 11% of it is recycled. That means neurotoxins like mercury, lead and cadmium end up in landfills and water sources. The Call of the Wild team collected batteries, print cartridges and electronic waste both on set and in the production office.

Day adds, “It’s the will of the people plus the technology to make it possible that’s finally getting us to the point of viability. I’m excited to see this movement accelerating. We have started to reach critical mass. The fun part was geeking out on new technology. Transportation and Locations were excited by some of the electric innovations partially displacing the diesel. Everything is so quiet, and it doesn’t smell. You just have to take the risk.”

With Fox and Disney merging, that’s two green studios making an even greener powerhouse—just in time for the release of the film later this year.

You might hear Ford talking about all this at that point, and if you wonder whether he believes in it, here’s what he told an audience of global leaders earlier this year: “We need nature now more than ever, because nature doesn’t need people, people need nature.”

Dozens of new green vendors have been added to our PGA Green-Studio website by the Call of the Wild production team. Check them out at: greenproductionguide.com

 

- Banner image and hydration team photo by Adrienne Pfeiffer
- Medicine ball photo by Charlie Goughwell

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