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Green film production

New research project aims to help the film and TV industry become greener

Producing films and TV shows generates a significant amount of CO2 emissions. However, it doesn't have to be that way and now a new research project will explore how to make sustainable productions more feasible.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 7/16/2023

The production of an average Danish feature film costs around 60 tons of CO2 emissions. That number can be reduced by considering various factors during production, such as shooting in daylight instead of at night, serving white meat instead of red meat for the cast and crew's meals, or organizing carpooling between locations.

The ideas are plentiful, but how can they be implemented in an industry where time is money and where you need room for last-minute changes and special requests from the stars?

That is what a research team from the SDU Climate Cluster and the Faculty of Humanities at SDU aims to investigate. To support this endeavor, the team has received 745,000 DKK in funding from the film and TV industry itself (the industry organisation Vision Denmark, TV2 and the production companies Produced By and Growing Stories).

The Danish industry is privileged

This funding follows a previous project, funded by the SDU Climate Cluster that also focused on incorporating sustainability into film and TV productions. The Sustainable sGreenplay project explored integrating sustainability considerations during the script development phase.

A CO2 heavy industry

The production of an average Danish feature film emits approximately 60 tons of CO2. An American blockbuster may generate between 3,000 and 4,000 tons. The climate disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow" emitted 10,000 tons. When considering the entire information and communication industry, including the entertainment and streaming sectors, it accounts for 2-4% of the global emissions. The aviation industry is responsible for 2-3%.

- Our new project is a research project to empirically examine where and why it becomes challenging to reduce CO2 emissions in film and TV production. There can be many reasons; perhaps there is fear of alienating actors if red meat is omitted from catering, or maybe it seems overwhelming to organise carpooling to locations. We want to investigate these aspects together with the industry itself because working with solutions based on knowledge of human behavior can yield better results than solely relying on technical or regulatory solutions, says Heidi Philipsen, Head of the project.

According to her, the Danish film and TV industry has more favorable working conditions in this regard compared to many colleagues in other countries.

No requirements for climate budget from the Danish Film Institute

- In e.g. Scotland, Iceland and Norway, when seeking film funding from their national film institutes, they must submit a climate budget alongside the financial budget. The climate impact of a film is considered when these institutions decide whether to support a film. Additionally, when the film is completed, a climate report must be submitted along with the financial report, she explains.

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While several Danish producers, including TV2, have set climate goals of their own (e.g., TV2 aims to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2030), the Danish Film Institute does not impose specific requirements for climate budgets on its applicants, which, according to Heidi Philipsen, does not contribute to the industry's motivation to produce more sustainably.

- Film and TV professionals are, like anyone else, creatures of habit. If something seems too cumbersome or overwhelming, it gets postponed when it's not mandatory, she says.

Heidi Philipsen believes that Denmark is lagging behind in terms of imposing requirements for greater sustainability in film productions. However, she doesn't criticize the Danish Film Institute.

- In that regard, I would rather conduct valuable research on the barriers experienced in production processes and help people find paths that can work for them without being perceived as hindering their work and artistic freedom, she says.

Computer scientists assist with sustainable scriptwriting

In another project, Heidi Philipsen and her colleagues are working on ways to incorporate sustainability into the scriptwriting phase of a film.

If sustainability is considered early in the process, significant savings can be achieved during the film production. For example, you can calculate the savings achieved by reducing the number of locations from 35 to 25. How much is saved by changing nighttime shots to daytime shots? Does the character in the film need to go on vacation in another country, or could it just as well be somewhere closer?

The idea is to develop software for the screenwriting programs used by scriptwriters, allowing them to calculate the CO2 costs while writing. This work is being conducted in collaboration with Luís Cruz-Filipe and Marco Chiarandini, who are researchers in the field of artificial intelligence at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at SDU.

Meet the researcher

Heidi Philipsen is an associate professor, media researcher and Head of the Script Development program at the Department of Media, Design, Education and Cognition.


About the project

"The Green Media Production Development" project is funded by Vision Denmark, TV2, Produced By and Growing Stories with 745,000 DKK. It starts in November 2023 and runs for one year. The affiliated researchers are Head of project and associate professor, Heidi Philipsen, associate professor Sara Mosberg Iversen and scientific assistant Nikolas Kouroumtzis, all from the Department of Media, Design, Education and Cognition.

Editing was completed: 16.07.2023