Bad Words: Powered by the Sun
This article was originally printed in the March-April 2013 edition of Produced By: The Official Magazine of the Producer’s Guild of America.
The script of Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, carries the theme: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” — and his production used that adage well when working to use solar power while filming this winter. They were interested in running a “green set” and adding solar was a high priority.
Solar power has been tried on several prominent movie sets in recent years, yet even the greenest producers have found it to be a challenge. Fox’s The Big Year broke through when it used solar power on location in the Yukon in Canada but they were dealing with vast open spaces. Solar can be a challenge especially in constrained locations but the highly motivated producers at Darko Entertainment and Aggregate Films put their heads together with DC Solar Solutions, and found a way.
Filmed on locations all over Los Angeles, Bad Words is one of the first movie pro- ductions to successfully use solar power extensively. Bateman and his producing team employed solar power to run their base camp, telecommunications and light towers. According to transportation coordinator and DC Solar Solutions rep John Brubaker, this precedent-setting choice brought significant rewards.
“I’ve been working in this business for nearly 30 years. My dad worked in the business, so I grew up on movie sets. I was always bothered by the noise and the smell it just didn’t seem right that a movie could be so disruptive to the community where it was being shot. So I feel like I’ve been looking for reasonable fuel alternatives all my life.”
Brubaker has been on the hunt for better ways for years, and it’s been a long road. “There has long been a sense that solar was never going to be right for movies: the batteries were just too big, and you needed too many of them. But when my dad encountered DC Solar up at a car show in Carmel and we saw what was possible now that the batteries had been substantially improved, we were very impressed.”
Executive producer Darren Demetre comes from Portland, Oregon, and his green cred is unassailable. He was very happy with the solar experience on Bad Words, and attests to the fact that it was a positive experience overall for cast and crew as well. “It has been great for a film of this size to have such fantastic tools. It has been not only a savings on fuel but also a convenience on sensitive locations where generator noise is an issue.”
One of the challenges with solar has been the need for constant sunshine, but the new batteries store more amperage than ever before. If you’re shooting in Southern California (or another sunny location), you’re good to go – though folks filming in Vermont may still want to hold off a few more years.
The other previous challenge was physical footprint — solar used to require too much space for productions shooting in tight spots like quaint neighborhoods or busy cities. But on Bad Words, the whole solar setup fit on just a few trailers, which tucked easily on a downtown street or into the small parking lot at L.A.’s American Legion.
Demetre was especially enthusiastic about DC Solar Solutions’ light towers: “The best piece of gear they had was the lights. Since there was no generator, we could power them up early or late without noise. When we were shooting at the American Legion, it was great for early calls not to have the genny running.”
The community benefits are multiple. Smell and noise are utterly eliminated and you can shoot all night without keeping anyone up due to these interferences in neighborhoods. In some communities with restrictions on how early you can start in the morning (such as Pasadena or Beverly Hills), it makes a big difference that you can start up in the pre-dawn hours in complete silence.
The calculations were not complete at press time, but the early word is that the integration of solar into the power portfolio for Bad Words will be good for the bottom line – or at least set the production in the right direction. When gas prices are high, the comparative analysis works out well for most alternatives and now solar is moving more reliably into that category, too.
Certainly on big-budget movies, solar will become more and more practical as time goes on, Demetre believes, but “for an indie under ten million, solar might be a luxury but the other benefits are impressive: it does reduce the amount of hours we ran the base camp generator, and with the noise level at certain locations so much less than usual, we were very pleased.”
Soon, solar power may have even more to offer the production industry. Brubaker reports that there are new hybrid solar trailers coming out equipped with a fuel generator that will click on if the clouds come in or the solar batteries run out of juice.
DC Solar operates on both the West and East Coasts and even provided solar power trailers to coastal towns in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy. John Brubaker has been helping to spread the word, too. “I spoke at a breakfast for the union, and we’re planning classes for Teamsters who’d like to know more about integrating solar into their next production. Hey, Teamsters are going green, too!
“Four or five years ago, when you went to talk to a studio about putting solar power on their set, they’d ask a lot of questions and you’d never hear back from them,” he said with a smile. “Now, the studio executives ask: How soon can I have it?”
–KATIE CARPENTER For more information, go to www.gogreenstudiorentals.com