Posted on 10th January 2020

How big budget film 1917 achieved certification

1917 is the first large scale UK film to gain albert certification.

Shooting 1917 as a single continuous shot wasn’t the only challenge that the production team faced. For several years, Neal Street Productions has worked alongside the BAFTA albert Consortium to ensure that all their UK TV shows are made in a sustainable way. Together with Amblin, Neal Street decided to aim for albert sustainable certification on 1917 too. Although other films in the past have taken steps to mitigate their carbon footprint, 1917 is the first large scale UK film to mark this through gaining its certification. The emissions from big budget films are enormous, with everything from generators to catering carrying a large carbon footprint, leaving the production team a lot to consider.


1917 is the first large scale UK film to gain albert certification

To ensure that everything possible was being done on the production to help reduce the carbon footprint, environmental assistants monitored the team throughout pre-production and filming. As well as taking all the normal steps, such as limiting the use of printed documents, only using re-cycled paper, banning plastic cups and water bottles, the team had to examine every department from an environmental POV. One of the challenges of making big productions sustainable simply comes down to the volume of people working on the film.

With a large crew and an army of extras to feed, the team needed to not only check that the caterers themselves would be supplying sustainably sourced food with plenty of vegetarian options, but also that food waste and disposables were being disposed of properly. Due to the remote locations it was extremely difficult to supply everyone with china plates and metal cutlery, but instead they were given compostable plates and cutlery, and everyone was issued with a reusable water bottle to avoid any plastic water bottles on set.

The team researched waste disposal companies which are equipped to deal with compostable plates alongside food waste and found that Bio Collectors would collect their food waste and convert it into biogas, electricity and high grade fertiliser for agriculture. The team placed large blue waste bins around all the locations, and this, coupled with making everything on set biodegradable meant that all the waste from catering was diverted from landfill. The hair and makeup department also diverted as much as they could from landfill by using bamboo toothbrushes and biodegradable wipes.

On a production of this size, generators are unavoidable, however, where possible, rather than using the usual style of generator that runs on diesel, the team sourced generators that utilise waste vegetable oil. They had hoped to use solar powered generators but found it difficult to source them for the scale they needed. Whilst preferable to diesel, there are still questions on the sourcing of waste vegetable oil and in the next year the technology will have advanced enough for large scale productions to reduce their footprint even further by using electric generators.


Often one of the largest proportions of a film’s footprint is air travel, however ensuring that the majority of the cast and crew was based in Britain kept flying to a minimum. The production avoided unnecessary flights by using train travel where possible to both UK locations, and when cast and crew travelled between UK and France on research trips. Another way of reducing fuel use was by using electric gators whenever possible to transport cast and crew between sets rather than their petrol or diesel counter parts.

Where a French town needed to be built, a proportion of the authentic French set dressing and military items were hired in from Kent and Berkshire, reducing the need for travel and also minimising building material waste. Once filming was finished, the art department, alongside the costume and prosthetic team, ensured that everything possible was sold onto other productions to be re-used, or recycled to avoid using landfill. In fact, many of the realistic corpses, which have been made so skillfully by the prosthetic team, will die another death in Neal Street’s TV series Britannia!

Although the film was set in northern France, all the shooting locations were in Britain in a variety of places such as Wiltshire, Northumberland and Scotland. Much of the film’s action was set in trenches, which needed to be dug into the British countryside. Where possible, military training bases were chosen as locations to ensure that as little damage was done to the land and biodiversity as possible. Full surveys were taken before production began, to make sure this would be the case, as well as ensuring that the locations were returned fully to their original state post filming.

By the end of production, 1917’s actions to reduce its waste and carbon footprint meant that the production achieved a three star certification from albert. This will be the first feature film in UK cinemas to achieve albert’s highest award for sustainable production. Whilst there is still a long way to go for the film industry to reduce its emissions further, 1917 has been an inspiring example to other productions on the steps that can be made to make a difference. With low carbon generator technology advancing rapidly, there will soon be opportunities to reduce fuel intake further. And with some studios switching to renewable energy there is an even greater prospect of productions telling the big stories from our past in a carbon neutral future.