The television, film, and commercial industry is not all glitz and glamour. Making a movie, show, or commercial is a tough and arduous process where 14 hour days are considered the norm. However, through the sometimes many months of shooting, a team of many creative professionals; actors, caterers, directors, producers, gaffers, cinematographers, drivers, stung doubles, assistants, and many more, become a large family. An important, and relatively new addition to this family is the Eco Manager.
Emellie O’Brien, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Earth Angel, has been a freelance Eco Manager for over two years. Her passions for the environment and film making merged when she made a choice to try and solve the wasteful nature of film, commercial and television productions. It has been an uphill battle, but things are changing!
Waste has long been thought of as a necessary variable in show business. Mix the demands of fiilmaking with anything from prop materials to transportation, and sustainability becomes an afterthought. However, Emellie and her fellow sustainability advocates in the industry are taking initiative and producing results. Her tireless efforts have cut costs and carbon on a variety of sets including for top-tier films such as Paramount Pictures’ Noah, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Annie. You can check out her work on Spider-Man here.
Earth Angel’s mission is to bring sustainable practices to the forefront of entertainment production. Emellie and her team focuses on hands-on solutions that have direct impacts on crews, benefit the community, and reduce the shoots impact on the environment.
In a fast paced and intense working environment such as a film shoot, asking someone to compost is like asking someone to “climb Mount Everest” says Emellie. As a result, the Earth Angel Team focuses on providing incentives for crew members (a competition and sometimes prizes) to encourage green practices. Its working, Emellie notes that she has had crew members become more sustainable in their life outside of the set, and thank her for it. She also works hard to connect with local groups who could use a lot of the excess material that would be thrown away on a set. From catered foods going to food banks to materials going to art groups, the possibilities seem endless.
It hasn’t been easy. There have been days spent sorting litter, compost and recyclables during 14 hour film shoots, but she keeps doing it. This year, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released, and it is being hailed as the most sustainable movie production ever. Emellie had a big part in that, and continues to be at the forefront of changing the culture of filmmaking to a a green one.
I’ve Eco Supervised 4 movies and 1 television show:
1. “Gods Behaving Badly” (Big Beach Films)
2. “Noah” (Paramount Pictures)
3. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
4. “Annie” (Columbia Pictures)
5. “Elementary” – Season 2 (CBS Television).
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was the most eco-friendly blockbuster in Sony Pictures’ history, a carbon neutral production and the first film to receive a “Sony Pictures a Greener World” end credit. Our team successfully diverted over 2,000 tons of material from landfills over the course of career and facilitated donations to nearly two dozen NYC non-profits. I was also contracted by the Producer’s Guild of America Green to create a cost-benefit analysis of sustainable filmmaking in order to dispel the myth that it costs more to green your productions.
Because there is no precedent for an endeavor like this, we are treading lightly and trying to be strategic about where we can make the most difference. Opportunities for further improvement include liaising more with the studios themselves about establishing sustainability benchmarks and working more closely with their publicity departments to better promote sustainable productions. Threats include the possible emergence of competitors.
Top 5 Things To Accomplish in 1-2 Years
1. Build our team and train a crew of up to a dozen Eco-Supervisors who will act as environmental stewards and changemakers on set.
2. Have an Earth Angel presence on at least 50% of all NYC film/TV/commercial productions
3. Collaborate with sustainability/research specialists to improve our carbon calculation method and data collection.
4. Launch a crowdfunding platform and annual Earth Hour event
5. Accumulate at least a dozen celebrity endorsements, producer testimonials for marketing campaign
How can others help you accomplish these goals?
1. We need marketing mavens to help us design a communications/social media plan that we can implement to get the word out about sustainable filmmaking – and make it look good!
2. Film schools could assist us by collaborating with us to hold speaking events aimed at educating young filmmakers on the importance of producing content in an environmentally sound way.
3. Environmental specialists can help us fine tune our method of carbon tracking and generate progress reports.
4. Legal assistance for the business as a whole would be extremely helpful, eventually in transitioning to a B corporation.
5. Finally, contacts in the concert/festival/event industry are always of value to help with the business’s expansion.
How can people get involved?
Those who believe in Earth Angel’s mission could help us by giving through our crowdfunding initiative, which we would like to launch this year. We would also love to see audiences vote with their dollar – demand that productions be made sustainably, and try to make that a norm!
Have you had any major accomplishments or accolades that we don’t already have listed?
The Hurricane Sandy relief effort during the production of “Noah” is the most significant milestone to me. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, I knew there had to be a way to direct production resources toward disaster relief without excess spending. My proposal met a lot of resistance before I finally settled on asking the crew to sacrifice their breakfast one morning and sending our catering truck out to Coney Island to feed 300 hot meals to hurricane survivors instead. The director tweeted about it, the studio blogged about it, and the crew was proud to have helped their fellow New Yorkers. I realized that day that the possibilities are endless. Sustainability on set can mean so much more than recycling craft service cans. Along with the environmental savings, there is also tremendous potential for connection and community outreach.
Any words of advice or wisdom? Anything else you want to tell the world?
The more films we work with, the more we realize that that making a real impact will involve a full-scale cultural change, both in the way we produce and the way we relate to each other on and off set. Our approach aims to create a space on set where cast and crew can rethink their relationship to the environment and to their neighbors, and then extend that to their work.
Emma Stone once asked me when the world was going to end…I told her I wasn't qualified to answer that.
Earth Angel knows that making a wilder world will mean more than teaching crewmembers how to recycle, but actually empowering folks to see themselves as change agents in an evolving world.
We believe the world is on the brink of changing for the better, and it's our job to get the film industry on the right side of history.