Case Studies Of Green Choices
Reusing scenery is another option in contributing to a more eco-friendly production environment. In episodic television, there are usually three to five standing sets for a show with up to another half-dozen swing sets a week. That generates an enormous amount of scenery, a huge library of walls, windows and doors to reconfigure rethink, and reuse. Part of the design process then becomes solving the puzzle of reusing existing units discretely and effectively. This saves money, time, and resources.
Renting vs. building new is a consideration for temporary projects, too. Can you rent a staircase or fireplace or other architectural elements? Can you rent stained glass windows from a prop house or antiques store? Renting may even lead to a later sale. For Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, we initially rented assorted old stools from antiques stores for the Roots, the house band. Then we figured out what they were comfortable with, narrowed our search, and finally bought the used stools we wanted.
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon follows NBC’s Green is Universal mandate, so it’s a very green show. Most of the windows and doors are salvaged; we used low VOC paint on the sets; the audience seats were reclaimed from Radio City Music Hall and steam cleaned; the interview area has sustainably-raised bamboo flooring; and the interview chair and sofa are sustainably built. I’m designing dressing rooms now that will feature a lot of used furniture.
When I designed Stephen Colbert’s Christmas Special last year, we built minimally.We rented flats, used recycled doors and windows, and furnished his winter cabin set from local antiques stores. I didn’t have a green mandate for his show, but I try to incorporate these principles whenever I can.
For Real World: Brooklyn, we found a wonderful design company in Brooklyn called Wonk and commissioned different bedroom sets from them. They created sculptural beds from bamboo that click together like puzzle pieces. And a number of chairs, benches and stools on the show were made of seat-belt webbing by a vendor in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. It’s wonderful to forge new relationships with local companies.
Maximizing Green Follow Through
There are ways to extend green practices beyond the production design department, too. Lighting designer Christopher Landy, my partner in Vibrant Design, worked on Jimmy Fallon’s show with me. He uses LED fixtures on everything now: They’re low heat, low power and offer a wide range of colors. LEDs are more expensive to use, and he sometimes has to fight to use them, but you can do the metrics to show that in the end the production will save on lamps, electrical consumption, and expendables.
A script department typically generates a lot of paper. To reduce the amount of paper, we encourage them to email us scripts; if there’s any way to get material electronically, we’d prefer it.
Transportation may even be urged to go green. I understand that many Teamsters in town have switched their fleets to biodiesel fuel. You can always bring up these kinds of things in meetings, put a bug in someone’s ear, and if you can show them how it will save them money, they’ll do it.
After a show is over, there’s usually a huge sale of furniture and set dressing or productions donate items to other shows, school drama departments, or summer stock companies. The proceeds from the sale often make a big difference if you’re working on a shoestring budget, and donations mean you’re not paying for waste disposal.
There are reasonable options for disposal of paint and other materials, too. You might even find construction shops willing to handle that. Part of Showman Fabricators’ contract with Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is eco-friendly disposal of what’s left when the show ends. It’s part of the company’s sales pitch, a value-added service that’s an extra expense to them but generates a lot of good will.
Green production design is neither as easy nor as hard as you might think. It’s not as easy because the higher upfront costs mean more research and legwork for the designer and more convincing the client of the advantages of going green. And it’s not as hard because there are a lot more sources that can help get you where you want to go.
Right now, the biggest step each of us can take is to simply think about green design and ask ourselves, “Is there a more environmentally-friendly way we can do this? when we start a new job.
Ellen Wagget has extensive network television credits most recently designing the hip, colorful set for MTV’s The Real World: Brooklyn and co-designing NBC’s new Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She was production designer on ABC’s Hope & Faith from 2004-2006 and art director on the first season of FX’s Damages; she won an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Art Direction in 2004 for her work on the NBC series, Whoopi. Waggett also served as production designer on Stephen Colbert’s A Colbert Christmas, Food Network’s Chopped, Worst Cook, and Food Detectives and the second season of Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. Visit www.vibrantdesign.tv.