Grid Magazine, Feature Article
An independent studio prepares to release its first zero-waste, feature-length film
Going Zero Waste, Article
8 Ways to Go Zero Waste on a Film Set
Ocean Pancake, Podcast
30: How To Create a Movie with less than 500g of waste with Fishtown Films
Waste and Milö No.4, Article
De revolutionerar filmindustrin
Film Historian + Podcaster
Citywide: The First Zero Waste Film
When Philadelphia production company Fishtown Films, co-founded by Austin Elston and Emily Gallagher, prepared to make their first feature film, they knew it had to be a reflection of their values around environmental sustainability and community support. Though Hollywood often positions itself as progressive, it is hardly an environmentally conscious industry; large Hollywood productions often amass tons of harmful carbon emissions and over 300 tons of garbage per film. The majority of this waste comes from sets and construction debris, but also costumes and craft services—food waste, plastic waste from disposable containers, etc.
But globally, there has been a call to do better. Business and organizations have sprung up in recent years, like Earth Angel, the Green Production Guide, and the Environmental Media Association, to help support eco-friendly productions. The Plastic Pollution Coalition are trying to get Hollywood to use less single use plastic on screen, to provide a better example for viewers.
And Elston and Gallagher have decided to set their own example. After adapting a low waste lifestyle in 2016, they translated this model to Fishtown Films. Their upcoming film Citywide, a queer indie comedy-thriller about one New Yorker’s (Janice Amaya) tumultuous 24-hour visit to Philadelphia, will be the first zero waste feature length film.
Most often, films that promote environmental sustainability and low waste are documentaries about these subjects, rather than feature films promoting these values offscreen. But Elston and Gallagher sought to create a production process that mirrored their environmentalist values behind the scenes, emphasizing, “You can be sustainable behind the scenes without making that the subject of your film.” This enabled them to entertain audiences with an indie feature that reflects their varied arthouse influences: Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, the gritty cinema of late ‘70s and early ‘80s New York City, transgressive European filmmakers like Pedro Almodovar, and South Korean auteur Hong Sang Soo.
In addition to the high waste associated with major Hollywood productions, media in recent years has made it clear that the film industry often takes a toll on cast and crew members because of sexism, racism, and a lack of inclusivity. Elston asks, “What is the cost of the dream that you have? What does it cost to get your story told and put on screen?” Fishtown Films note that they wanted to create a feature that represents the world they want to see in terms of zero waste, but also diverse representation on screen and community involvement.
Elston’s original script was written with few physical descriptions for characters, resulting in a more open casting process. The cast, starring Janice Amaya, Alice Kremelberg, and Sonia Mena—predominantly queer and non-binary performers of color , —were given input on script and character and were active participants in the zero waste aspect of the production. Fishtown, the community in north Philadelphia where Citywide was shot and is set, is a major character within the film in its own right.
The local community also became an integral part of making the film sustainable. With the participation of local small businesses, like caterer Miss Rachel’s Pantry, and locations like bar The Monkey Club and bookstore The Head and The Hand, they were able to greatly reduce waste normally generated by craft services and set building. Costumes were found at local thrift stores by the Philadelphia designer Beth Marciano, and the soundtrack comes from exclusively Philly indie bands , such as Mannequin Pussy, Kayleigh Goldsworthy, and Ugli. Gallagher notes, “We built such a community because of this plan to make a zero waste film. The film is a love letter to Philly.”
While large Hollywood studios have been quick to pivot production models during the pandemic, creating safer shooting environments for cast and crew members seemingly overnight, the assumption is often that going green will not be cost effective. A study by PGA Green—the first of its kind—found that focusing on sustainability could also slash budgets; for example, swapping hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles with coolers and reusable bottles could reduce water budgets by nearly half. And a Vice report has noted that while some studios are focusing on sustainability in their business offices, this is not being translated to film productions, particularly those on location.
But Elston and Gallagher found that a sustainable, low waste production actually allowed them to considerably cut production costs. With advance planning inspired by their own low waste lifestyle and enthusiastic buy-in from their cast, crew, and support from the community, Citywide generated only 16 ounces of waste—enough to fit in a single glass jar—mostly gaff tape and non-recyclable props like police tape. They composted leftover food and everything catered was delivered and served with reusable or recyclable containers. All the sets used were existing small business locations within Philadelphia. Cast members traveling from New York for the production used Bolt Bus and stayed in Air BnBs, cutting down on waste there as well.
If a small studio on a miniscule budget can easily adapt their production to be low waste, Hollywood studios that follow a similar model could save hundreds of thousands of tons of waste per year. Fishtown Films is proof that small businesses and individual filmmakers don’t have to wait for Hollywood to lead, but can follow the punk, DIY aesthetic so beloved in Philadelphia. They encourage other production companies to embrace a do-it-yourself attitude and become an example of how cinema can support communities both socially and environmentally.