Greening Czech Film: Working Toward Carbon Neutrality on Set and in the Office

Published June 21, 2022

One of the new priorities of the Creative Europe MEDIA program is sustainability. This comes in response to the European Green Deal initiative, presented by the European Commission in 2019.

Now the Czech audiovisual industry is rising to the challenge of making the changes needed to avert the impending climate disaster—from obvious steps, like not wasting food, to comprehensive changes in how shoots are planned.

“I want Europe to become the first carbon-neutral continent in the world by 2050,” declared Ursula von der Leyen, then candidate for president of the European Commission, in her opening statement to the European Parliament Plenary Session on July 16, 2019.

Her statement came a few months prior to the introduction of the European Green Deal, an initiative to put Europe on track to reach net-zero global warming emissions by 2050. This effort extends to the audiovisual industry, which had already started dealing with “green” issues of its own accord.

“There is cause to be optimistic, because the world outside politics realized what was happening in relation to climate and climate issues before the politicians,” said Maria Silvia Gatta of the European Commission at a workshop on European green priorities on May 11, 2021.

Sustainability has thus become one of the cross-cutting priorities introduced by Creative Europe in its program period for 2021–27.

“All applicants, whether film productions, festivals, or educational program organizers, should describe in their application the strategy their project will use to contribute to the sustainability of the film industry. This is not a directive requirement, but it should be an incentive for all those involved in the cultural and creative industries to think about how they can modify their projects and activities to make them more sustainable,” says Daniela Staníková, head of the Czech Creative Europe MEDIA Desk.

Among other things, the Czech CED MEDIA, together with CED Slovakia and the Slovak Film Commission, organized a seminar in 2020 for producers to learn about “green filming” from expert Philip Gassmann. There was also a webinar on Creative Europe’s priorities for film professionals.

“It’s all about changing mindset and not seeing the emphasis on sustainability as a burden, but as an opportunity for further development and creative activity,” says Staníková.

On the occasion of the webinar, the Association of Audiovisual Producers, another key player in spreading awareness of green filmmaking in the Czech Republic, published a manual for implementing sustainable practices in film.

“The manual summarizes two basic principles,” says APA project manager Marta Kuchynková. “One is implementing green principles on set, establishing practices that permeate all departments involved in the production of a film. The other is that the producer actively put permanent sustainability ideas to work on the production. The term for this is Planet Placement.”

For example, the actions of the characters can be subtly or subliminally imprinted on the minds of the audience. Following the release of the manual (available at greenfilming.cz), the APA is now working on checklists that break the manual down into bullet points. It is also collaborating on the pan-European carbon calculator Eureca (eurecafilm.eu), co-initiated by the Slovak Film Commission. The calculator makes it possible to calculate how many tons of CO2 have been saved during filming through sustainable practices.

Water, catering, waste, transport, and office—those are the headings under which producer Daria Špačková of Lucky Man Films, a pioneer of green filming in the Czech Republic, categorizes her efforts to make filming sustainable. She applied them on the set of Zatopek (Czech nominee for the 94th Academy Awards in the International Feature Film category) in cooperation with production manager Alžbeta Noll, who went on to use the experience for her master’s thesis at FAMU.

“At the time Zatopek was filmed in 2019, there were no programs or grants supporting green activities in the Czech Republic. So we had to make do on our own,” says Špačková. For drinking water, the production borrowed thousands of reusable plastic cups from the Metronome music festival. “But it turned out we couldn’t take the cups to the official cleaner, and the washing and drying process would require extra catering staff, which meant more labor, more space, etc.,” the producer says. So each crew member was required to have their own drinking bottle to take water from fountains, as well as their own coffee mug.

Špačková considers catering a fundamental aspect of a green set. During the filming of Zatopek, the catering companies agreed to use plastic-free crockery. Uneaten food was not thrown away but packed in compostable boxes the crew took home, and of course portions were accurately measured.

“That is something that has progressed a lot since the filming of Zatopek. We now use a QR code system or order food in advance when making commercials, and we work with caterers who serve food on set in REkrabička [100-percent recyclable] boxes. Paradoxically, COVID helped achieve this,” Špačková says. Transportation on the Prague-Brno axis during the Zatopek shoot was possible by train to a large extent, and they achieved savings in the office, for example, by projecting presentations on a screen instead of printing them.

Producer Julie Žáčková of Unit+Sofa’s service production team came to learn the principles of sustainable filming years ago through Unit+Sofa’s work with large foreign production companies. As a result, she is now used to following the guidelines. In addition to sorting trash and reducing plastic consumption, she mentions limiting the printing of scripts and storyboards, certifying waste management, and introducing a green set coordinator to oversee compliance.

Because of the low budget on her first feature film with Unit+Sofa, Occupation, Žáčková tried to introduce measures that would at least not cost anything extra. She emphasizes the importance of keeping things local: “The food was bought from local suppliers, and we also had the advantage that the film was basically shot in a single location where we had our own canteen. Carpooling is a must, of course. In the future, I also want to look into recycling film sets and costumes. The managers of the real bar in the community center where Occupation was filmed liked the period stylization so much they decided to keep it there, which meant we didn’t have to dispose of it.”

For producer Silvie Michajlova of Film Kolektiv, planning projects well in advance is crucial for green filming. “It means minimal and efficient relocation, using local restaurants and accommodation services, contracting facilities for the crew and actors. We try to minimize and sort all waste. It’s possible to use train travel to reach certain locations. All of this takes time to prepare, but it also means that in many cases you can do without a power generator, a catering car, caravans, multiple minibuses, and anything meant for single use. We’re also trying to create a demand for sustainable products and services. We see the vanguard abroad, for example, with the use of powerful battery-powered generators, and even in our country, lighting equipment rental companies are working with gaffers to come up with the most economical means of lighting,” Michajlova says. “It’s important to explain to the crew and the actors why we make certain decisions. It’s great to see positive reactions, and many of them then come to us with more ideas on things that can be improved. We need to accept that sustainability is not ‘some hipster thing’ but an inevitability.”

Producer Martin Hůlovec (Punk Film) predicts that the trend toward green filming will be driven not only by ecological concerns but also economics. “In my estimation, the introduction of green management in the Czech Republic will really pick up in a big way when it comes to international jobs. Clients will start demanding a green certificate because they don’t want negative PR,” he says. In addition to increasingly common practices (reducing plastics, making transport more efficient), he plans to introduce improvements such as the use of eco-friendly laundry detergents in costume shops and more careful dismantling and sorting of decorations. “It means extra money, but there’s grant money we can get for it, too—for example, through the MEDIA program. Soon it will be possible to get subsidies for green management the same way households get them for new boilers. And vice versa, companies that don’t film green may have to pay something like an emission allowance.”

“Sustainability on set isn’t cheap,” says Špačková of Lucky Man Films. “That’s one of the reasons why we couldn’t get 100 percent results on all our efforts on Zatopek.” The European Green Deal initiative, together with the new MEDIA priorities, offers hope that maintaining the principles of green filming in the future will be easier, and even commonplace.