Regulation on the Film Industry


Film sets are notoriously wasteful environments. Imagine that a city is built overnight to service 400 people for 3 months, and just as quickly as they arrived any person to hold accountable for the mess disappears leaving behind a city’s ruins. Film sets employ electricians who need power in often very remote areas which results in the need for old-fashioned generators. They need to house and feed the entire crew, which results in dozens of trailers, trucks, and commuters to set who can only get there by car. They do not have the resources to properly cook or wash materials, resulting in temporary and disposable cups, plates, and packaged foods. All of these materials turn into waste and often littering. Storage is a huge issue on film sets, so production companies rely on 18-wheeler trucks to store camera equipment, dry goods, props, gaffing gear, and every actor needs to have their own trailer, first-class accommodations if flying, and transportation vehicles as mandated by their union (1). Additionally, having worked in a production office, the amount of waste in the form of paper is astounding. All 400 crew members receives a “side”, or the pages from the script for that day’s shoot as well as a “call sheet”, an 11×17 legal paper with the schedule and list of crew. Both of these documents could easily be distributed digitally as everyone has a mobile phone, and members who want it physically pay a nominal fee for printing and paper. Generally, the longer the shoot, the larger the crew, and the more demanding on the environment. (2)

Currently, resources to motivate filmmakers from being wasteful are scarce. More importantly, they are suggestions and recommendations but have no impact on the P&L of the production. There are regional organizations that provide resources, such as Film London (2) or the Mass Production Coalition (3), in the form of guides, contacts, and tutorials on how to run a greener film shoot. These recourses help individuals who were interested in already having this type of film shoot, but does not motivate the majority of wasteful sets. The only way to truly change Hollywood’s habits is to tie together waste output and production costs. This could be done either through positive reinforcement, such as tax breaks, or negative reinforcement such as fees and penalties. Research should be done to discover the methods and effects of a more efficient set to share with film studio executives.

As climate change has a ripple effect on our environment, I predict film sets will begin to be held accountable for the disaster they leave behind them through regulation. Unions are responsible to represent the majority of below-the-line crew on set but they account for an equally large percentage of waste. My hope is that production companies are incentivized to run an environmentally conscious shoot. Production costs may go up but that cost could be shared by the unions representing the crew as well as the production company hiring them. Additionally, there are currently a lot of tax incentives to attract film shoots to individual states across the US (4). However, these incentives could very easily be tiered and associated with an equal responsibility to be environmentally conscious. For example, a film production could receive an increase in the rebate or tax break on their film by accounting for recyclable materials in tons of waste. If a film set recycles a certain percentage of their purchasing habits, they get a larger rebate. If they are able to run a zero-waste production, they could have access to the largest tax rebate that the state is willing to offer. By tying incentives to the bottom line of a production, company’s hiring the crew for this shoot will do so knowing they can save money with new processes and ordering tactics. Current executives are also not incentivized to clean up any littering or waste such as cigarette butts or plastics left over by the crew. Unions who represent below-the-line crew should offer tax breaks to their union members who account for waste. By offering tax breaks and aligning incentives for a more efficient set, film executives may actually be able to save money by running a greener set then the current method requires.


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Works Cited

  1. “Transportation and Location Expenses”. SAG-AFTRA. Web accessed Nov 3 2016.
  2. “Emission impossible: Why Hollywood is one of the worst polluters.” Thursday 15 November 2007. Web Article. Accessed November 3 2016. <>.
  3. Hartman, David. Mass Production Coalition Contact. Accessed Nov 3 2016.
  4. “U.S. Tax Incentive Info.” Film Production Capital. Accessed by web Nov 3 2016.


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Student comments on Regulation on the Film Industry

  1. Thank you for sharing an aspect of the film industry that I’d never previously considered. You make a good point that various entities should create accountability for the film crew to become more environmentally friendly. I presume that film studios must pass through local regulation to get permission to use land for the shooting. One additional way to build accountability is to encourage local regulation to require film crews to clean up after themselves or face steep fines.

  2. Why is it the case that we do not feel as strongly about environmental issues when situations feel temporary? I had this same query when the dining hall personnel switched to disposable plates, knives, etc. during the Local 26 strike. Why do we think it is OK to disregard sustainability issues in a situation where we will not be held accountable for it in the future?

    I like your idea of linking tax incentives with footprint. I think a lot of the blame should be attributed to the film equipment rental companies who decide not to use the most energy efficient trucks or generators. But simple measures such as digitization of the different material used on set would also be very helpful.

  3. This was a really thought-provoking post. I had never before considered the amount of waste produced in film production due to the temporary nature of the work. I appreciate your point that increased costs should be shared by the union and the production company, but I think this will be extremely challenging to implement. Production companies and films are already being squeezed on both the cost and revenue sides of their business. Furthermore, I am not sure that convincing a union to bear such costs is at all feasible. That said, I really like your suggestion to add an environmental incentive to all the other incentives offered to production companies to shoot in various locations across the country. I think working with carrots rather sticks might work better in this case.

  4. You chose to look at a really interesting industry, which I really appreciate. The waste created by the short timeline of film projects definitely sets the industry up for unfavorable environmental impacts. Actions can definitely be taken to mitigate that, though – films such as The Day After Tomorrow and Syriana have recognized this and contracted environmental organizations to help make the production of their movies carbon neutral, for example. Similarly, The Matrix crew worked with an organization to re-purpose the material it used in creating its sets, putting the recycled material to good use – such as for housing for low-income families in Mexico. One other factor to consider is the reach of the film industry. Given the vast audiences movies reach, the industry could incorporate climate change/environmentally friendly habits into the content it produces – consequently harnessing this power for good.

  5. This was a very interesting piece in an industry that I had not previously thought about in terms of environmental issues. I draw parallels to sports arenas as people in attendance are not adequately incentivized to properly throw things away and often leave debris and garbage scattered through the stadium, despite the presence of many disposal areas. While incentives are necessary and I like your idea about providing tax incentives, I would imagine a representative from the film studio or company funding the shoot would need to be on set monitoring the situation in order to realize the benefits as the directors and actors likely will not receive bonuses based on waste prevention. Digitization of scripts seems to be the easiest change to implement and a good way to make all parties familiar with the consequences that these shoots are having on the environment as well as the opportunities available to shift these behaviors.

  6. Neil, absolutely agree with this post and importance of addressing the issue giving the scale of film industry. While I absolutely agree with you that this problem should be addressed externally (with the support from the government etc.), I also think that we should not underestimate the importance of the company itself and how much can be done to reduce waste and become ‘greener’. I also believe that improving internal conscience could actually drive expenses down.
    For example, simple things like substituting plastic water bottles with the coolers could safe considerable amounts of money. Additionally, film companies can become more efficient by cutting spend on flights and having conference calls and video calls instead; employees travelling from and to shooting locations should adopt car-pooling as a standard practice; smoking should be banned at the shooting location; energy efficient office lighting could be implemented.

  7. Great and refreshing post. If I’m not mistaken, the average U.S consumer also uses and discards a lot of waste materials – although proper disposal in trash bins is the norm. With that in mind, I’m not necessarily opposed to film crews using excess paper for instance. As long as these waste materials are properly disposed and collected for recycling, our sustainability goals would be accomplished. I know in Texas that littering attracts very strong fines…that explains why the lone star state is generally void of solid inorganic wastes. As to making Brad Pitt fly in coach vs private jet, we may have a hard time controlling that one for now. Thanks again for thinking outside the box!

  8. Hey Neil – Thanks for taking the time to dig into a different industry, I really enjoyed learning what goes on behind the scenes of all the “Hollywood” movies I know and love. That said, it is a bummer to hear how the industry is run. To me it is a great irony that big stars such as Leo DiCaprio, Emma Watson, Mark Ruffalo and other big stars stand up and endorse climate change initiatives [1], however these same stars never seem to turn the bright light on the mess in their own back yard. I hope they can begin to hold themselves accountable – and show that with some planning and creativity we can all accomplish the same professional goals without damaging the world we live in.

    [1] – Nine Celebrities Changing the Conversation on Climate Action

  9. Great post Neil. A few of the responses here mentioned the potential to use carrots as highlighted by users “crox111” and “amals”. An idea that came to mind is whether there is an opportunity to communicate the sustainability standards to the audience during the opening credits. Is there some non-profit focused on this initiative that can create a logo/seal, monitor the compliance of movie sets, and then allow production companies to include the seal in the opening / closing credits as well as in trailers on TV / online to signal to consumers that a given movie was made in accordance with certain sustainability standards? I’m curious if such a non-profit exists and whether this initiative has been tested.

  10. Great article, Neil, and very interesting perspective on a company/industry that has an impact on the environment. As I read your post, the incentive of tax credits came to mind as well. Taking a slight variation to your suggestions, couldn’t local governments withhold a portion of the tax credit unless a production crew can certify its project had a minimal effect on the environment? Perhaps local governments could negotiate with production companies to include a line item for environmental cleanup or restoration reserves, similar to reclamation obligations for mining operations? I agree that the onus needs to be on the production companies and some compelling incentive in place to ensure that production companies leave an environment better than they found it. Certainly a tough problem to solve, but it seems most feasible to tie the incentive into the tax credits and the “draws” for a production company to a certain state.

  11. Neil, I think your choice of industry leads to some really interesting questions about broader climate change impacts, but if I am in the film industry, do I really need to worry about short-term implications from climate change to my business? It seems to me rather well-insulated from regulatory pressures, cost rises due to climate change, and demand shifts due to the same. Further, I am not clear on the true impact of the film industry on the environment. I would argue instead that the film industry’s most valuable contribution to the environment would not be in minimizing their own wasteful practices, but rather on turning into a “propaganda machine” that supports climate change activists by putting out thoughtful movies on the issue.

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