Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon star in the action thriller PREMIUM RUSH, due to be released this summer by Sony Pictures Entertainment. “Action thriller”? Doesn’t sound like the perfect opportunity to produce a green movie, with reduced carbon emissions and environmental impacts. But executive producer Mari Jo Winkler saw it differently.
“It was one of my best experiences in sustainable production,” says Winkler. Coming from this veteran green producer, that’s saying a great deal. She was one of the pioneers of the green production movement, with her sustainability efforts on the Sam Mendes movie AWAY WE GO and the Doug Liman film FAIR GAME, among others.
“Greening film sets has been a way of life for me since 2004,” says Winkler. “It wasn’t an option to not work sustainably. Given that the central character of PREMIUM RUSH is a bicycle messenger, and much of the movie takes place on a bike on the streets of New York, there was a built-in low-carbon theme. I knew from the first read of the script that there was a huge opportunity to promote sustainability through and through.”
PREMIUM RUSH was a big production, yet because of the nature of the story, it had more exteriors, so fewer sets, fewer lights, and less waste than the usual action movie.
Winkler gives a great deal of credit to the director, David Koepp, who also wrote the screenplay and did extensive pre-vis and storyboarding. Every shot was very well planned out, so they had no lost locations, no lost scenes. “There was an economy to the storytelling as well as the budget, which made for a much more efficiently run production. The result was conservation of our resources, both monetarily and planetarily.”
The bike theme infused almost every aspect of the production. “We had bike racks outside the production office, so people could ride their bikes to work, our location scouts worked on bikes – so they could see everything from the point of view of a cyclist.” Many crew members rode their bikes to set, and many who had not been bike enthusiasts before were inspired to get into cycling as an alternate mode of transportation.
The team also had excellent support from the studio, Winkler recalls. Gary Martin, Sony’s President of Production Administration and Jon Corcoran, SVP of Corporate Safety and Environmental Affairs, had put many sustainability initiatives into practice on their films. They sent a safety and environment rep to the production meeting to address department heads about their expectations and the importance of sustainability. “It was a great thing to have studio executives reinforcing our sustainability goals,” believes Winkler. “It means a lot, and can be very impactful for the crew to hear about it from the studio.”
It also means a lot when the director and the producer are both pulling their green weight. Director David Koepp and producer Gavin Polone did just that. Winkler described one initiative that provided visual support for the greening project that every crew member could see: “To keep our footprint light, I asked that everyone consider going into a two-banger instead of the contractually obligated single cast trailer. David and Gavin stepped up, and it set the tone for the rest of the cast. When Joseph Gordon-Levitt also opted for a two-banger, he reinforced that message, letting the entire crew know he also cared about being mindful of the environment.”
Winkler believes strongly that repeated messaging keeps the momentum flowing for the reduction of environmental impacts throughout the production. She met with each department head individually at the very beginning of the production to garner support, had studio reinforcement at the production meeting prior to going to camera, and kept the crew updated on the status of their efforts by revealing statistics along the way – how much was being recycled, composted, how many plastic water bottles being avoided.
By the end those reports were impressive. “We successfully composted around 5500 pounds of food waste and compostable paper products, and we used tap water in the office and shop spaces — we had zero plastic water bottles on our sets, saving 66,000 water bottles from ever being utilized, diverting that plastic away from our landfills. ”
“Due to the nature of moving around New York City at a rapid pace, and the use of equipment such as the Porsche Pursuit arm and a motorcycle to get a majority of our action shots, we were a transportation-heavy film. We offset some of this when our Key Grip, George Patsos, came up with an idea to build a rig on an electric Gem car to shoot close-ups on the bicycles.” In addition, they incorporated the use of bio-diesel where they could. For the base-camp generator, they were able to use bio-diesel fuel from Tri-State Biodiesel, the New York based company that uses only reclaimed cooking oil in its fuel blends. They also used bio-diesel in the camera truck, the lighting and the set-dressing trucks.
Daily reinforcement in the form of eco-factoids on call sheets helped to keep the conversation alive on set. “Constant communication is essential,” claims Winkler
As a result, many individual departments stepped up with their own environmentally-minded ideas. “Locations, Art Department, and Costumes were particularly enthused,” said Winkler. “For the Locations Department, 80 percent of our film was shot on the streets of New York, so we were very present in every community from the Upper West side all the way to Chinatown. It was very important to our Location Manager, Kip Myers, that we make a good impression in these communities and keep them clean. I think there was an instant impact for passers-by to see that we were recycling bottles, cans and paper as well as composting.”
Winker noted that it also made a big difference that the Production Designer, Therese Deprez, and her team were dedicated to the cause. “There was a certain conservation built into the fact that we shot such a high percentage of the film on the street and had very few interiors. When we did have set builds, the art department did a great job of repurposing set pieces wherever we could — not only did it cut down on waste, it cut down on the budget.”
“We also had a very dedicated lead scenic who was always looking for non-toxic alternatives. He even used soy milk as an aging element,” reported Winkler. That’s an idea that might be catching on soon.
Because the production team worked closely with the accounting department to flag environment-related expenditures, the carbon calculation at the end of the production was not overly daunting. Sony Pictures is a big supporter of carbon calculation on all its productions, and as part of a larger sustainability initiative at the studio, it donated and planted a tree for every shooting day on the production as a way to offset and give back to the many communities where filming took place. So PREMIUM RUSH added almost one hundred trees to the city landscape. Sony has had their tree-planting policy in place for two years, and although 2011 hasn’t been tabulated yet, they reported that 1200 trees were planted in 2010 for the movies shots during that calendar year.
The studio’s EPK team filmed the sustainability efforts behind the scenes, and that video has been incorporated into a sizzle reel that is being used to promote sustainability initiatives at Sony Pictures. Says Winkler: “I think it is important to show by example what the possibilities are as a way to inspire others.”