Sustainability report proposes step-change for UK film production

First-of-its-kind report sets out a route map to help film production transition to net zero emissions by 2050.

1917 (2019), produced by Pippa Harris, who will host a webinar examining the report

A new report published today, A Screen New Deal – a Route Map to Sustainable Film Production, examines the systemic changes needed within film production in order to reduce its carbon emissions, as well opportunities and models that can be adopted to put it on a trajectory to reach net zero carbon emissions and a more sustainable future.

Produced as a collaboration between the BFI’s Research and Statistics Fund, which is supported by the National Lottery, the BAFTA-led consortium albert and Arup, A Screen New Deal is the first study of its kind for the film industry, providing proposals for studios, recommendations and case studies of best practice and new innovation models from around the world. Leading global engineering and design firm specialist Arup, undertook the research and analysis.

The report looks at everyday practices and offers a range of long-term solutions, some that are relatively simple to implement, to bigger, more ambitious ideas that require structural industry-wide shifts to implement successfully. Case studies from other industries that could be adapted to work for the film production industry are also explored.

It concludes with 6 principles on which a sustainable future depends, starting with the need to measure the industry’s true environmental impact. Digital collaboration and end-of-life planning will also be fundamental, along with the right infrastructure at studio sites to support sustainable production. Actionable recommendations are provided for each stakeholder in order to facilitate prioritisation and decision-making.

To produce the report, Arup analysed sustainability data from more than 19 productions filmed in the UK and the US in the last 5 years to assess resource consumption patterns and carbon emissions. Tentpole films (with budgets at $70m or over) were chosen for the analysis on the basis that they would have the largest carbon footprint although guidance and resources detailed in the study are of value to films at all budget levels.

Publication of the report is timely in regard to the UK’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Last month the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its report stating that the year ahead is critical for global progress on climate change. It also provided “new advice to government on framing a recovery from COVID-19 that both accelerates the transition to net zero and strengthens our resilience to the impacts of climate change, while driving new economic activity on progress in reducing UK emissions over the past year.”

Illustration from the report A Screen New Deal

Next year the eyes of the world will be on the UK, as the host of the rescheduled 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’ climate summit (COP26) and in holding the presidency of the G7. The UK film production sector has seen enormous growth with over £3.6bn spent on making new film and high-end TV productions in the UK last year. With the first quarter of this year heading towards a £1bn spend in the UK, many productions halted in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic are now moving to a restart with new production health and safety guidance in place. The projected growth of the film industry globally emphasises the urgency of a shift towards more sustainable practices.

On average a tentpole film generates 2,840 tonnes of CO2e during production. This total carbon impact is equal in air miles terms to 11 one-way trips from the Earth to the moon; emissions contributed by air travel alone on a production is equivalent to flying one way from London to New York 150 times, or 3.4m car miles. The carbon footprint from accommodation used on a production is equivalent to the use of electricity by 34 homes for 1 year.

The UK has seen expansion in studio space over the past 5 years with a number of new facilities currently in development. The new streaming platforms are increasing demand for content and high-quality studio space is rising, as demonstrated by Netflix setting up a permanent production base at Shepperton and Disney at Pinewood.

“This report is being published at such an important moment for our industry,” says Pippa Harris, chair of the albert Film Forum and producer at Neal Street Productions, the company behind 1917 (2019). “We have all felt the devastating economic and cultural effects of the pandemic, so now is the time to regroup and come back stronger. We cannot continue to create films in the same manner we did before with no long-term plan for the environment around us. It’s time for our industry to lead the way both on and off screen and rebuild for a cleaner, greener future.”

Following the publication of the report, albert will be hosting a series of online events with the support of BFI and Arup to explore the different sections of report. The event programme will kick off with an online webinar in September, hosted by Pippa Harris that will look at the report as a whole.

Events focusing on specific areas of production explored in A Screen New Deal such as production planning, set construction and strike, location filming, will be hosted by BAFTA albert, the BFI and Arup, in the coming weeks for the industry to discuss the practices and models that could adopt to meet net zero emissions by 2050.