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New Code Outlines Sustainable Filmmaking Best Practices

Document, One of the First-of-Its-Kind, Will Help Filmmakers Go Green

An Inconvenient Truth opened millions of people’s eyes to the issues of pollution and global warming and put films about the environment back in the public eye. Now, filmmakers want to do more than create works that inform and illustrate the importance of sustainability: they want to incorporate sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices into their craft.

Enter the Code of Best Practices in Sustainable Filmmaking, a new guide among the first of its kind to help filmmakers assess the carbon dioxide (CO2) footprints of their productions and find ways to reduce, neutralize, and offset them.  The code—to be released Tuesday, February 3 and during a session at the RealScreen Summit in Washington, D.C.—was created by Filmmakers for Conservation (FFC) and two centers within American University’s School of Communication: the Center for Social Media and the Center for Environmental Filmmaking

The project builds upon the Center for Social Media's record of developing best-practices documents that expand possibilities for creative communities.

“Filmmakers want to be sustainable, but few tools exist to help them do this,” said Larry Engel, coauthor of the code. “This code is the first clear, comprehensive guide in sustainability supported by scientific review and specifically designed to account for the challenges filmmakers face on a daily basis.” 

The code includes checklists and CO2 trackers. The checklists outline goals and specific steps to take toward sustainability.  The trackers provide a way for filmmakers to document–from a production’s beginning to end–the CO2 emissions and waste they produce after all possible steps toward reduction are made.  The total emissions and amount of waste are then added up so they can be offset. 

“There’s a lot to think about when you’re working on a production and for many people finding out how to make it sustainable is just an additional hassle,” said Andrew Buchanan, the other coauthor of the code.  “As filmmakers, Larry and I know every production is different, so we’ve included checklists and trackers suitable for large and small productions.” 

A faculty member at AU's School of Communication, Engel is a documentary filmmaker with more than 30 years of experience that spans all seven continents.  Buchanan has more than 30 years of experience in production in drama, film, and documentary.  He now specializes in popular wildlife and conservation programs for broadcast worldwide.

Once the code is released, AU and FFC hope filmmakers, producers, and broadcasters will provide feedback to enhance the information.  The code is just the first step in what AU and FFC hope will lead to the establishment of an independent, industry-wide standard to certify that broadcast and feature film productions are genuinely “green.” 

The code is based on the results of a global survey of best practices in sustainable filmmaking. Approximately 175 filmmakers and film production professionals participated in the survey.  Engel and Buchanan also interviewed and consulted filmmaking and environmental experts and researched numerous web sites about sustainability and film and television production.

The code and its associated materials were reviewed for scientific validity by climate change, CO2 reduction, and sustainability experts. The code was also reviewed by documentary filmmakers around the world to ensure its clarity and relevance. Early endorsers of the code are the International Documentary Association, the Washington, D.C. chapter of Women in Film and Video, and the University Film and Video Association.

Funding was provided by the Ford Foundation, through the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media grant.  WWF-UK, through Filmmakers for Conservation, provided support for the code.  Additional funding was provided by AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking.