A new Code for green filmmaking

An international team develops a code of best practices for green filmmaking
March 1, 2009

Released in February, the Code of Best Practices in Sustainable Filmmaking is co-authored by filmmakers Larry Engel and Andrew Buchanan, and is a collaboration between American University’s Center for Social Media and Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and Filmmakers for Conservation.

The project originated in 2007 when Engel attended a session at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival on carbon neutral filmmaking. Leading the session was British filmmaker Buchanan, who had worked on a carbon neutral National Geographic production. Engel and Buchanan spoke afterwards on their similar interests and kept in contact.

A year and a half later the two found out they were both working toward the same goal – a blueprint for green production. Engel had been encouraged to work on a code of sustainable filmmaking best practices by co-workers Pat Aufderheide, professor and director of the Center for Social Media, and Chris Palmer, director for the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, both at the American University (AU).

At the same time, Buchanan and Australia-based Tanya Peterson from Filmmakers for Conservation (FFC) began working on some guidelines, with the support from the World Wildlife Foundation UK. Peterson served as project manager for the Code on behalf of the FFC, which secured some seed funding for development. ‘As an organization with the mission that we have – to use the power of film to help save the natural world – and with ever unfolding science on the dire consequences of runaway climate change, we had a responsibility to help move the film industry in a sustainable direction,’ she says.

‘AU brought academic rigor and clearly a strong foothold in North America, while the FFC brought the WWF link, which matters just as much as the scientific background of it,’ Buchanan explains. ‘Larry and I brought the practical experience of documentary making.’ AU also provided money from the Ford Foundation.

Aufderheide, who served as executive producer of the project, helped Engel model the document on other codes of best practices that AU had produced to set standards for the field. The four key educational objectives of the Code are to show producers how to figure out how much carbon productions are using, how to use less of it, how to travel less and to encourage buying carbon offsets when they can’t reduce.

Buchanan worked with a scientific team to find everything written about sustainable filmmaking to come up with various checklists, listing activities like choosing an energy supplier that provides electricity from 100% renewable sources. The checklists were sent out to production professionals for input, with the document modified from their feedback.

In February 2009, the Code was previewed at Wildscreen and presented at the Realscreen Summit, and will carry on to other film festivals and conferences, either physically or via Skype. The International Documentary Association has endorsed it, as well as the University Film Association of the United States.

Next steps include translating the project into other languages and raising the funds to create an online carbon calculator specifically for the film and TV production industry.

You can find the Code at

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.