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Telling Stories Sustainably: Emerson a Leader in Green Production Movement

cast and crew around a table covered with food on a deck
Cast and crew of Alyssa Lara’s BFA thesis film, A Memory Play. Lara and her team made the film using sustainable guidelines. Courtesy photo

When Alyssa Lara ’22 and her team were shooting A Memory Play, Lara’s BFA thesis project, all four cast members stayed at the Airbnb she rented for the film’s only location. The 10 crew members piled into two cars and carpooled each day to the set. They drank tap water from reusable bottles, ate vegetarian meals sourced from local restaurants, wore their own clothes for costumes. Whatever props they didn’t already own they bought at thrift stores, and kept for their own apartments when shooting wrapped.

Those little efforts added up to a seal of approval from Emerson’s Green Production initiative, which Lara had a hand in creating, but more importantly, they led to a smaller carbon footprint for A Memory Play and a greater mindfulness about sustainability from everyone involved.

“A lot of our talk in [Green Production] committee meetings is how film [generates] a lot of waste,” Lara said. “Being conscious of waste and actively finding ways of not contributing to that is about being a better citizen of the world.”

Emerson’s Green Production initiative has been in existence since spring 2020, with Lara’s film the first to receive certification. Last summer, Emerson joined the Green Film School Alliance (GFSA) as a founding member, alongside other top film schools such as American Film Institute (AFI), University of California – Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and New York University, and the Sustainable Production Alliance (SPA), an industry consortium dedicated to promoting sustainable practices across media.

The alliance is built around specific actions aimed to reduce the impacts of physical production on the environment, a willingness to share best practices, and a pledge to further sustainable initiatives at member schools. A comprehensive list of green production actions broken out by department and category can be found at GreenProductionGuide.com.

“Last year, in a communication to students regarding the pandemic, I wrote that we are living through a momentous time in history and that we need to continue to create work that captures and/or expresses what we’re living through,” said Visual and Media Arts Chair Cristina Kotz Cornejo. “That’s what we do as media makers, but this time also requires us as media makers to make changes and examine our own impact on the climate crisis and learn how we can adapt sustainability practices to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Two women sit in car at night.
Alyssa Lara ’22, who wrote, directed, and starred in her BFA thesis film. Courtesy photo

Emerson’s Green Production Committee, chaired by VMA’s location coordinator, Homa Sarabi-Daunais, and including students such as Lara and faculty, including Assistant Professor Shaun Clarke and Associate Professor Harlan Bosmajian, recognized that some of the SPA’s guidelines would be difficult and costly to implement given the scale of many of Emerson’s productions, Lara said.

But there are many ways Emerson students can incorporate green practices into productions, and many of them cost the same, or less, than less sustainable options.

Sarabi-Daunais said students have run paperless sets with digital scripts and call sheets. They’ve used LED lights and sunlight when possible, using nearby locations to stand in for more remote locales, and donated props to charitable thrift shops when they’re no longer needed. Even something as simple as committing to recycling everything possible helps.

There is a moral and ethical imperative to make environmentally conscious choices in filming, Lara said, but it also happens to be good for students’ resumes.

What’s developing around sustainability and media in film schools mirrors what’s happening and will continue to happen in the industry at large, Sarabi-Daunais said.

The GFSA is working with sustainability officers at major media companies such as HBO, Netflix, and Disney who are in charge of making sure productions are following green guidelines. Those are jobs that Emerson graduates may one day hold, she said.

“This is a growing thing that more productions are doing.”

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