by Els Rientjes
It is mid-May 2019 and I’m in a meeting with executive producer Marjon van Welzen and production manager Diana van Wegen at production company Blazhoffski. It’s two weeks until their first shooting day of a major new drama series. More than 80 shooting days are planned between June 1st and the end of November for a series that is ambitious in appearance, but low in budget. On the wall of their office is a series of portraits of the cast. Largely young faces, with a few open spots where negotiations are still under way.
Blazhoffski has stated they want to make sustainable production a habit, which is why Green Film Making has this discussion with the heart of this production.
I am greeted enthusiastically and we go through the whole design of the series, on which I can give direct feedback and tips and write a report they can use right away. I offer to negotiate with the caterer in particular, since their setup really requires a creative caterer for whom nothing is too much and who has sustainable cooking already in the genes.
During several phone calls afterwards I learn that the right caterer has been found. And by some stroke of luck, she also has the perfect spot for the main location of the series. A house in a beautiful rural area, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, where the central couple of the series can have their house. In the first few weeks, they test how much waste the crew produces on an average shooting day. Is it worth it to separate waste? Marjon mentions a maximum of half a bin bag per shooting day, because the caterer cooks from her home on location and also does the dishes there. With this little volume it doesn’t pay to separate waste further on the set.
Production has informed the crew and cast in advance about the series’ ambition to shoot as sustainably as possible. We are lucky, this is received enthusiastically. Many crew members only work digitally already. A few people still like to receive printouts in order to make notes, and this is taken care of. Transport is combined as much as possible and many people come by bicycle.
Production tells me our first meeting really helped them to prepare differently and with the tips they knew quickly what to focus on. And a lot is working out. With a small budget, you naturally work more sustainably. Locations were all found in and around Amsterdam, so that movements take little time and people can travel on their bikes as much as possible.
On the morning of October 2nd Green Film Making visits the set and does some interviews with a number of crew members. It is sunny with the occasional shower. So we start the day with a beautiful rainbow and swarms of starlings in the air looking for flies. It’s really the countryside and so to visit is no punishment. They are already in full swing. Now about halfway into the production, they have found a routine and work as efficiently as possible.
We meet the caterer and an over-enthusiastic sound engineer, who both work hard to make sustainable production a success until the last shooting day. Caterer Margot has bought a mountain of old-fashioned cups and mugs in a thrift shop and washes the dirty dishes herself every day. Everyone now has a favourite mug and I recognise the cups from my mother’s old china cabinet at home. Everyone has also received a re-usable water bottle, on which their name is written on tape. And it works!!
Margot cooks from her own kitchen every day and brings everything to the set with her canary-yellow car. She puts everything in crates and always brings an empty laundry basket, in which she collects the dirty dishes. Leftovers are creatively reworked into a new dish. “That’s what makes my work so much fun,” says Margot. Today we shoot at her home. So there is also delicious coffee. Most produce comes fresh from suppliers in her neighbourhood. And luckily, waste is separated at her house, in the small kitchen and outside in larger containers. Three out of four shooting days per week she cooks vegetarian and on the fourth day there is meat or fish. And no one has complained yet.
The sound engineer, Marcel, is a supporter of sustainable production of the first hour. He comes by bicycle as much as possible and transports his equipment in a self-made crate this way. His batteries are always rechargeable. “That is easy now, because unlike in the past, I no longer have to change often because batteries draining quickly. Charging is a standard thing in the evening at home.”
The cameraman shoots as much as possible with LED or with available light. This also saves time in preparing the set. And at the breakdown meeting everyone was asked to make their contribution as sustainably as possible.
Marjon, the Executive Producer, is very honest and says that they have miscalculated the time it takes to prepare a series like this. That is really a lesson. The number of people on set is also slightly higher compared to the first shooting day. Some crew members had double tasks that proved to be difficult to combine. Everyone waiting around and losing time is more expensive than an extra crew member on set. Set dresser is now a separate job and is no longer combined with data handling. And an extra production runner also proved necessary. With such a long schedule, the production manager has to prepare too much in the office to do many things on set herself.
The atmosphere on the set is concentrated and good. The production is now a well-oiled machine, and the chaos of the first few weeks is a thing of the past. That, on the other hand, is an advantage of such a long shoot. Another thing that needed to be adjusted was the overly optimistic idea that the cast could use their own private wardrobe. A stylist turned out not to be a luxury. But of course, second hand clothing was considered so not everything had to be bought new.
A final question for Marjon before we leave the set is about what she would do differently in the next series. Is it possible to make an extra step? The answer is: “Yes, it’s definitely possible and I would start earlier. Then there is more time to make smarter combinations. Now we have been lucky to find the home of this great caterer as the main location. That has been a real gift. And I would like to be supported by Green Film Making again. I don’t always have the time to do research into better materials and resources and it’s really motivating for us to get that through you.”
With this feather in my cap I step out the door. How wonderful to be shortly on set again. And so nice to know that so much has been achieved with this production. Now, at the beginning of 2020, the editing has been done and they are waiting for a time slot at NPO3. We are looking forward to it!!