Nature-friendly filmmaking? It’s possible! We asked the two founders of GreenEyes Production about sustainability, regarding film producing.
Environmental-friendly, sustainable filmmaking? It’s possible! We asked the two co-founders of GreenEyes Production how it is possible to implement sustainable measures in film, what makes a production truly ‘sustainable’ or Net Zero.
The need to look after our planet is nothing new. Nowadays, being green is cool, it’s the norm, while littering is frowned upon. At least for one segment of society. If you think about it, you can be green in almost all walks of life. We can take our reusable coffee mugs to the coffee shop , save paper at the office by emailing instead of printing everything out, we can even shop at Zero Waste and Package Free stores.
So it isn’t such a big leap to imagine, we can also be sustainable when films are being produced. We asked Júlia Tordai and Zsófia Szemerédy, founders of GreenEyes Production, specialising in sustainability for the Film, TV and Media sector what are the most important things to know when it comes to sustainability on set, when should one start thinking about greening a production.
The young women presented their achievements at many prestigious institutions, including the Hungarian National Film Institute, the European Commissioners’ Stakeholder meeting, were invited to present at the European Film Forum at San Sebastian Film Festival, at the BFI, (the British Film Institute), the London Screenwriters Festival, the Sustainable Production Forum, BECTU and other events.
Budapest Reporter: Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Zsófia Szemerédy: We come from very different backgrounds. I worked and lived in England for over ten years, I worked in the distribution, sales, festival and PR field mainly. I started out as a film and history student; wanted to be a historical adviser at first fueled by my love of fantasy and science fiction, quickly realized though dusting off books in a library wasn’t meant for me. instead decided to do a master’s degree in the distribution field at the NFTS (National Film and Television School).
Throughout these ten years, I worked in a variety of film-related jobs in order to put myself through my degrees (even though I crowdfunded one of them). I gained experience in marketing, scriptwriting, PR, (I was on R on the red carpet at festivals and galas – it’s cold out there), I also worked in a cinema, as a manages, organised my own distribution summit, but all along I knew I wanted to be a producer, which requires a thorough understanding of the market.
So I started studying film distribution to understand better how the market works, and that’s where I first met green financing. The only black spot I didn’t know much about was physical production, being on set. So I reached out to a Hungarian producer I knew from the NFTS, and she offered me a gig on an Amazon show shooting in Budapest. And surprise, Júlia worked on that show as well. That’s how we met.
Júlia Tordai: I initially studied research biology. Having graduated at ELTE, Budapest, I wanted to find something more, something that is based on science, yet it can also expand my horizon towards some kind of art. I opted to go for science communication as my master where I could learn how to use my science knowledge in journalism, science management and science related arts such as filmmaking in science, which ultimately stuck with me and fascinated me the most.
Having graduated with my master on an Erasmus program in Munich I eagerly turned towards filmmaking looking for my own challenge in the industry. Having my aunt as a film producer helped a lot, I was lucky to be quickly introduced to filmmaking on basic levels, started doing trainee and PA jobs.
Getting to know real filmmaking in the real world I immediately realised what my mission is upon meeting Zsófi. We had a shared vision: making the film industry more sustainable. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most pressing issues of the industry today, considering that the film industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Soon our mission was born and christened: Green Eyes.
BpR: How did GreenEyes Production get started?
Zs.Sz.: When GreenEyes started, we both had different jobs, I was living in England working for a UK production company (still do), but when I came home we were working on it day and night. We went to the National Film Institute, reached out to a lot of international companies, announced our project and what we do in the field. Since I’m also doing script development and am in touch with production companies and studios on a daily basis due to the nature of my work, we had the idea to write to these studios, and a lot of surprisingly big names responded.
J.T.: One of the responses came from a household Hollywood studio’s subdivision. We couldn’t believe they e got our emails, we were very surprised when we saw it. Needless to say, 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 very specific because these projects are set up for only a few months, often shooting simultaneously in many different locations. The size of the crew varies, as well as the amount of money and energy spent on it. Working on a production is like living in a small village, everyone has their own field, task, specialty – you have construction, costume, props, lighting – if any of them goes wrong, you don’t have a film. We have to take both the individual departments, as well as the overall production into account.
Zs.Sz.: Yes, filmmaking is a complex thing and we have to factor in a multitude of details, make a cost analysis, do a carbon calculation, size up the possibilities provided by each individual territory and location and make a plan out of all of this.What is important, is thatt’s a big step forward, that there is a rising demand for sustainability. But Hungary is different or the US or UK, we have to think about basic things like recycling, , reusing sets, how to quantify FSC approved wood usage, sometimes simpler things like eliminating PET and providing crew with their own reusable water bottle is already a big step.
BpR: When we think of a film shoot, the next thought that pops to mind after the cameras, actors and crew, is how they are supposed to feed this many people. I suppose there isn’t a kitchen porter to do the dishes, and the quick solution often ends up being plastic cutlery and single-use plastic packaging. How much of a problem is this in reality and how much are studios trying to change this, are they concerned about this at all?
J.T.: Yes, that’s absolutely the case and the pandemic has not helped. Normally, 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 china plates. However, because of the pandemic, everything is packed up and you have to make your order a week ahead. It is good, because catering can estimate portions more accurately, and there’s less food waste, but the amount of packaging increased by tenfold!
Everything is packed separately, starting with the cutlery, and if you don’t eat soup, for example, there’s still a spoon in this – packed in plastic. So we were adamant, composting is one of the most important issues that needs to be solved on set, in order to reduce the waste flow. We now devised a new system, which has even caught the attention of the international market , we call it Clean Compost.
All cutlery, glasses and plates can be thrown into a green bin, taken away by our vendor and turned into fertilizer. All packaging is compostable under industrial circumstances together with food residue – no scraping, no selecting, very straightforward: drop it in the compostable bin!
Zs.Sz.: The difference between compostable abroad and with this service is that we can throw in the food residue. It means it is a lot quicker and more hygenic. Frankly it means, it is something possible vs something remaining a nice idea (most crew members would not use a compost if they had to scrape the food remains out of their boxes or off their plates, they simply don’t have the time). Kitchen refuse of course is collected separately, and that is taken by a vendor who makes biogas out of it, just like the UK and US equivalents.
BpR: How do Hungarian filmmakers feel about the Green Project?
J.T.: I think everyone is favourably disposed towards it. It’s at that point now, when the whole world wants it. The studios are the loud voices, the herd leaders; they’re trying to make a difference in this area by announcing their Net Zero commitment goals far and wide. I would say by now it’s ingrained in the public consciousness that paying attention to your environment is a basic thing. We are now a fully-fledged generation that has been raised to recycle, to be environmentally aware.
Zs.Sz.:. Most companies and people say they want to do it, but they just don’t have the time, energy, money or resources to start doing it. hat’s where we come in the picture and show that it’s not that rocket science,, and there are ven ways to save money on, cost-cut your expenditure, the greener choice doesn’t have to automatically mean it is a more expensive solution. Many companies are afraid of the Green Premium, when green is often not more expensive.
BpR: Where do you see an opportunity for saving money?
J.T.: Time. Time and planning is the key. If everything is researched and prepared properly in advance, you can save money, for example: it is story boarded and planned out, and surprises are limited then the production doesn’t have to be overcautious and spend money on buying missing articles in the last minute, thereby you immediately mitigate future waste, and donation and automatically save, time, money and manpower.
Meticulous planning, however is quite rare, it’s pretty much the nature of the industry to be chaotic, adaptable, and on standy by for any change necessary on the spot. By us being involved from the start, we can take off the burden, one less thing a production manager & producer has to do, it’s off their mind to also design how to be environmentally conscious.
Zs.Sz.: We also say, it’s better to invest a little upfront and save that way. By this we mean: invest in your crew, invest in your HoDs, the decision makers – provide a training, so they can start rewiring ingrained habits and apply easy sustainable considerations (consider what becomes waste and where does waste end up at, buy less, buy recycled, buy second hand, buy sustainable ingredients and materials, think about donation).
You can also distribute a company green policy, regular reminders and an onboarding green memo. These will all be small reminders, bit by bit re-educating and re-forming the mindset of the people you are working with. This will save a lot of work, time and hassle down the line and as we know these all equal money.
To say one example, one one of our productions, the studio, used a traditional vetted shipping company. We found another one which is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and also gives a certificate of carbon emissions. The production didn’t have time to look through all the possible options, due to legal regulations they just tend to use an approved international vendor. It takes a lot of effort, research and practice to revise an existing supply chain – you want to work with your trusted suppliers, you also want to keep up with the trends.
Often it comes as a surprise, but your existing vendor already has a more sustainable line, sometimes even cheaper, they just don’t offer it, because no-one has asked them for it yet. The staff is overworked, they don’t have time to do the legwork on this, as a result, waste increases. That’s when we come into the picture.
J.T.: And waste equals cost increase. One good example is shipping, another is recycling, and waste management.. Did you know that recycled is cheaper than communal? It is true. No wonder, you have to pay a ‘penalty’ if you are dropping the waste at a landfill, as opposed to recycling it and giving it a second-life. We have a complex waste management system in place, where we hand-select all the waste streams coming from production.
Everything that can go, does go to recycling, thereby also reducing our communal waste, this way it costs less to take it away. The partner we work with has a reintegration program, giving employment to people who come from hardships and difficult backgrounds, ergo it creates jobs and opportunities, which is also one of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) set out by the UN to attain.
Zs.Sz.: This kind of integrated and centralises waste management is quite a complex thing. We have practically halved the communal waste, saved about $20k on this. Of course, we have to pay for manpower, recycling, hand-selectionand in addition we also added compost, but the scales are lookingmore than even. Even if you end up paying the same amount altogether for all these new services, you haven’t sent everything into a whole to rot for centuries. Some items don’t degrade for centuries. It will all stay in the ground.
We’ve visited Pusztazamor, a landfill – an enlightening experience, we recommend it, anyone can go. We also went to the incineration plant at Rakospalota, and recycling facilities around the country. There’s no doubt the waste pyramid is to be followed, we can’t carry on the way we do now forever. Don’t forget, the best waste is the one that has never been created. Everything after that consumes energy, time and money in order to be treated and processed. Recycling is better, incineration is debatable, but landfill is by all means the worst possible choice.
BpR: You also work with ORIGO Studios. How do they feel about the recent green initiatives there?
J.T.: They are very enthusiastic and supportive. We are in touch with a lot of international studios, so we can see what trends are coming home. For example, there are initiatives not just to achieve carbon neutrality on a single production, but also to build a sustainable framework, provide the needed infrastructure by the studio, have the sound stages and studio lot equipped with modern, sustainable services.
Zs.Sz.: We are living the ‘golden age’ of streamers. They are churning out new productions, new shows, new films, new adaptations, new games, and new podcasts every single day. In order to keep up with this abundance, the industry needs to be transformed and be more sustainable, otherwise it won’t be attainable. The British and American studios are rented out five – ten years in advance. Of course, there is a years long waiting list for the Hungarian ones as well.
So basically, there’s not a single foot of space for them to shoot at, the growing demand simply dictated the build of new studios, new lots.. Production companies and producers, especially the streamers and studios will get to the point that when they choose a location, they will put on the checklist, along with equipment and post-production rooms,, whether they use renewable energy sources, whether they have EV chargers and a centralised waste management system, whether they can and do measure their carbon footprint etc.
Obviously, this won’t be the deciding factor, it will be who works cheaper, who has space and who provides an overall better service, but it’s not a bad thing to be on such a list. ORIGO Studios is definitely ahead of the curve, by considering many of these new innovations, building EV chargers, providing recycled waste management (by yours truly, GreenEyes) and by being open to these ideas overall. There are many things to be done. Starting with providing a large-scale industry-wide education, revising construction waste streams, FSC approved wood usage, food donation, general donation and much more.
J.T.: A big advantage of ORIGO is that the incinerator is right next to it. At the incineration plant the waste is burned at a very high temperature and the heat that this process generates is used by the studio for heating,. It is a much better solution, than to take it to landfill, this way at least what can’t be recycled is ‘harvested’ again and reused. . If there are four or five productions in the studio and everyone takes their garbage to the ‘waste garden’ where, the baler will compress the paper and the plastic then there will be a lot less waste. This saves space and reduces the number of deliveries, which equals a smaller footprint and some money left in the purse.