Can Massachusetts Become a Destination for Green Film Production?

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Now that Massachusetts has a permanent film tax credit, the state’s film industry executives are considering ways to improve infrastructure. Some see this period as a chance to reduce the field’s carbon emissions, develop the green economy, and even position Massachusetts as a leader in green film production. With a wide range of enthusiasm levels, however, the consensus among those interviewed suggests that it would take a lot of work to get there.

Make green production a priority

Gary Crossen operates the region’s largest production studio, New England Studios in Devens. From what he has observed to date, green production has taken a back seat to the tax credit debate and recent concerns about worker health and safety. He says he answers questions about air filtration for the more than 70,000 square feet of sound stages, but not about energy use, for example.

Yet, aside from a five-month hiatus for COVID-19, business remains strong at New England Studios. The streaming series “Dexter”, “Defending Jacob” and “Castle Rock” were all filmed there and Crossen is expecting more. “We’ve booked until the end of the year and are talking to New Year’s productions,” he says. With the lifting of the tax credit, Crossen confirms that an expansion is currently “under consideration”.

Although Crossen does not elaborate on the details, he does say that if they develop, “I don’t think there is any question of some green technology coming into play.” New England Studios will soon double their electric vehicle charging stations to 14 and their rental lighting and grip arm features LED lights, which use significantly less power than the tungsten lights they also rent. However, Crossen recognizes that as a company that primarily rents its space, production companies make the most important decisions.

The New England Studios open stage. (Courtesy of New England Studios)

Define terms and set green goals

Ahead of COP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021), the Producers Guild of America (PGA) on October 28 launched a call to action to the global entertainment industry for the transition to an energy own. “Depending on the size, productions emit on average between 391 and 3,370 tonnes of CO2. Emissions from our industry are known to exceed those from the aerospace, clothing, hospitality and semiconductor industries, ”the statement said.

Due to so many variables from project to project, a feature film can run between 60 and 90 days; a streaming series can run 10 times more – it can be difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the industry’s carbon footprint, let alone the impact within state boundaries. (One of the sticking points in the Massachusetts tax credit debate has been the lack of timely and accurate data.) The PGA lists eliminating the use of diesel generators as the first of six recommendations and calls for also to follow-up actions.

Members of the PGA have been paying attention to sustainability issues for over a decade, forming a green committee in 2008 and co-authoring a vibrant online green production guide in 2010. The Massachusetts Film Office posted the guide on their website Web several years ago. It details the tips mentioned above (such as reducing gasoline transportation and using generators, reusing or donating costumes and props, and recycling where possible) and includes a foundation of data from green suppliers and a carbon footprint calculator. But a recent search for green caterers or alternative fuel generators did not identify any suppliers from Massachusetts.

One step forward, two steps back

All of these efforts are important, says Gloucester actor and writer Steve Provizer, but he didn’t see much progress on the environment while working on major productions in Massachusetts. “It’s something that started bothering me a long time ago,” he says. “Things as obvious as the recycling bins were not present on the trays. There was a growing sense that the industry was not paying enough attention to it. “

“Things as obvious as the recycling bins were not present on the trays. There was a growing sense that the industry was not paying enough attention to it. “

Steve provizer

In July, Provizer published a commentary in The Arts Fuse that broadly illustrates the extent of production waste, identifies key institutional players, and details its own efforts to gain attention and help solve the problem in Massachusetts. Despite his best efforts, and to put it bluntly, he found breakouts, shrugs and many dead ends. (My own research has yielded equally frustrating non-responses.) In our conversation and in writing, Provizer says industry fragmentation is a major obstacle. “Pockets of productions arise and are autonomous and interact with the world through unions and casting agencies,” he says. “There is no continuity on this.”

Provizer cites the value of the Guide to Green Production, but questions what incentive production companies have to adhere to the recommendations and what penalties could be imposed if they do not. He concludes that “to do something at a meta level, you probably have to have a legislative connection to the process.” He explains that a rider or a new invoice related to the tax credit could require a green supervisor on the set. After all, entertainment companies quickly rallied to train and hire COVID-19 supervisors on the set. “If you don’t have it, then no credit or reduced credit,” he says.

Start young, start now

Emerson College filmmaker and staff member Homa Sarabi-Daunais also sees politics as a key factor in increasing green production. “We have to organize ourselves at the grassroots using the power of the students and push for regulations,” she said, believing that Massachusetts has Ed Markey, sponsor of the Green New Deal. She notes that Markey spoke at the Hollywood Climate Summit in September and wonders, “Do we have a production in the Green New Deal? “

“I tell the students that if we want to keep making films for 15 or 20 years, we can only do that if it is a sustainable practice.”

Homa Sarabi-Daunais

Like Provizer, Sarabi-Daunais saw preventable excesses and a lack of basics, like recycling bins, while working on the set of a large production plant in Massachusetts. She says a waste area comes from “satisfying the stars; each of them has its own vehicles or trailers which are always in motion.

This state of mind, says Sarabi-Daunais who grew up in Iran, is indicative of a “strictly American way of making films.” [In other parts of the world] people come to the trays on their bikes and no one runs to get coffee from anyone. She wants young filmmakers to think differently about their approach so that they don’t automatically reproduce the Hollywood model. “I tell the students that if we want to keep making films for 15 or 20 years, we can only do that if it is a sustainable practice.”

Sarabi-Daunais pushed Emerson to become a founding member of the Green Film School Alliance and now serves as a liaison with the college. Earlier this year, the Visual and Media Arts Department began issuing a “green seal” to projects that meet sustainability criteria. (I am a faculty member at Emerson, but I am not involved in this project.) Certification comes with a refund of $ 100. Sarabi-Daunais says she sees the program – and similar forms of encouragement – as a stop along an arts sustainability continuum that encompasses anti-racism, pay equity and the #MeToo movement. “These are all connected. The whole culture is changing and now is the time to change, ”she says.

Actors and crew of Alyssa Lara's BFA thesis film, A Memory Play.  Lara and her team made the film using sustainable guidelines.  (Courtesy of Emerson College)
Actors and crew of Alyssa Lara’s BFA thesis film, A Memory Play. Lara and her team made the film using sustainable guidelines. (Courtesy of Emerson College)

Cultivate what is already green

Westerman Props Warehouse in Worcester has an inherently green business model and its business is booming. “We have 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of whatever would have gone to landfill,” says manager Dan Diaz of walls lined with period furniture, old telephones and junk. Diaz launched the unexpected branch of the restaurant supply business in 2008 after equipping the “Shutter Island” sets with kitchen equipment.

“The world of television advertising is exploding in New England,” says Diaz. The commercials add short-term deals to his already plentiful work to help set designers find items such as contemporary-appropriate office chairs for feature films or streaming series.

Diaz also works with productions once they’re wrapped up and want to find homes for a myriad of leftovers but still useful things. Because he signs nondisclosure agreements, he cannot give details, but does mention helping several large productions donate food, furniture and building materials to a range of charities in the center of the Massachusetts. In doing so, he had contact with “sustainability producers” or team members hired to help a production go green.

Can more film work mean more “green” work?

If Diaz and others agree on one thing, it’s that film production in Massachusetts looks promising, in terms of jobs. He says he never imagined he would work in the cinema and now he’s hiring other people who feel the same way. “I’m working with a local vocational school to train downtown kids in this industry,” Diaz adds. “You see more and more diversity [among the work force] and I’m working to make it even better.

When New England Studios’ Crossen looks to the future, he also sees jobs, and those that span all of Massachusetts, not just the Boston area. “The financial benefits were distributed evenly across the state,” he notes of the industry’s growth.

Based in New York, Earth Angel trains “Eco PAs” (production assistants) to help settings go green, including in Massachusetts. Provizer questions the possibility of re-equipping existing Massachusetts businesses or nonprofits for similar job training.

A concept related to the Green New Deal – the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps (also something Ed Markey supports) – could fill this gap. Then instead of running with single-use plastic water bottles, thrown away after a sip, personal assistants could run by filling washable and reusable bottles, etc.

These are the kinds of ideas that keep Sarabi-Daunais awake at night. “Political will and power exists in Massachusetts. We just have to insist on it, ”she said.


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