Exclusive: Climate change impact on the screen industry is “enormous”

Location experts give their views to KFTV about the effects of the Australian fires and other natural disasters

By Chris Evans 15 Jan 2020

Exclusive: Climate change impact on the screen industry is “enormous”

Seeing the fires destroying large parts of Australia and costing lives is devastating. While the firefighters continue to struggle to contain the flames, and financial support from celebrities pours in, many around the world point to the cause and growing problem of climate change.

Despite Australian PM Scott Morrison's determination not to connect the fires to climate change, many are not fooled, including those in the film, TV and commercials world.

“The impact of climate change is enormous,” insists American veteran location scout and LMGI Vice President Lori Balton, who worked second unit for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which has been filming in Australia. “It’s insane to me that there are still so many people that deny it. It’s happening left and right and it’s effecting everything.”

Although Balton didn’t scout Australia for Shang-Chi, she thinks it would be crazy to assume that the fires are not affecting the production. “Everywhere the light and air are different because of the particulate matter in the sky,” she argues.

Kiwi director Taika Waititi, who is set to shoot Thor: Love and Thunder in Australia, has also openly voiced his concerns about the devastating effects of the Australian bushfires. The sequel to Thor: Ragnarok is expected to begin pre-production in Australia in April and then shoot in the summer, but Waititi described the situation as insane, pointing to the fact that a lot of the smoke is moving across to New Zealand and melting glaciers there too.

The fires are likely to have a longer-term effect on the country too. Studios and production companies generally like to prepare for locations at least a year to 18 months in advance. “Films that were planning on going to Australia next September are already considering going somewhere else, so it will take a long time to recover,” warns UK based Georgette Turner, an experienced location manager and LMGI Treasurer, who’s projects include Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Edge of Tomorrow and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. “Once you go somewhere else that looks like where you were going to go in the first place it becomes your new norm. So, this could really have an impact for the country. It’s very sad.”

It’s not just the Australian industry that’s struggling with the impact of climate change and natural disasters, though. Disney + and Marvel Studios’ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has suspended its Puerto Rico location shoot due to the recent earthquakes there. Originally, a two-week production shoot was planned for the northern part of the island in Arecibo with cast and crew arriving yesterday.

Last Tuesday, Puerto Rico was hit with a 6.4 magnitude earthquake along its southern coast, reportedly the island’s biggest in a century. There was another quake Saturday that shook the island with a reading of 5.9.

There are signs of the impact of climate change everywhere. The Panama Canal is running out of water, the Amazon rainforest burned more than usual (aided by the Brazilian government’s deforestation efforts), and Venice canals flooded then two months later were reduced to muddy trenches. Last year, we also saw the California wildfires, typhoon Hagibis in Japan, Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa. The list goes on.

“Studios have to do their due diligence on what the safety implications are when choosing shooting locations, whether it’s terrorism or natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, everything,” says Turner. “Anywhere you go, the weather is not predictable. It has a huge effect on production,” insists Balton.

Toronto based location manager and scout John Rakich, whose recent credits include the new Netflix series Grand Army and Jupiter’s Legacy, agrees. “Wherever you are now, it’s not predictable. I’ve got designers asking me ‘will there be green trees in March?’ and my answer is ‘I don’t know anymore’. It’s 2 degrees outside at the moment in the middle of January and there’s not a drop of snow outside. The seasons are unpredictable. If you want to do a winter movie with snow, good luck!,” he concludes.

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