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For over 110 years Hitachi has embraced challenges, and there is no bigger challenge than climate change. As a proud Principal Partner of COP26, we wanted to take a leap into the unknown and set ourselves the task of making the world's first zero-carbon film. From pre-production, to the shoot itself and even post-production, we were committed to going as far as possible to create a zero-carbon production. That meant no off-setting either. Of course, we could have made life a lot easier for ourselves by shooting indoors, or in a studio, but we thought it made more sense to surround ourselves in the environment we were trying to protect. So we shot in a remote location, on a beach, in the middle of the night. We had some initial doubts whether total zero-carbon was even a plausible goal, but we wanted to learn, to show what was possible, and better understand what still needed to be done.
Film productions are incredibly carbon intensive: the average film shoot* emits 33 tons of CO2 per day. The equipment itself, lighting and cameras, require a lot of power. Then there is the transport of all the equipment, often over long distances. There is also the transport of the cast and crew, often flying, and of course feeding everyone on set too. To try and reach carbon-zero, steps were taken in all areas of production and by all members of the crew to reduce their carbon footprint.
From the outside we tried to do everything differently. All pre-production meetings were conducted over video conference apps using renewable energy. We chose a beach in Kent so most of the crew could arrive on set by the Hitachi electric Javelin train, one of the lowest CO2 ways to travel. Others arrived by fully electric cars, powered with renewables wherever possible. The smallest crew and cast were used, with Ivan Bird chosen to direct - he lives nearby and is also a Director of Photography, so two-for-one! In total, 30 people disembarked on Kingsgate Beach in Kent. No flights at all.
On set we shot from 7pm to 3am. The cameras and drone batteries were all pre-charged using renewables. The work lights, set lights and the drone were all powered by a single solar-powered generator. The projector power was 100% generated by pedal power - 3 professional cyclists on camera and 4 keen amateur cyclists, including two Hitachi staff, were off-camera. Night shoots require a huge amount of light to illuminate the subject properly. As Director and DOP, Ivan Bird, explains, 'it wasn't easy as we were dealing with very low levels of power, the projector had 7 cyclists creating the power - so it couldn't be Leicester Square levels of luminance.'
Another issue is that film crews often produce a lot of waste. In the current Covid-19 environment this was harder to reduce whilst making sure everyone was safe. Unnecessary waste on set was cut by crew members bringing their own water bottles and face masks.
The projected shot of the Hitachi train was created using CGI, as this was the only true zero carbon way of doing it. Shooting the train for real would have involved transport to another location, and the trains themselves, even when in full-electric mode, are not yet always powered by renewable energy. Absolute Post created the train and were responsible for all post-production. Absolute is a Carbon Neutral VFX Studio who even provide their staff with an annual financial incentive to take a renewable energy contract on their residential property.
With the project now complete, we can proudly say that our film used 97.5% less carbon than a typical production, as audited and certified by Natural Capital Partners. Everything on set was successfully powered 100% zero-carbon. The main hurdle that got in the way of a fully zero carbon production was transporting equipment to the location. Long-range large electric trucks just don't exist yet. But this is precisely the kind of hurdle that makes COP26 so important, and precisely the kind of hurdle that will only be overcome through collaborative effort. Or, as the director would often say: 'action!'
*Variety.com, April 2021, average of 33 metric tons per day for 161 tentpole film productions as measured by The Sustainable Production Alliance (https://variety.com/2021/film/news/sustainable-production-alliance-carbon-emissions-report-1234942580/)