Standing in front of a boxy e-generator the size of a small trailer, Jason Fitzgerald recalled how the technology enabled an awkward scene in an upcoming Christmas movie starring The Rock.
The veteran rigging gaffer (The morning show, you people) had recently worked on Amazon Studios’ Red, which sees Dwayne Johnson on a mission to save Santa Claus. During a scene shot in a busy mall in Atlanta, Georgia, the production needed to power a light-heavy Santa’s Workshop-style setup, but couldn’t run long cables to the outside of the building to do so, Fitzgerald recalls. So the production discreetly built a Voltstack electrical generator into the scene to quietly power an array of Christmas lights, decorations, animatronics, and even a small train without intrusive cables.
“We’ve used them in churches, you can take them into parking garages, you can put them on skids and take them into tunnels,” Fitzgerald said of these types of power plants. “No emissions, no noise, no exhaust.” He added: “It’s the future.”
Fitzgerald was one of several members of IATSE Local 728 who showcased sustainable power solutions for film and television sets on Sunday – as well as explaining how they themselves have used the technology in high-stakes productions. Organized by the union’s Eco Committee, the showcase showcased portable power plants, an electric camera car and large zero-emission batteries from companies including Moxion Power, Grip Trix, FlashFish and Goal Zero at IATSE Local 80 headquarters in Burbank. The goal: to help members of the labor group — which represents electrical lighting engineers — learn how to use cleaner power sources in the regular course of their jobs and encourage them to advocate for their use on set at a time when, despite the best efforts of some studio sustainability programs, emissions-spewing diesel generators remain the industry standard.
a Report 2021 by the Sustainable Production Alliance, which counts major Hollywood studios and streamers as members, found that fuel consumption from transportation and power sources such as diesel generators was the largest contributor to carbon emissions from feature films, hour-long scripted dramas and single-camera series: 48 percent of the average carbon footprint of a tent pole film (3,370 tons) came from fuel consumption, for example. A study produced a year earlier by the British Film Institute and the Albert Consortium found that the use of diesel generators was specifically responsible for 15 percent of the total carbon emissions on set of an average tentpole film.
“It’s things we breathe, it’s things the neighborhood breathes, it’s an immediate impact on the environment,” says lighting engineer and keyholder Max Schwartz (No, unsure), an organizer of Sunday’s event, of emissions from diesel and gasoline generators. “We can discuss emissions from lithium agriculture and its harm, but the reality is also that we offset the immediate effects of gasoline and diesel generators by using these (more sustainable power source) products.”
The impetus for the event stemmed from the earlier failed attempts by individual members of the Eco-Committee to push for alternative energy sources, Schwartz said. While sustainability programs at producers such as Amazon Studios and HBO have taken steps to divert productions from diesel generators, “generally we’ve run into the same problem, set after set after set, which is that we can request it and the production can want it But if there’s no money to support it because it’s more expensive than the average diesel generator, then it can’t be earned,” Schwartz said.
With initiatives like Sunday’s event, the union’s Eco-committee is trying to further condition the industry to the technology and encourage more crew members to apply for these types of devices. “I think it definitely has to come with individuals requesting this equipment on a consistent basis, so the names are in (studios) heads and they’re basically like ‘Okay, cool, this is reliable, everyone is asking about it,'” said Lighting programmer and Local 728 Eco Committee member Iván Herrera (Kimi, Waffle + Mochi’s Restaurant).
A major threshold that lighting engineers would like to see a power source meet, the organizers explain, is supporting an 18K HMI lamp and at least one other lamp during a 10- to 12-hour day. At the event, one Moxion 600-kilowatt-hour mobile power plant facilitated the use of three 18K lights simultaneously to demonstrate this capability — and could power them for nine hours, according to Cynthia Leung, senior manager of strategy and partnerships at Moxion.
But devices with a shorter range can also be useful. Luminaire technician Jonathan Barrera (The Mandalorian), who demonstrated how compact power plants can light up LED ribbons, touts their “portability and accessibility.” Using a Jackery Explorer 500 or Goal Zero Yeti 1000X, Barrera said, he can test lights without relying on a generator, reducing a production’s carbon footprint. He also notes that these devices can be used for scenes that require mobile and/or hidden lights, recalling how a Jackery device “saved our ass” during a chase on Disney+’s Obi Wan Kenobi with Princess Leia running through a city tinged with neon lights. “You don’t want to see cables, you don’t want to see power supplies, so this is perfect. I can hide this,” he said.
In addition to the environmental benefits, several attendees at the event noted that quieter power plants can help improve relationships with neighborhoods when film and TV productions take place on location. “Here we are, blasting loud generators late into the night because we want to shoot a movie in a location that’s accurate to the period,” Schwartz said. “Having these generators is completely silent. Not only that, but because they’re quiet, you can have them right next to the set, which means less cable running, less square footage of a neighborhood you’re occupying.”
The organizers believe that now is the time to integrate this emerging technology into major film sets, even if these innovations are not perfect. Set a goal with California Achieve CO2 neutrality by 2045, “even beyond our own desire to push this technology, it seems that it will become an inevitability,” Schwartz said. And Sony Group has implemented its own climate plan, aiming to have “zero carbon footprint” by 2050, Sony VP Sustainability John Rego told THR in March.
In addition to helping the industry meet internal and state goals, Fitzgerald believes film and TV professionals at all levels must also take on the task of integrating these more sustainable power solutions. “I made a living in this business for over 30 years, a very good income,” he said. “And I think it’s our responsibility to make sure what we’re doing doesn’t cause damage that’s irreversible.”