The director and green film production expert Philip Gassmann speaks about fundamental changes in funding policy, the advantages of green production and the use of Yamdu in an industry that is increasingly modern and digital.
"I am a big fan of Yamdu because it contains a lot of green thoughts. Efficiency, time saving and communication are the magic words."
Philip Gassmann Director and Green Film Expert
The corona pandemic has now been with us for more than a year. Production was or is only possible to a limited extent. How did all of this affect the topic of green production?
Philip Gassmann (PG): That is very interesting, there were always people who thought that Corona would make green or sustainable production more difficult or even impossible. It is not so! Of course, we now have more rubbish, we have masks that end up in large containers and that's why some are a little worried that it will get worse. On the other hand, that's not really our biggest problem. Rather, our biggest problem is transport, energy generation, the way we build or what we build with.
And because of that, I really have to say that the Green Production Initiative has not suffered any downturns during the whole pandemic - on the contrary! In the last year the whole topic got an incredible boost.
How do you explain that to yourself?
PG: For example - more and more broadcasters have set very clear guidelines calling for green production. That means if I produce e.g. for Sky or also for ProSiebenSat1, then I have to produce green. It gives hope to see that, despite the pandemic, environmental awareness has really, really, really increased.
When you talk about guidelines and green production, can you explain to our community what that actually means?
PG: Well, it's actually very simple: at the end of the day, it's about reducing our emissions, but there are also other issues where we just try to produce in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way. At the top is CO₂. Why? Because the German government has defined climate protection goals and because the EU has also defined climate protection goals. And these climate protection goals are now also with the various ministries, including our cultural representative, Ms. Grütters.
And now the order is even coming into the film industry via the BKM (Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media): “Hello, hello, please deal more with this topic, because from next year the 'green' topic will even be part of the funding guidelines. In other words, starting next year only those productions that actually produce sustainably - in the spirit of green production with as few CO₂ emissions as possible – will receive money.
"Yamdu is running on Microsoft's CO₂-neutral Azure infrastructure."
That means from 2022? Is that already set in stone? And can you tell us a little more about what it looks like?
PG: A super exciting topic, because there is already a new amendment to the Film Funding Act. And it is clearly stated there, only those who actually produce their films sustainably receive money. The criterion that has already been set in stone is the issue of CO₂ calculation. This means that from next year it will be mandatory to actually prove for each film production at the end of the production how much CO₂ this production has emitted.
And when you say “compulsory for the productions” what does that mean? A production consists of many team members. Who do you think has to take responsibility for this? Is that part of the production management, the coordination, the Head of Departments? Who must be afraid?
PG: (laughs) Fear is a bad advisor! On the contrary, what is really exciting is that because of this whole topic, more and more people in the productions are saying “Let's take a closer look!” Since last year we have had a series of events by the German Film Commissions called “Keen to be green ". Suddenly 200 people take part - across all departments. And you can just tell how great the interest is. But if you ask, who cares about something like the CO₂ calculator, for example? We now have a new professional group called “Green Consultants”. They are experts in green production. The training is now available at the IHK Munich and also at HDM in Stuttgart, including certification.
We do this because we have simply seen that we need specialists who have also worked deeper into this subject. And these people will primarily be those who are responsible for the CO₂ calculator, for example. Nonetheless, I think it is worthwhile for all departments to deal with this topic and, above all, to find out where the most emissions are generated and which, in some cases very simple methods, can save massive amounts of CO₂. At the end of the day, you can always save money in all departments.
Save money?! How? Please explain this to us in more detail.
PG: That is a very interesting combination that suddenly you have combined ecology and economy. Many think that green production is an expensive luxury. This is actually the stupidest bugbear of all, because it is often the case that green production can even save money. It starts with saving fuel costs or unnecessary flights. Because in the end it's about producing more efficiently. Across the entire range.
Take Yamdu, for example. I think it's a brilliant tool. That's why I recommend it again and again, because I say: People, what is it about? It's about saving resources, saving time and improving communication. And such tools are a wonderful story. Yamdu can help production with a more efficient process. Yamdu saves time, money, resources and paper. And that's awesome - and also green. In other words, green is not - as is often assumed - just waste separation and vegan catering. No, the topic of green has a lot to do with creativity and the improvement of existing processes.
I am very happy about that, also thank you for recommending Yamdu again and again. We are currently hearing from many customers that, especially during hard lockdowns, a combination of Yamdu and a video service such as Teams, Zoom or similar saved preproduction. Traveling, meetings, being physically on site, all of this is of course very limited.
PG: Exactly, exactly. At least it is a good thing that you have now learned certain technological processes through the pandemic - or maybe I should say that you have accepted it more. Remote production or remote post-production are now just part of everyday life. I'm a director myself and if you'd said two years ago: "Philip, you're doing a production from a distance, so to speak, and you're sitting here in front of a monitor in Munich and your team is in New York!" Then I would have said “Are you crazy? I have to be with the people, we can't do it like that!" And yet we are learning that it works somehow. And now you suddenly notice that it's actually not that bad after all.
There are simply many, many things that can actually be solved remotely with the technical means that we have today. And now we come back to the point: the time that is saved can in turn be invested in creation. The same with the money saved. And less travel also means fewer emissions. And then everyone benefits. And then you just take everyone by the hand.
A good keyword, because of course you can tell that you come from the industry. And I believe that you are not trying to dictate to people from the outside how to shoot. Together, in a team is better! Do you have a few more tips to get started with the topic of green production as a production company without overwhelming the team?
PG: At the beginning of Green Production you always had the impression, well, we'll just distribute a few catalogs of guidelines and then it will somehow turn green, yes. And I've learned over the years that it's important to do all of this with a certain systematic approach. I also had to learn not to jump on the plastic straight away (laughs). There were productions where everyone was very proud, we've now avoided plastic here and there. No question about it, very, very commendable. Indeed, plastic is a real problem! On the other hand, plastic is not the cause of climate change. You have to be very clear about that. It's just a small chapter in the many, many chapters on environmental degradation or pollution. It is really exciting to check from the very beginning where are our major issues, where are the areas where we can change something very quickly. Also, in terms of avoiding greenhouse gases.
In recent years, we have been urging the studios to switch to green electricity. Many have finally done just that because of pressure from many broadcasters and production companies. And we just did the math: That's tens of thousands of tons of CO₂ that can be saved in German studio productions through this one measure alone. The important thing is that it doesn't have to be complicated to switch to green electricity. A tick on the electricity provider's order list is sufficient. In many cities, green electricity is just as expensive as normal electricity. As a production company, I can ask such questions to a service provider.
The next big issue is the vehicles, the cars, the trucks, the units. What do they use? Then comes the decoration. Are we working with certain materials that are problematic? Can you somehow replace it, how do you deal with it? How much has to be disposed of again? Then the locations! I've experienced that now, right now a big film is being made that was originally supposed to be shot in many, many locations around the world and now somehow because of the pandemic, they have noticed: “Oh, it doesn't really work that way now.” And they have managed to find all locations in a single country that look like any other distant country and everyone is totally happy. Even the director (laughs). Just through these few topics you have huge and lasting effects. And that is actually the best thing about it all, that we have now learned to question aspects of production and to check them with a CO₂ calculator. Time and again we manage to cut the emissions of a production in half within a short period of time. In some cases, we even achieved an 80% or 90% saving with the nice side effect that in the end, you notice that you've also saved money.
That brings us back to the financial aspect that you mentioned earlier. A coupling of emissions savings to access to subsidies or public funding. Will that be a list of points that you have to meet or a subsequent reporting? For example, using a CO₂ calculator to prove what you have saved?
PG: That is currently being researched diligently. On the one hand there is a group called “Green Shooting”, in which – and this is absolutely commendable - all major broadcasters are now represented, including many large production companies and associations. Within this group, we are currently working on proposals for minimum standards for the industry. On the other hand, the BKM now has the research mandate to evaluate and review precisely any minimum standards. There are now 100 productions that have committed to green production this year according to a pre-defined catalog of guidelines in order to test the ideas. And with the results, we can then orientate the policy and thus the funding guidelines.
Do you also have an insight into how things are in our neighboring countries? Are there any other European countries or countries around the world that are taking such initiatives?
PG: So, it's exciting that the green production movement originally started in America. In 2006 they did a study in Hollywood and this study was initiated by Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor. Yeah, that's really funny, how a European initiated it. His idea was to calculate exactly how big the carbon footprint of the film and TV industry is in Los Angeles, but also in the entire county. UCLA worked in incredible detail for a year. The result: The county’s film and television industry is the second worst of any industry in terms of environmental degradation or pollution. It came directly after oil production. And that was a huge wake-up call in California in 2006. That was really quite astonishing and that led to Hollywood beginning to rethink the whole topic and also to found initiatives back then. Today there is no American major which does not have the topic of green production as a big part of their mission statement.
The next to take over were the English. There is an initiative called Albert (https://wearealbert.org). Albert is in turn funded by BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television Arts) and the BBC. There, for example, the topic of CO₂ calculation has been mandatory for many years. So exactly what we want to introduce in Germany next year has been mandatory for the British for years. With the great result that they know much more precisely where their problems are. They even worked it out for the individual genres. Where are the biggest problems in sports and where are the biggest problems in the comedy shows? In fiction or in news? That also helps us with the specifications. There are now also initiatives in France, Italy and Scandinavia.
What you really have to say - and I don't say that without a certain pride - we Germans are on the road with great discipline. With measures that are not just window dressing. The fact that more or less all broadcasters take part is, in turn, quite unique. As a result, Green Production has picked up so much speed in Germany in recent years that we can now really see some results.
It's great that you are doing your bit. That also brings me to training as a green consultant. What does it mean and what happens if someone is training with you and the IHK, for example?
PG: Together we cover the whole spectrum. Decoration, lights, costumes, transports, generators. There are many, many opportunities opening up everywhere. As a rule, we also present new technologies and completely new workflows there. Keyword Yamdu. But even the best software needs training and people - like the consultants - who take care of the production process. Then it's also about psychology. How can I incentivize the team? And all of that is part of this training and I noticed that without something like that, it would be difficult. You need guidelines. It was also important to me that this profession be recognized. That you notice that you can't just pick it up on a couple of weekends. That means a long learning phase and an exam at the end. And that's how the whole thing came about, along with others from the Bavarian Film Fund and the Munich Chamber of Commerce and now also possible at the HDM in Stuttgart! There, Prof. Michalski and Fabian Linder set up a similar program.
Sounds good. Explaining and not just pushing through regulations is certainly very important in our industry. All the better that you and this initiative exist. Thank you, Philip. Our time is up. Our company color is blue, but you can be sure that we will remain a green partner for you and of course for everyone else who wants to move towards green production.
PG: Thank you very much and as I said, I am a big fan of your tool because it also contains a lot of green thoughts. Efficiency, time saving and communication are the magic words.