Charles Rivkin Remarks for the Berlinale at Morrison Foerster and MPA event ‘Film Goes Green: Sustainability in Film Production’

February 24, 2020

Charlie Rivkin, Chairman and CEO, The Motion Picture Association.

Remarks for the Berlinale, February 21, 2020

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Christiane, for your kind introduction. It’s great to be back in a city that lives and breathes art and culture.

As a movie lover, I am reminded of the Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire. As I’m sure many of you know, it’s about an angel who watches over mortals, perched on the ramparts of buildings, and walking invisibly through libraries to listen in to their thoughts.

As the story unfolds, he decides he wants to become mortal too. And it’s a tribute to the lure and the mystique of Berlin that you believe such things are entirely plausible. Why wouldn’t an angel want to live in this vibrant city – even if it did mean becoming a mortal?

I am also delighted to return to the Berlinale, which has introduced so many great films to the world; and to return to deliver my remarks at this event a second time.

On Wednesday, I stood with members of the film and television industry to reaffirm our commitment to a sustainable production industry, at the grand Federal Chancellery where so many other important initiatives have been launched. And I was proud to speak on behalf of the member studios that we represent.

I was also proud to stand together with our fellow signatories for those goals, including Minister of State for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, who has done so much to support sustainability in our sector.

But there was something even more compelling about that declaration. And that’s what I’ve come today to talk to you about. It wasn’t just that we stand committed to all 17 U.N. sustainability goals, from Climate Action to Clean Water; from Reduced Inequality to Responsible Consumption and Production, just to name a few.

It’s that we – the members of the film and television industry – have always been drivers of creative and technological innovation. We are uniquely positioned – to tackle almost any challenge, sustainability included. We can really make a difference.

As I stood there, I was reminded of a quote from Edith Wharton. As most of you know, she was the author of books like The Age of Innocence, for which she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. She said: “There are two ways of spreading light. To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

I thought of that quote because we can be both.

As an industry with the storytelling power to move hearts across cultures, and the ability to reach billions around the globe, we can light a powerful candle onscreen.

We can make documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth about climate change, or The End of the Line about the consequences of unregulated sea fishing, or the Planet Earth series which is about all of the above and more.

We can make children’s films about the need for conservation, like Ferngully: The Last Rainforest or The Lorax.

We can make any number of diverse movies for adult audiences – and we have. As far back as 1986, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the future of the planet depended on the ability of the USS Enterprise crew travelling back in time to contact now-extinct humpback whales.

In the 2002 Two Weeks Notice, a romantic comedy which pits Sandra Bullock playing an environmental lawyer who stands up to a real estate developer played by Hugh Grant over a community center in New York City that he has proposed to knock down. And by the way, the building where it was filmed was consequently declared a New York landmark.

Those are the kinds of things we can do in front of the camera. In the stories we tell. In the values of the characters we portray. In the ordeals they have to face. We have done many of these films for some time, from Avatar to Erin Brockovich, from Promised Land to Dark Waters. And of course, we will continue to do so.

But let’s also remember another powerful way that we can help to make positive change: How we operate behind the camera.

How we follow sustainable practices in our studios, in our offices, and in the communities where we shoot.

Where we can mirror in real life what we bring so powerfully to life on the big screen.

Today, I want to talk about some of the things we are doing to embody those principles, from reducing waste to conserving energy, from donating and recycling our sets and costumes to changing the tools and technology we use.

While there is a lot that we have done, and have done for several years, there is always more that we can do. As positive influencers, we must continue to strive for better, and for more.

You could say the commitment of our studios to sustainability really hits home. Their studio lots are in California, where widespread fires and water droughts are daily reminders of the consequences of climate change. Where lawmakers are actively engaged in addressing such core issues as waste management and reducing carbon emissions.

Those lots are miniature cities unto themselves, many with their own gas stations, fire departments and even electricity grids. So they are really careful about their use of resources, from generating their own water supply to maintaining their own propane or natural gas lines on production lots.

In a state so existentially conscious about sustainability, they work to reduce their dependence on their local department of water and power.  And together with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, they have worked on a task force to address resource conservation and reduce solid waste being sent to landfills since the early 1990s.

Just by their very mode of existence, our studios are fulfilling many U.N. goals, from Affordable and Clean Energy to Clean Water and Sanitation; and in an even bigger way, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Every studio is its own entity, and they address these and other challenges in their own different ways. But they recognize that sustainability is no longer an option. It has become integral to the way they do business. They also recognize that working to reduce waste, conserve energy and other important measures aren’t just the right thing to do. They’re the profitable thing to do. They save money! And when they work to reduce their carbon footprint in communities where they shoot their productions, they engender the kind of goodwill that can lead to even more business.

There are many specific examples I could cite from each one of our studios that illustrate their commitment to sustainability. But let me summarize many of the practices that are being widely adopted.

They include:

  • Working to phase out plastic water bottles from productions and production facilities altogether.
  • Building set walls from FSC certified plywood and using only 100 per cent recycled content paper.
  • Reducing red meat served at production catering, and replacing it with other proteins.
  • Donating meals from excess catering to those in need: more than 130,000 meals from our studios in 2019.
  • Transferring set materials such as wardrobe, props, and furniture to other productions – or donating them to more than 150 non-profit organizations in the U.S. last year.
  • Saving energy by using LED lighting, which is up to 85 per cent more efficient than conventional lighting, and emits less heat.

On this last point, I’d like to share some compelling numbers. When Warner Bros. made the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 20 per cent of the lighting they used was LED. When they made the sequel – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – they upped their use of LED lighting to 70 per cent.

Compared to the first film, the second production showed a 21 percent overall electrical reduction on stage per shoot day. Over a 70 day shoot, this ultimately saved the production £27,000.

These measures are tied into several of the U.N. goals, such as Zero Hunger; Responsible Consumption and Production; and Affordable and Clean Energy. And in terms of addressing the bigger picture, some of our studios are also employing in-house green teams, giving our employees the opportunity to identify ways that we can improve what we do. Paramount, for example, has had a 20-person team to do precisely those things since 2012; and they recently added more green teams to its UK and Australia offices.

The bottom line is: our studios recognize that sustainability is business and business is sustainability. And it’s equally important for our companies to cooperate closely on environmental practices with our local partners here in Europe. For example, we are fortunate to have Jimmy Keeping on the panel today, who can talk in greater detail about his work as a coordinator for environmental efforts with Warner Bros Leavesden.

One of the many satisfactions of doing well, as we all know, is being recognized. Without this fundamental human need, we probably wouldn’t have the Academy Awards! The same sentiment holds true for our conduct as environmental stewards. Our industry is proud for the recognition we have received in recent years for our efforts in green and sustainable filmmaking.

All of our studios, including Disney, Sony, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, Warner Bros., and Netflix, have been winners of Gold or Green Seals from the Environmental Media Association – known as EMA.

Last year, for example, 86 per cent of Sony Pictures’ TV and features were given EMA) Green Seals. And to share some more local examples, two recent films shot in Hamburg and coproduced by Warner Bros. were given the Green Shooting Card for following sustainable practices. They were The Golden Glove, which was in the Berlinale lineup last year, and In the Fade which won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film of 2017.

The list of movies that have earned their Gold or Green Seals goes on, from Little Women for protecting and preserving areas surrounding the home of author Louis May Alcott to Dolittle for, among other things, diverting 100 per cent of its set waste from landfill and using biodiesel from used cooking oil to heat their tents.

Downton Abbey, another Green Seal winner, implemented many sustainable production practices, from plumbed in water coolers instead of plastic bottles, to making sure their call sheets, scripts, and production documents were delivered electronically. They reused many of their sets from six previous seasons; and they donated everything from fabrics to flowers to nonprofit organizations.

Here in Berlin, where the Gold-Seal winning TV series Berlin Station was filmed, the production used buses to transport crews to different shooting locations around Europe, including Vienna. All the production cars they did use were hybrids. Assets for this production were ultimately donated to another Paramount Television Studios production – Angel of Darkness – rather than thrown away

It is clear that sustainability has become commonplace in our industry, but it is also clear that we can still do more – and we must.

As a former President and CEO for the Jim Henson Company, I had the pleasure and privilege of working for its founder. And Jim used to say something that has always stayed with me. He said: “Media, if used properly, can be a force for good.” There is no doubt that his beloved creations – the Muppets and the films and TV series they were in – fulfilled that piece of wisdom. They became iconic for generations of children around the world.

The drawing power that we have as an industry around the world is enormous. And few issues could be more compelling than the dangers that climate change poses to all of us. With the stories that we are capable of bringing to the screen and the ways that we conduct ourselves as an industry, we have it in our power to make a difference.

More than 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the book “Democracy in America,” wrote about what he called “the habits of the heart,” which he considered those moral customs, opinions and attitudes that can form the social fabric of life, for better or worse.

Our industry has the ability, the technology, and the power to help influence that social fabric for the better.

To lead by example.

To become the good characters that our movies call on us to be.

To truly reflect the society that we want to be.

And in doing so, we can be both the candle and the mirror.

Thank you.