#SustainableSundays – Giving the green light to sustainable film lighting.

03 October 2021

Throughout August, we shared some of our top tips and tricks for environmental best practices on film sets in the catering, costume and set design departments. This week, we’re getting under the blazing beams of the lighting department, to find out how the screen industries are attempting to reduce emissions and improve sustainability.

Image credits © Befores and Afters

Lighting is an essential component of the art of filmmaking, contributing to the mood, tone and atmosphere of any shot. Gaffers, Best Boys and Lighting Technicians are often the unsung heroes of the camera department, spending years perfecting the technically precise and creatively delicate art of lighting a shot, with effortless beauty.  

Lighting does, however, consume a huge amount of electricity, which means it produces a huge amount of carbon emissions, adding to a production’s overall footprint and negatively impacting the environment. So how can lighting crews ensure that they are cutting emissions, without diminishing the quality of their work? 

The simplest and easiest way of achieving this is for crews to choose more energy-efficient light sources, such as fluorescent lamps or LED lighting, over traditional, and energy wasting, tungsten or HMI lights.  These energy-efficient lights use less power, but shine just as bright, meaning that the quality need not be compromised. The ‘Doctor Who’ set in Cardiff now sources around 60% of its lighting from low energy alternatives, using fluorescent Kino Flo lamps instead of tungstens, and using LED panels wherever possible. 

Image credits © ARRI 

The number of options available for lighting crews, when it comes to sustainable lamps, is better now than ever before, thanks to committed investment from key companies within the industry, meaning that there really is no excuse for large productions to avoid using LED and fluorescent lamps. Ian Sherborn, a Creative Consultant on sustainability for the film industry, particularly in lighting, has said: 

Manufacturers such as ARRI and Chroma-Q introduced highly-capable products. Large-scale investment, by companies such as Pinewood MBS Lighting, has made it viable to light even the largest productions, almost totally on low-energy sources. The choice is no longer whether or not to use LED, but which products to use.

Ian Sherborn, Creative Consultant

Another, more high-end solution to the problem of sustainable lighting, is for production houses and studios to switch to renewable energy sources for their projects. Albert is an organisation which unites the screen industries to make a positive environmental impact and, in 2017, they helped 25 companies move to renewable energy tariffs, with its group purchasing scheme initiative ‘Creative Energy’. This mega-move helped to save a total of 300 tonnes of CO2 for the first year after the switch alone.  

Image credits © ARRI

Of course, for smaller, independent or self-funded projects, this solution may prove to be easier said than done. However, taking into consideration that the cost of renewable energy is generally within a 5% margin of difference from fossil fuel energy, it’s a battle worth picking with your production company. Aaron Matthews from Albert advises that individual productions and heads of departments should start lobbying their production houses and studios to encourage them to switch to renewable tariffs: 

Studios might not care if only one client asks this question, but if 1,000 people are asking for the same thing, they’re much more likely to make the switch.

Aaron Matthews, Albert

Finally, avoiding the use of fuel-guzzling generators can also help to reduce a huge amount of carbon emissions from productions. Instead, try plugging into the National Grid and using house power to get your lights shining. London based production company Mammoth Screen managed to reduce their on-location emissions by 50% using this method. Handily, sustainable LED and fluorescent lighting can be supported using local power sources, rather than generators, because of the lower amount of power they need to function. 

Image credits © CineD 

We’re excited to see what future developments take place in the world of film lighting to continue reducing the environmental impact of filmmaking. What other tips do you know of that can help the lighting department bring down their carbon footprint? Let us know by emailing marketing@londonfilmacademy.com, and share this post with your friends to keep the conversation going!  

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