Posted on 19th August 2022

Abundance: A Story of Sustainability (Part 1)

The Abundance Film is a new production company which is walking the walk, or rather, running when it comes to filmmaking with a sustainable mindset.

The Abundance Film’s first production, a documentary called ‘Abundance: The Story of Us’ will explore Western society’s disconnected and exploitative relationship with nature, and aims to challenge this relationship with insights and wisdom from a diverse range of figures, from storytellers to scientists, poets to Indigenous leaders. Overseas shooting locations include Bhutan and the Philippines, and emphasis has been placed on using archive footage when available. 

The Abundance Film doesn’t only want to implement the sustainable practices of the present, but wants to be at the forefront of new initiatives and advances in green working practices in the filmmaking industries, such as ‘Open Sourcing’

With ‘Abundance: The Story of Us’, this began with a green memo to highlight to staff the sustainability measures which will be implemented and how they can be part of them. The full memo can be viewed here, highlights include: 

  • Everyone working on a production will attend albert training 
  • A predicted carbon footprint for each production will be generated and shared with the team for reference 
  • The production team will keep a detailed log of all travel, hotels, energy consumption, materials used, waste management and so on during the production so they can reassess their actions throughout the production. 
  • A ‘Think Sustainability’ Newsletter will be sent every week with relevant stories, case studies, and tips. 
  • Explanations of how footprints will be reduced in key production areas such as accommodation, energy management, supplier/vendor use etc. 

The green memo also made sure questions were asked about how value could be added for local communities when shooting on location. 

  • Are we giving back to the communities we are visiting? 
  • Are there continuing elements of the story whereby leaving a camera and training someone can negate the requirement for extending the shoot/returning?
  • Can we allow local community members to shadow the crew? Can we offer the crew the opportunity to stay there on holiday at the end of it? 

The production office was set up with the same sustainability considerations as the shoot, going paperless, running on renewable energy, and so on. Additionally, all furniture in the office was either second hand or saved from landfill.   

A breakdown of Abundance: The Story of Us's pre-production carbon footprint. All logs from staff travel, office operations and shoot travel fed into one spreadsheet to create these graphs (click to expand)

A breakdown of Abundance: The Story of Us's pre-production carbon footprint. All logs from staff travel, office operations and shoot travel fed into one spreadsheet to create these graphs (click to expand)

Sustainability has to be a team effort, especially when the goals are more ambitious than most, and so the editorial team was consulted from the start. Georgia Hall, Senior Production Coordinator, ran through each scenario with editorial. They would say ‘This is the sequence we want to create’, and Georgia and the team would look at the options and ask questions. Is there archive? Do we need to go to that location? Is it editorially important for that to be in? Can they come to us or do we go to them?  

A lot of this decision-making can be seen in The Abundance Film’s Flight Decision Chart (see image). The team found the simple visuals and easily understandable thought process made for great engagement. A full environmental impact assessment for the shoots in Bhutan and the Philippines were conducted using a template which originated from Offspring Films and shared via the Filmmakers For Future: Wildlife (FF:W) network.  FF:W aims to encourage collaboration across the industry on ways to reduce our carbon footprint, make more impactful content and give back to the people and places we film.

When flights were needed, the team looked at all the options to get UK crew (and any essential equipment) overseas and then to the specific shooting locations. Every scenario’s ‘carbon cost’ was calculated. In the end, only two UK crew members with 50 kilos of excess baggage were flown out to the Philippines then onto Bhutan saving the production roughly 36 tonnes of CO2 for the two shoots. This is compared to sending a crew of 6 people and 250 kilos of excess baggage, which would have been the case if local crew and local equipment weren’t used. 

All of our resources and documents are open source; we’re not worried about sharing. The biggest point we want to highlight is that thinking about and implementing these practices isn’t as much work as one might think it is. It’s a tiny bit more – you just have to be organised and proactive. The knock-on effects are exponential!

— Cherry Dorett - Head of Production, The Abundance Film

Using local crew for any overseas shooting was heavily encouraged, and when the team were scouting for local production companies, suppliers and fixers, many found it refreshing to be asked about their sustainability practices/credentials, and were very receptive and felt they and their country were being treated with respect. 

Local crew use was one of the biggest wins of the shoot, alongside the reduction in emissions, it also gives local crews leverage to be used when future productions come to their country, and empowers them to suggest sustainable practices to those productions. Their perspectives on the editorial content of the film were also an asset. 

This concludes part one of a three-part case study. Keep your eyes peeled for part two, where we’ll focus in on how sustainable practices were implemented on location and expand on the advantages of using local crew…