Posted on 22nd December 2020

Sixteen Films’ sustainable approach to filmmaking

We spoke to Rebecca O'Brien, BAFTA-winning film producer at Ken Loach's production company, Sixteen Films and their ethos when it comes to sustainable production

Ken Loach’s company Sixteen Films is well known for producing thought-provoking drama and films exploring social issues. We spoke to Rebecca O’Brien, BAFTA-winning producer at Sixteen Films, about how sustainability is also a key part of their production process.

Sixteen Films has recently finished shooting a remake of Christian Carion‘s 2017 French Thriller, Mon Garçon. The remake, My Son, which is also being directed by Carion, stars James MacAvoy and Claire Foy. “I guess you could say that remaking is a form of recycling!”, joked Rebecca. 

When shooting Ken Loach's films we try to always find a church hall or community centre as a production base. It puts money into the local community and helps us find local staff, thereby reducing our carbon footprint through reduction of transport - it also gives us a connection to the local community.

— Rebecca O'Brien

My Son faced the same issues that many ‘pandemic’ productions encountered, however the solutions to these issues often had added benefits for sustainability.

My Son was filmed in Scotland and approximately half the crew came over from France for the production. Once they had arrived, COVID restrictions meant they had to stay in the UK, whereas in normal times, the crew may have travelled back and forth during down time. 

The production took over a hotel and formed a bubble. The hotel became the base of operations, with the production office, catering, wardrobe and other departments being based there, benefiting the local economy and reducing travel. 

Additionally, most filming locations were within 20 minutes drive of the hotel, 40 at maximum, which was planned deliberately to help with the sequential style in which the director wanted to shoot the film.

A still from Christian Carion's Mon Garçon (2017)

A still from Christian Carion's Mon Garçon (2017)

Not only did the crew stay together in one hotel, but they travelled together too. Rather than employing multiple drivers, the team travelled to location in minibuses.  Cutting down on the travelling ‘circus’ meant the production was tighter overall with everyone arriving to a location on time, and with final prep work being completed on the drive. 

All meal breaks were taken in community centres.  The catering was done by a company called ‘Bowl Food’- which, as the name suggests, provided portioned food in a bowl, which was a COVID safe way to feed hungry crews as well as a neat way to cut down on food waste.  

James McAvoy and Claire Foy, the lead actors in Sixteen Films' upcoming film, My Son

James McAvoy and Claire Foy, the lead actors in Sixteen Films' upcoming film, My Son

The other sustainability success story in My Son was thanks to the two lead actors.

James McAvoy and Claire Foy agreed to forgo having individual trailers and drivers. My Son was shot in 8 days with 2 weeks rehearsal, so there wasn’t the usual hanging around on location you might have on other productions. Both leads were supportive of the ‘short, sharp shock’ vision of the project and were more than happy to ‘muck in’ with the rest of the team without any special treatment.

This positive attitude in turn trickled down to the other actors on set.

We assume actors will make big demands because of the precedent set by bigger budget productions. But most actors are very open to the discussions around sustainable production choices - the problem emanates from the people who want to make sure the actors are treated well and no worse than anyone else. If you stop infantilising actors they appreciate it, become more integrated with the team and feel more included in the project overall.

— Rebecca O'Brien

Rebecca is optimistic for the future but is aware that the film industry has a long way to go. “Overall, for these kind of changes to work, the changes need to start at the top and trickle down”  she said “Some of it is quite easy, in a studio setting for example, it’s important for the production to make it clear to crew where things can be disposed of correctly so that everyone is involved in reducing impact. But some things are structural and require more thought and investment.  Pushing for better use of transport is the biggest thing.  The biggest footprint comes from transport. It’s still impossible to get to most of the major studios using public transport, e.g. Leavesden and Pinewood. It’s a major infrastructure issue”

Ultimately, for Rebecca, it’s about taking these learnings back to the classroom; “Sustainability is a conversation that needs to be happening in our film schools, let’s make sure that for the next generation of filmmakers, this way of working is second nature” concluded Rebecca

My Son is currently in the post-production phase and is due for release in 2021.

Find out more about Sixteen Films at their website,, and Twitter feed, @KenLoachSixteen