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Big-budget movies mean blockbuster CO2 emissions, but they can clean up their act

Celia Li

17 Apr 2023

Software can play a role as the TV and film industry tries to clean up its act.

Netflix, Disney and other Hollywood studios have a surprisingly huge carbon footprint, but Earth Day, on 22 April, offers an opportunity to highlight how new technologies offer a solution to help drive down the substantial waste and emissions from film and TV production. 

To make a single hour of television, the companies involved in production will emit 9.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to a study by pan-industry body Albert commissioned by British film organisation BAFTA. 

This amount of carbon is more than the emissions from the average UK person for a whole year and over double the global average person’s emissions. 

Per film, a big-budget blockbuster can produce 2,840 tonnes of CO2 (or running 612 gas-powered cars or the amount of carbon sequestered by 3,360 acres of forest), according to a study from the BFI, while a Hollywood report found the biggest films had the average carbon footprint of 3,370 tonnes – or about 33 tonnes per shooting day – and a half-hour of scripted drama with a single camera had a carbon footprint of 26 tonnes per episode. 

The largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions on film and TV productions is fuel, which is used in production vehicles and generators, representing 48%-56% of emissions for films and 58% for scripted TV dramas, according to the Sustainable Production Alliance (SPA), a consortium that includes Amazon Studios, Disney, Fox Corp., NBCUniversal, Netflix, Sony Pictures Entertainment, ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia. 

Reducing travel is one of the most positive impacts that production companies can make to reduce their carbon footprint, according to Albert, the body that produced the BAFTA report, with 51% of emissions transport-related as filming takes place not only over dozens of locations but often several countries. 

Another key area of waste is paper usage. While the consumption of paper in the film industry has decreased as the need for documentation such as invoices, contracts or call sheets to be printed or produced on paper has reduced, production and post-production has retained predominantly manual and paper-based processes. 

However, we are beginning to see the green shoots of the “green shoot” with the emergence of digital platforms that are providing far more sustainable alternatives for the carbon intensive processes involved in film and TV production. 

Drylab Media Tech is one of the companies offering such technology to help film and TV companies cut down on their carbon footprint. 

The Drylab on-set production tool and dailies distribution platform replaces the paper-based processes of the script supervisor with a digital solution. In addition, Drylab’s mesh technology provides a game changing capability to on-set production teams, as it enables full content sharing without requirement for an internet connection. 

By enabling the review and share of filmed takes via the cloud in real-time during production and post-production, it facilitates remote collaboration – further reducing travel-related emissions. 

“Not only do we cut down the industry’s surprisingly large use of paper, we also help production companies reduce travelling, as the platform is cloud-based and collaborative,” said Chief Marketing Officer Celia Li. 

Further, by improving continuity through the use of metadata and enabling automatic uploading and sharing on-set data with the central studio, Drylab improves efficiency of production enabling a reduction in the number of shoot days and associated energy consumption and waste. 

“Drylab not only brings a disruptive technology to improve filmmaking’s creative process, but we are digitising previously paper-based processes that effectively reduces the carbon footprint” adds Li.  

Drylab’s carbon footprint reduction effort is recognised by BAFTA’s sustainability initiative – Albert, and was awarded the “Albert Supplier” certificate.  

Companies are using the circular-economy as an alternative to landfill for unwanted scenery, props and furniture via an approved list of suppliers from the Albert organisation, while buying all energy from renewables is a step being taken by studio facilities on both sides of the Atlantic. 

In Hollywood, the Sony Pictures has been one of the most progressive in Hollywood’s greening efforts, beginning with tree planting in 2009 and since then releasing progress reports on how their efforts are impacting consumption and emissions each year. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was Sony’s most eco-friendly production to date, with environmental efforts on- and off-set that resulted in estimated cost savings of over US$400,000. 

As said by Doug Belgrad, president of the group’s Columbia Pictures arm, this offered “proof that what’s good for the planet can also be good for the bottom line”.

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