Producer Kathleen Courtney has always been aware of the environment. But bringing this knowledge to the realm of her work practise from her personal interests -and in a meaningful way- was not always seemingly easy. When first faced with the idea of going green for her business practise, she was regarding the shift as a major intrusion and strain on business. Her tune has since changed, and as current Chair of the Producers Guild of America’s Green initiative, her way of thinking has now become: “how could anybody not do this?” . So, what happened in between? And how does she serve in her role as head of Hollywood’s oldest (since1962), and largest ( with 6000 professional members) working association’s sustainability initiative?
With an extensive Hollywood based resume, Kathleen has enjoyed working as Producer, Production Manager or EVP of Production on such feature films as Bowfinger, The Score, Daredevil, Law Abiding Citizen and Lucky You, among others. Her most recent film, The Boy Next Door, features Jennifer Lopez and is due out in 2015.
As a part of an industry with overwhelming consumption habits however, Kathleen has now set out to communicate the idea that we have responsibilities as inhabitants of a living planet which currently faces great challenges. To Kathleen, these responsibilities are heavily weighted in the film industry, as it’s product has direct and profound impacts on both society and culture.
Now in her fourth term on the Board of Directors of the PGA, Kathleen is currently the Chair of the PGA Green Committee West. In this role, she helped to launch PGAgreen.org and GreenProductionGuide.com. She is also a founding member of the entertainment industry’s Green Production Alliance; having been elected to it’s first steering committee.
Though she has become an undoubtedly prominent leader within sustainable film making in Hollywood, Kathleen credits other sustainable film makers as those whom set the effective example for her to follow, in the face of challenge.
PGA + PGA Green
It was Fred Baron, of Twentieth Century Fox who clarified for PGA, its’ potential as the established and independent party that could take green film making in Hollywood to the next level.
Identifying a need for a coalition to communicate between the studios was key to the inception of PGA’s Green side. Film professional’s needed to be able to go from set to set, with productions all being united under the same idea of bringing sustainability to the film making practise.
After its inception in 2008, PGA Green’s standing and recognition as a leading sustainability platform within the production industry was solidified. Environmental executives at each of Hollywood’s six main studios (Disney, DreamWorks Studios, 20th Century Fox, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros.,), asked PGA Green to take the lead and to create an accessible online platform for sustainable film makers. It was this studio based request, seed funding, and support , which saw the Green Production Guide ( in which we are also listed!) come into fruition.
PGA Green has been able to develop and evolve to incorporate both East and West divisions, in order to cater to the diverse and vast array of film making hotspots within the US. The studios who supported the initiative at the start, continue to support it to this day.
The Green Production Guide
The Green Production Guide ( to which Kathleen played a very active role in assembling and coordinating), acts as a new resource for film, television and commercial professionals looking to turn their productions green. The online guide includes a compiled PGA Green ‘Unified Best Practices Guide’, which details best practices for sustainable film and television productions; there are different sections for each department and phase of shooting.
The Guide also provides a free downloadable Carbon Calculator for use on-set, as well as a most successful “Green Vendor Guide” which features nearly 2,000 companies providing sustainable and energy saving products and services to film, television and commercial productions. The Green Production Guide even includes a free and downloadable app for your mobile phone.
Though spearheaded by the big production studios, Kathleen highlights the way in which the guide aims to be diverse and inclusive; it extends an invitation to anyone and everyone outside of Hollywood to be a part. Any relevant businesses ( from catering, to re-purpose shops) can apply to get listed in the guide by way of the simple online application. Kathleen also highlights however , PGA’s efforts to avoid mixing in with any initiatives that may be prone to “green washing” in the process. Providing authentically sustainable resources is of the utmost importance to PGA Green, and PGA employees vet vendors before they can be shared and featured in the guide.
Troubleshooting & Outcomes
In Kathleen’s opinion, the challenges faced on behalf of film makers wanting to go sustainable, are greater for independents who have less resource to work with and less ‘wiggle room’ so to speak. Courtney knows this better than anyone, as she has first hand experience in trying to go green on lower budget films. What is easier to implement on a 30-90 million dollar budget film she explains, can be far more difficult for a 4 million dollar budget film because as she says, crew on these smaller sets “just dont have time”. The challenges for these sets lie in making the film under its designated budget. If it has been difficult for Kathleen as a sustainable film maker to go green, chances are that it will be difficult for others too.
It is this understanding and experience which has enlightened Kathleen not to judge people but rather encourage them to do what they can on set, by way of determination and passion. Kathleen suggests that such tough scenarios are not lost causes, and that the idea of sustainable film making can still be encouraged on these sets in less formal ways. Instead of a typical dine-in staff social, why not host a beach clean up day, or day of tree planting instead? This can boost morale and raise awareness in the face of production limitations. And plus, it feels good to do good. Generating and sharing such environmentally conscious events only strengthens the experience, and workplace relationships too.
Another challenge for PGA Green in Kathleen’s mind, has been to get sets to actually use the carbon calculator they provide: “Its there and its free, but getting accountants to use it can be where the greatest challenge for change lies”, she says. Though sustainability has gotten exponentially cheaper since the inception of PGA green , not all film makers know this or have access to the effectual knowledge.
In response, PGA Green has launched a series of “Saving Green by Going Green” seminars which effectively marry ideas of saving for the environment, with saving money for your set. This is one way that PGA Green attempts to spread the word, and equip industry professionals with the knowledge necessary to understand why using a carbon calculator can actually save for their set in many ways.
Regardless of the financial implications of being supported by the six big studios of Hollywood, Kathleen points out the fact that most of what she does along with creation of the Green Production Guide, has been volunteer based. In effect, PGA Green partners with students in environmental studies programs; students have an opportunity to learn about and build on sustainability in a real setting, while PGA Green is also able to blossom in the process. Kathleen understands that young people have an advantage: “they are seeing the damage and jaw dropping state of the environment at the beginning of their careers. They have an added advantage of knowing that they must respond.”
Growing Greener for the Future
In 2014, PGA Green is reaching for larger scale engagement of the industry: “Market, Advertise, educate”, and will continue to develop the “Save Green by Being Green” seminars.
PGA Green would also like to focus on strengthening different national film industry areas, beginning with the addition of PGA Green North West to add to the current roster of PGA Green East, and PGA Green West.
They would also like to explore the possibility of connecting the Environmental Protection Agency with the studios, to see how EPA programs can be instituted on film productions.
For the future, Kathleen aims to find more ways of communicating sustainable ideas that can further engage industry professionals and audiences. She cites a need to break through to the hearts and minds of people, before being able to change dominant practise along with consumptive production habits. A sentiment, that now applies to both her personal environmental interests, and green business practice too.