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Producer Clara George shows off the battery-powered Urban Power Source generator she rented through the equipment supplier Sim. The generator replaced one diesel model, cutting 124 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per charge.

Local TV show The Magicians goes green behind the scenes

The crew slashed waste and emissions, but still struggled to get off diesel

By Serena Renner , in City Environment , on November 20, 2019

A Vancouver-based TV series made significant cuts to its waste and emissions this year under the leadership of a local producer.

The efforts exemplified larger changes sweeping Vancouver, which aims to be the most sustainable production centre in North America.

But the industry is still grappling with how to get off diesel, a staple power source for film and TV crews around the world.

“We’re the largest industry in Vancouver, and we’re out there running generators because we can’t get clean power to our sets,” said producer Clara George, who is considered an eco leader in the local TV and film industry.

Since the release of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said countries need to halve their emissions by 2030, the climate crisis has been top of mind for George. She thinks the industry should be applying its creativity on and off the screen.

“If we’re handed a script, we create it,” George said. “The script is we have to save the world in 12 years.”

Zero-waste show business

For Season 5 of The Magicians, George and her crew diverted 85 per cent of their waste from the landfill and reduced fuel consumption by 20 per cent.

The waste cuts were achieved through implementing more efficient systems for recycling and composting, donating more than 900 kilograms of excess food, purchasing reusable dishes and cutlery, and installing a restaurant-grade dishwasher to clean them.

Dirty dishes wait in designated bins inside the The Magicians dining tent at UBC before getting loaded into the industrial dishwasher the crew purchased for Season 5.

A typical film crew goes through 400 to 500 disposable plates and bowls per day plus plastic utensils and water bottles, said Tim Boddington, chef-owner of Northwest Fresh Catering, which partnered with The Magicians for the five-month-long filming of Season 5.

“Sometimes I would have up to 30 garbage bags out back, and now I have two a day max,” he said.

Tim Boddington stands outside his Northwest Fresh Catering food truck during a filming day at UBC in November. Boddington partnered with George to introduce reusable dishes and cutlery to The Magicians buffet line.
Breaking the diesel addiction

George said cutting waste is relatively easy compared with tackling the source of 95 to 97 per cent of a production’s carbon footprint: emissions from fuel.

The Vancouver TV and film industry — the third-largest production centre in North America — emitted roughly 5,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, a recent Vancouver city council report stated. That’s the equivalent of nearly 1,200 cars driving for a year, according to figures from Green Spark Group, a local sustainability consultancy.

About a quarter of those emissions come from the use of diesel generators, which roar and spew fumes as they power high-voltage lights, exploding special effects, and a crew’s staging area, known as the “circus.”

An average production requires two to three diesel generators per day.

To reduce fuel consumption for The Magicians, George brought down the show’s use of fossil fuels in a few ways. One was by renting plug-in hybrid vehicles for the cast and crew. A second effort was renting one of the only two entertainment-grade electric generators in the city for some on-location shoots. In total, the show cut about 30,000 litres of fuel from its production this year.

But George knows shows can only do so much on their own and that governments also have a role to play.

Earlier this year, she worked with Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr to pass a motion to phase out diesel generators and construct new high-amperage electrical power supplies, known as “power drops,” so that productions can tap into the city’s electricity, which is 97-per-cent renewable.

Hidden beside a staircase outside the Vancouver Art Gallery lies a metal power box that film crews can plug into to access the city’s clean electricity. (Photo: Clara George).

The city will start building the first of these new power sources in January at a popular filming location near the intersection of Cambie and Georgia downtown.

The goal is to eventually have enough infrastructure around the city to allow for an entire day of filming at different locations without turning on a diesel generator, said Geoff Teoli, Vancouver’s manager for film and special events.

But if the industry wants to get off diesel generators entirely, Teoli said more jurisdictions will need to follow suit.

“A film company moves across jurisdictions daily,” Teoli said. “We can’t do it alone.”