The green future of film production – interview with GreenEyes Production
Nature-friendly filmmaking? It’s possible! We asked the two founders of GreenEyes Production about sustainability, regarding film producing.
The need to look after our planet is nothing new. Nowadays, being green is cool and littering is shameful. At least for plenty of us. If you think about it, you can be green in almost every walk of life. We can take our portable coffee mugs to the café, shop in packaging-free stores, and even save paper at the office by emailing instead of printing everything out.
We can even be sustainable in filmmaking. We asked Júlia Tordai and Zsófia Szemerédy, founders of GreenEyes Production, who are fighting for sustainability in film production. The girls have presented their achievements at many prestigious institutions, including the Hungarian National Film Institute, the European Film Forum, and were also invited to the San Sebastian Film Festival.
Budapest Reporter: Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Zsófia Szemerédy: We come from very different backgrounds. I studied film distribution in England for ten years. I started my career as a student of film and history; I wanted to be a historical adviser at first because I love fantasy and science fiction, but after I realized that it wasn’t for me, I decided to do a master’s degree in filmmaking.
After that, I worked in basically every aspect of filmmaking. Marketing, script writing, PR – I was a PR on the red carpet, I was a cinema manager as well, but I knew I wanted to be a producer, which requires understanding the market and being able to distribute. So I started studying film distribution, and that’s where I first met green financing. The only black spot I didn’t know about was production, and there was a producer I knew at a Hungarian university, so I came back to Hungary. And Júlia worked there. That’s how we met.
Júlia Tordai: I started in science, as a biologist. I graduated in biochemistry, but I also realized that I might not want to sit in a lab all day, so I started to study something else at master’s level: science communication at ELTE. We studied a lot of things, but the one I liked the most was filmmaking… I shot a documentary and fell in love with it.
Afterwards, I asked my aunt who wrote Zsófi‘s recommendation, to introduce me to this field a bit, because I was very interested in production. And as Zsófi mentioned, we met and talked in the kitchen. And then Zsófi was an assistant producer, she left Hungary again, and when she came back, one of her questions was: why we don’t have the same level of film sustainability as they do have abroad? And so GreenEyes was born.
BpR: How did GreenEyes Production get started?
Zs.Sz.: When GreenEyes started, we both had different jobs, I was living in England specifically, but when I came home we worked on it. After a while, the whole system was so set up that we started promoting ourselves, introducing who we are. We went to the National Film Institute, we wrote to a lot of companies about our project with the hope of them coming on board. Since I’m also doing script development, we had the idea to write to studios, and a lot of surprisingly big names responded.
J.T.: One of the responses came from a Hollywood blockbuster company. We still don’t know how they got our message, but we were very surprised when we saw it. We were beside ourselves with joy, and we are still working with them.
BpR: What do we need to know about sustainable filmmaking?
J.T.: Film sustainability is specific because these projects are set up for a few months in many different locations. The size of the crew varies as well as the amount of money and energy. It feels like having several jobs at the same time because making these productions sustainable would be easy if the crew would know how to do it.
Zs.Sz.: Yes, filmmaking is a complex thing and we have to look at all the details of how to make it sustainable and make a plan out of that. It’s a big step forward that there is a demand for sustainability. We have to think about basic things like separate collection of waste, reusing the set, reusing wood, or simple activities such as bringing our own glass or to avoid wasting.
BpR: When we think of a film shoot, beyond the cameras, actors and crew, you might think that you have to feed these people. I suppose there is no one to do the dishes, so the problem is solved with the use of plastic cutlery. How much of a problem is this and how much are studios trying to change this?
J.T.: Yes, that’s absolutely the case and the pandemic has not helped. One hour of a twelve-hour shooting day is a lunch break. That’s when the crew goes out and eats their food on proper plates. But because of the pandemic, everything has been packed up and it became a sort of a ‘running lunch’.
Before, everything was packed separately, starting with the cutlery, and if you don’t eat soup for example, there’s still the cutlery – packed in plastic. We now have an innovation that has even caught the attention of foreigners, Green Compost. All cutlery, glasses and plates can be thrown into a green bin, taken away by the company and turned into fertilizer.
Zs.Sz.: They already do this abroad, but ours is different from the aspect that you can throw food waste in it.
BpR: How do Hungarian filmmakers feel about the Green Project?
J.T.: I think everyone is very well disposed towards it. It’s at the point now where the whole world wants it. The studios are big recipients; they’re trying to make a difference in this area. I would say it’s now ingrained in the public consciousness that paying attention to your environment is a basic thing. We are now a generation – our generation – that has been taught to be selective, to be environmentally aware.
Zs. Sz.:. Most people say that they want to do it, but they don’t have the time, energy, or money. And that’s where we come in and show that it’s not that hard to do so, and there are ways to save rather than to spend.
BpR: How do you see saving money?
J.T.: If you prepare properly and everything is done exactly as it should be, you can save money, but that’s quite rare. By us being there and taking that burden off of them, how to design in an environmentally conscious way, it works much better.
Zs.Sz.: You don’t necessarily have to think about money when you think about saving. The people we’re working with now, the blockbuster studio, they do the shipping with a shipping company. We found another one that is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and also gives a certificate of carbon emissions so the company can see how much they used. The company didn’t have time to look through all the possible options and find the one that already had everything. It takes a lot of talking, asking, finding out what they do and how they do it. The staff is usually overworked and, as a result, waste increases.
J.T.: And the more waste there is, the more expensive it’ll be. One good example is shipping, another is selective waste collection. If you ship your selective waste somewhere, it’s free. You have to pay for communal waste. We recycle communal waste, and the partner we work with has a reintegration program that involves disadvantaged people, ergo it creates jobs.
Zs.Sz.: The kind of selection that we are doing is quite a detailed and complex thing. We have practically halved the communal one. Of course, we pay for landfills and compost, but the scales are still even.
BpR: You also work with ORIGO Studios. How do they feel about the green project?
J.T.: They are very enthusiastic and helpful. We are in touch with a lot of foreign studios, so we can see what kind of trends are coming. For example, not just one production trying to be carbon neutral, but whole building units. Because of the pandemic, the star of the streamers has risen, and they have been doing more and more productions.
Zs.Sz.: The British and American studios are rented out ten years in advance. Of course, there is a 5-6 year waiting list for the Hungarian ones as well. So basically, there’s not a single foot of space for them to shoot, and the demand is growing.
Filmmakers will get to the point when they choose a studio, they will put on the checklist along with equipment and post-production rooms, observe how much carbon footprint the place has, whether they use renewable energy sources, etc. Obviously, this won’t be the deciding factor, that will rather be the personnel who works cheaper, but it’s not a bad thing to be on such a list.
J.T.: A big advantage of ORIGO is that the incinerator is right next to it. They eliminate the waste at a very high temperature and the heat that this process generates is used by the studio for heating water, for example, which is a totally good, environmentally friendly solution.
In our collaboration, we would like to create a selective section in the studio, and a baler is also planned. If there are four or five productions in the studio and everyone takes their garbage there, the baler will compress the paper and the plastic. This saves space and reduces the number of deliveries.