“As producers, we tend to be in our head so much,” bemoaned Amanda Scarano Carter, Chair of PGA Green West. “It’s very empowering to jackhammer rocks, build scaffolding and put up siding on a roof.”
Really? Safe to say, most producers might list a number of other ways to decompress that don’t include power tools, but speak to any PGA member who’s volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity home build (open to all PGA members) and you’ll find a similar story about a lot of dirt, sore muscles, but a happy heart.
“I dragged my friends kicking and screaming to the party telling them, ‘Come on, this is how you’re going to get your hearts clean!'” laughs Alison Treleaven, former Harpo Films staffer and current VP of Entertainment, Marketing and Communication at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.
As an international non profit, Habitat helps build affordable and sustainable single family homes for low income families in over 80 countries. Amazingly, 80 percent of the construction is done by volunteers under the direction of experienced crew leaders. Over the years, Habitat’s Greater Los Angeles chapter has frequently partnered with the entertainment industry, including PGA Green, who shares a kindred passion for helping the environment.
“You wouldn’t think affordable housing can be sustainable,” Amanda explained, “but Habitat builds to LEED certified or better. It’s just another reason to get involved.” (LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.)
Steve Sferrino, Director of Construction at Habitat GLA said everything Habitat does has the environment in mind, such as the placement of solar panels, use of non-toxic paint, water wise landscaping, and low flow, high efficiency appliances.
“Even the insulation is a blown-in cellulose recycled product from denim,” said Steve. “We start with a 90 percent recyclable factor on the site. Whatever can’t be used, we grind up into sawdust or turn it into mulch.”
A typical build day starts at 7:45 a.m. and goes till 4 p.m. Volunteer numbers range between 10 to 30 and are broken into teams that work on the home’s interior, exterior or landscaping.
“I hauled concrete,” laughs Amanda. “I’d break it, haul it the dumpster, then go back and break some more. I was sore for two weeks!”
PGA Green members describe working alongside other fellow producers to make a difference in people’s lives as not only fun but also deeply gratifying. And the reasons don’t stop there.
“The thing I like most about Habitat is that the people getting the house have to log in a lot of hours helping with the build,” says PGA Green volunteer Brent Roske, creator of ‘Chasing the Hill,’ a political drama executive produced by Roske and ‘West Wing’ Emmy winner Richard Schiff. “They’re not just handing people houses. They have to really work for it and that sweat equity gives a real pride of ownership. It’s not a hand out but a hand up.”
That hand up includes a zero percent, 30-year loan. Since demand far exceeds supply, potential homeowners are carefully vetted (Habitat boasts less than one percent loan defaults nationwide) and must be willing to invest 500 hours helping construct their
“In the worst time of my life, when I thought it was all over, Habitat showed me the light and blessed me to be one of the Habitat families,” said Betty Monroy a Lynwood homeowner who worked on construction of her house alongside PGA Green producers. “Behind my walls, I know there is love, because volunteers like you created those walls.”
Walking around the volunteer builder site, scribbled messages are visible on raw wood beams in hallways, staircases and rooms everywhere. “Wishing you much love and happiness in your home.” “Live, love, build a better world.” “Bless your home.” “May U find lots of love here.”
Green tissue, anyone?
In order to raise additional funds, Habitat also asks that volunteer groups make a donation to participate in a build-day. Depending on the sponsor’s non-profit or corporate or status, rates can run between $2,500 – 5,000.
“Amanda asked if I’d be interested in auctioning off a walk-on role for our Web series,” said Roske. “I didn’t know how successful it would be. I’m happy the response was so great.”
Great, indeed. The “Chasing the Hill” role generated more money than previously raised by “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Also donating to the cause was “The Talk,” offered by PGA Green member Joseph Morabito. These opportunities were promoted through Charity Buzz, an Internet company that helps champion worthy causes by connecting bidders with the world’s biggest celebrities and brands.
Catherine Urbanek, the actress who won the bid, was ecstatic. “I love politics and have become a huge fan of Chasing the Hill,” she gushed. “As an actor, writer, and producer myself it’s a thrill to have the opportunity to be involved in this political drama, while supporting a valuable cause at the same time. I am looking forward to seeing episode four!”
The builds in Lynwood and a previous build in Long Beach are just one of the ways that Hollywood and Habitat are working together. For the last several years, PGA Green also has championed the recycling of studio sets. Instead of dumping items like furniture, appliances, pipes, curtains, carpets, and linoleum in a landfill, these left-overs find multiple new uses/applications or are donated to Habitat’s ReStore outlets to help build or renovate homes for the needy.
Ultimately, PGA Green’s mission is to get all PGA members to adopt a green mindset and incorporate sustainable practices into all productions. Change can be incremental such as posting instead of printing call sheets, hiring green vendors, and distributing water canisters to cast and crew.
At the initial Lynwood build, PGA Green walked the talk by using a SirReel Studio Rentals solar paneled production truck and Reel Chefs Catering, a green company specializing in vegan food and plant-based plates and utensils that later decompose in the compost pile. PGA Green also posted call sheets online, and wrote and produced a short documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson to raise awareness of effort. The entire team— the production truck, caterer, production and post production crew, as well as Harrelson, donated their time, talent and treasure in lieu of a cash donation.
“My personal goal is to have environmental initiatives incorporated into production as seamlessly as safety is incorporated into production,” says Amanda, whose vision also includes taking the green message beyond the guild and to the entertainment community at large.
“We get lots of calls for partnerships both inside and outside the entertainment community,” she says, “but when it comes to working as producers on a production, right now, we have to beg, borrow and steal to make the most of our resources.”
Then, she adds brightly, “However, my goal is to eventually put us out of business!”
Until then, the PGAGreen.org and its sister site, GreenProductionGuide.com offer a wealth of resources and tips for guild members and entertainment colleagues everywhere. On November 2nd, 2013, the team is also planning another Habitat home build. An invite to the event will be sent out to all PGA Members prior to the event.
For all the PGA fence sitters who will be weighing in their busy heads the pros and cons of volunteering, Alison from Habitat GLA has a special message,
“I tell producers, ‘Today you are getting your soul back. Tomorrow you can yell at your assistant!'”