Posted on 18th July 2022

Gripping films experiments in system change

Head of Gripping Films, Tom Mustill, is a conservationist turned wildlife and science filmmaker (as well as an albert ambassador!) who has many ideas on how the landscape in the industry could change for the better

Tom, like many others in wildlife and science filmmaking, is sensitive to the carbon footprints that films can create. Once he had the opportunity with his own company (Gripping Films), to tinker with the production process, he started to see how he could make films with minimal harm. His end goal is regenerative filmmaking – where each film puts in more than it extracts.

In 2018, Gripping Films made the first albert certified BBC Natural World programme, Humpback Whales: A Detective Story where they reduced their projected footprint by 40% (down to the level of archive-only shows) following consultation with the crew about how to reduce emissions across all parts of production.

No paper deliverables and no single use batteries, bottles, etc were used by anyone including contributors and local crew. Any post houses we worked with and other vendors also had to have lowered emissions and a green plan.

The film did well and won awards too! Our goal was to break the link between something that looks high production value automatically costing a lot of money and carbon.

— Tom Mustill

The year after Humpback Whales: A Detective Story, Gripping Films made a short film that left quite an impression. The first albert certified viral video, #NatureNow, with Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot.

They also took their Green Memo and sustainability practices up a notch – #NatureNow was carbon neutral (partnering with legit forest protection and regeneration company Mossy.Earth), involved no flights (despite shooting in UK and Sweden), and was made from over 50% recycled footage.

The crew also ate vegan, sustainable energy powered everything, and when transport was needed, electric vehicles were used.

#NatureNow got 80+ million views, won two Webbys among other awards, was played at climate marches and in the UN. The film was released as Creative Commons for others to re-use.

Making #NatureNow convinced me of the link between making editorially independent films and being able to reduce the footprint: When you trust directors to make the film they envision, you empower them and producers to keep the footprint low too.

— Tom Mustill

After the success of #NatureNow, Gripping Films experimented with using no new material at all in an effort to see what could be achieved creatively without shooting new footage.

#ImagineFor1Minute is a 1 minute long fully open sourced film: every frame is either Creative Commons licenced or donated. It went viral, and was played at the UN General Assembly, projected onto the Armadillo building during COP26, won awards and was widely imitated!

#ThankYouSea is a love letter to the ocean, which was fully crowdsourced from twitter quotes, used donated footage, and music from Bicep.

The donated footage was the big surprise for Tom, it was of such high quality it got the crew thinking about what else could be sitting out there on hard drives and has never been seen.

Making #ImagineFor1Minute and #ThankYouSea was terrific fun and hopefully demonstrated that you sometimes buy yourself more creative opportunity by re-using existing stuff, than shooting it all new yourself. Little companies like us making tiny films won’t solve waste in entertainment, but hopefully we’ve shown some of what can be done. My next thought was - How could we change the system?

— Tom Mustill

Changing the system

Tom believes the most important step in wildlife filmmaking that isn’t being taken is the use of  local crews.

This would massively reduce the carbon footprint and would go some way to dealing with the lack of diversity in the industry.

Tom’s concern at the moment is that wildlife television is too profitable, and  indies and broadcasters are holding back from sharing those profits and opportunities. As a result, they are inclined to keep flying crews out to film other people’s wildlife.

How can this be changed? Tom has suggested some solutions.

Tom's potential solutions

‘Open Source’ filmmaking

This would mean sharing equipment, training, learning, footage and resources to reduce waste. What can be learned from Wikipedia? From the food industry?

What’s needed?

  • Support from commissioners and funders – with incentives for taking the environment into account, and structures to help and enable sharing. Mandating use of local crews and kit as priority to reduce flights.
  • Furthermore – local editorial teams for more diverse stories and even lower footprints. Additionally, distribution of financial gains to support a distributed model.

Tom thinks this could hopefully mean making films that reduce environmental harm will be as natural as other parts of the job where productions are careful of their actions: doing risk assessments for shoots, safety training for dangerous equipment and safeguarding checks for working with minors and so on.

Once we've achieved all this, can we tackle the elephant in the room?

Are we overproducing entertainment?

Is there too much? A 'butter mountain' of telly?

Can we 'degrow' our industry while maintaining people's jobs and livelihoods?


— Tom Mustill

Find out more about Gripping Films over at their website.