Has the Austrian Ecolabel ever popped out at you in the credits to an Austrian film? If it has, it’s because you were watching a “green” production. “Green filming” refers to measures taken as part of film production that aim to reduce CO2 output and conserve resources. The film industry’s environmental footprint is a large one: film teams travel to all kinds of locations, equipment needs to be transported, and set elements as well as costumes need to be made—all of which results in large amounts of waste as well as high energy consumption. Recent years, however, have seen a shift in attitudes. “In the realm of cinematic filmmaking, it’s become mandatory to go green. You have to adhere to green filming criteria if you want receive Austrian film subsidies,” says Lena Weiss, a producer and Film Academy Vienna alumna who dealt with the topic of sustainability in the Austrian film industry as part of her master’s degree thesis. Since early 2023, an incentive model for film and television productions has existed in Austria that adds five percent to a film’s budget if green filming standards have been adhered to. The first step in green filming is to hire “green consultants”, who advise film teams on which green measures can be realised in their projects. Julia Zisser, who studies film production at Film Academy Vienna, recently completed her training as a green consultant. “Particularly in the film industry, you have lots of CO2 emissions—some of which are easy and inexpensive to eliminate,” says Zisser.

Lena Weiss © Alexander Dirninger

Lena Weiss and her production company Glitter & Doom produced the film Heimsuchung in a green manner even before specific subsidies for doing so had been put in place. The measures they implemented included eliminating throwaway tableware in their catering as well as offering organic, regional, and largely vegetarian food, putting up environmentally friendly portable toilets that did without toxic chemicals, paying out per-kilometre allowances for bicycle travel instead of car travel, getting to filming locations by public transportation rather than by plane, and using battery electric vehicles to transport necessary items. In green filming, Zisser says, it’s above all environmentally friendly transport that’s a challenge: “In Austria, there aren’t yet enough electric vehicle rental options for the many shoots you’ll often have going on at once. The rental companies would have to add to their fleets in order to satisfy demand.” Another challenge is sourcing green energy on location. In order to film scenes in places with no connection to the power grid, like in the open countryside, one needs generators. These often run on diesel and can be very environmentally damaging depending on when they were built. Hybrid models and ones that can be charged with clean power do exist, but these are quite scarce in Austria. “The production of Heimsuchung generated a CO2 equivalent of 38 tons1. In Austria, an average person generates only 7.2 tons of CO2 per year,” says Weiss by way of comparison. Without green filming measures, however, their production would have been responsible for nearly 50 tons of CO2. These figures give one a sense of the dimensions that large-scale productions can take on—and of the potential reductions that can be achieved. Green consultants join film teams in considering where best to focus green measures. “If a scene has to be filmed on a glacier, then you have to get your team there—but you can compensate for that somewhat by way of sustainable measures in catering or by employing reusable materials,” Weiss points out.

Green storytelling is a further important topic in green filming. As early as the screenplay’s authoring, attention is paid to the inclusion of climate-friendly behaviour in the story itself and in what gets filmed. “Does the hero or heroine drive an SUV or ride a bicycle? Does the police inspector drink from a reusable cup or one made of plastic? Things like this are in part about setting an example,” explains Weiss. “Whether green storytelling represents an encroachment on artistic freedom or is actually super-smart in light of how movies influence us is a subject of hot debate right now,” says the producer, who’s convinced that both priorities can coexist: “I don’t want to choose between art and the climate in my projects.” In Film Academy Vienna’s bachelor’s degree programmes, green filming is now the subject of a compulsory course. On this, Zisser points out that “it’s not just future producers but also screenwriters, directors, and camerapeople who need to be schooled in green filming so that projects can be planned in accordance with the green idea.” Weiss adds: “It’s important that the necessary infrastructure be in place so that students’ short films can also be produced in a green manner.” Zisser hopes that the film industry will treat green consultants with respect and show understanding for the importance of resource conservation, because “where climate protection is concerned, the film industry needs to act as a role model for other industries and private households.”

Furrther infos:

  1. CO2 equivalent: a standardised unit of measure indicating the effect of a given greenhouse gas on the climate, expressed as the amount of CO2 that would produce an equivalent effect.
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