International production execs on prioritising sustainability in the industry

“Nothing moves if government doesn’t move,” said the execs at the discussion ahead of Screen’s Global Production Awards.

By Gabriella Geisinger 23 May 2024

International production execs on prioritising sustainability in the industry
Global Production Awards roundtable conversation Stefanie Rex

Dallas Film Commission’s Tony Armer, British Film Commission’s Abee McCallum, and Brand South Africa’s Jimmy Ranamane were among the TV and film industry executives who came together to discuss the advancements happening in sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the global production sector and what is needed to make sure those initiatives grow.

Key takeaways from the roundtable were that incentives are integral to kick sustainability measures into a higher gear and that a joined-up approach from all sectors within the film industry is necessary.

Luke Azavedo, vice president of Calgary Economic Development, is also vice chair of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), said: “Part of the work AFCI does is to ensure the information we’re talking about, and the initiatives that are happening on a global basis, are accessible from all the different film commissions. As productions are making their decisions on where to go, there’s a baseline of knowledge and a baseline of capacity to support [sustainability] work as it’s being done throughout the world.”

There is a natural economic benefit to sustainability practices, as productions can now be more selective about where to shoot, added Azavedo. As all regions and providers compete to draw productions, having the soft power of proven sustainability is a must, agreed the speakers.

Advances in sustainable technology include an increase in battery-powered location equipment, explained Nigel Howard, director of UK-based On-Set Location Services. “Those measures are [becoming] ingrained on every location base,” he said, thus reducing CO2 emissions by about 40% on each shoot.

Additionally, the use of wooden screws has allowed entire sets to be recycled, without the need to remove individual metal screws which also saves on time and therefore budget, said Steven Little, head of production at Screen Scotland.

Sustainability has been at the core of the BFC’s development of UK studio footprint to over a million square feet in the past couple of years, said McCallum. “Before, you’d just build the studio. Now you have to have those measures already in place before building,” she explained.

McCallum cited the emergence of the role of sustainability manager as evidence the conversation is shifting on a micro production-level. Likewise, Howard says 80% of his clients want to see their sustainability policies before engaging.

“I’ll be honest about Dallas and Texas right now. Nobody’s asking [about sustainability]. They just want to know what the incentive is,” said Dallas Film Commissioner Tony Armer.

Undeterred, Dallas is spearheading initiatives, particularly on the DEI side, and introducing training programmess to help talent from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to enter the film industry.

“Part of the way to sell sustainability is to highlight ‘how do you save money by doing it’,” said Armer. “Say ‘hey, you could save money doing it this way and it’s also sustainable’. You’ve got to find the way to pitch it in the thing that matters first to people, which is money, and then tie in sustainability to it.”

Financial incentivisation from the government is key. South Africa’s Ranamane said it was the country’s energy crisis that pushed all industries towards sustainability, including the film industry. “It’s not a conversation that the film industry [alone] is having, it’s actually a government conversation, and an economic and investment related conversation that we are having,” he said.

“Nothing moves if government doesn’t move,” added Calgary’s Azavedo.

Ranamane suggested all incoming productions should have a sustainability plan as part of their proposal to access incentives and funds: “adding that element of incentivising sustainability” would move the conversation around sustainability “even faster.”

Work to be done 

While progress has been made in front of the camera, it was agreed diversity, equity, and inclusion behind the camera has to catch up. “It’s not that it’s perfect in front of the camera, but we can continue to push more behind the camera as well,” said Armer.

Part of Dallas’ educational programming is “making the film industry accessible for everyone, no matter your economic level, your race or gender.

“Obviously it takes time,” Armer added, “And there is work to be done, but we’re all cognisant of that and trying to figure out ways help push that along.”

In South Africa, “About 60% of our population is young people, and the majority are women,” says Ranamane. “Productions need to reflect the demographics of the country. You cannot have an an all male film industry, whether in front of the camera or behind the camera, whilst the majority of the population is women and young women.”

This story was written for KFTV and our sister site Screen

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