As Scene on TV
Materials from commercials find a repurpose in life with the help of EcoSet.
By Stan Friedman
In 2010, Kristina Wong was putting together her one-woman show, Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an exploration of the high rate of depression among Asian American women. Knitting was a central metaphor in the show, a visual representation of unraveling. At the same time, Target, the department store mega-giant, had just finished production of a TV commercial that had been filmed in a colorful field of huge yarn balls. How those yarn balls bounced from a 30-second spot to the set of Ms. Wong’s touring stage production is a tale that would not have been possible without the work of a company called EcoSet.
Based in Los Angeles with a fulltime staff of five, and boasting a large roster of freelance crew members in both L.A. and New York, EcoSet works to instill environmental responsibility before, during and after commercial shoots. Since their beginnings in 2008, their zero-waste initiatives have included redistributing more than 220 tons of material to theater companies, film students, artists and nonprofits at no cost to the recipients. In California there were clothes hangers for the costume department at the Burbank Community Theater, sheets and plates for the Good Shepherd Center for homeless women and children, as well as crates of apples to feed the reptiles at Star Eco Station, an environmental science center in Culver City. New York organizations that have benefited include Covenant House, Materials for the Arts and the Bowery Mission, as well as those highlighted in the chart below:
Courtesy of EcoSet
In addition to Target, who has now partnered with EcoSet in over 170 shoots, other heavy hitters who have utilized EcoSet’s eco-consultancy and waste management services include Honda, Campbell’s Soup, Subaru, Old Navy, Samsung and Microsoft. When materials are not suitable for redistribution, they are recycled with the help of localized haulers and recyclers – over 170 tons worth to date. Leftover food from catering is donated or composted. Water refilling stations and stainless-steel water bottles for crew workers eliminate the need for plastics (Subaru estimates that, over the course of 7 shoots, they avoided the purchase of 6,000 plastic bottles.), and they have led the charge for the use of solar hybrid trailers in place of those that use standard fuel burning generators.
The clearing house for much of EcoSet’s West Coast distribution is a large warehouse located a few blocks from Forest Lawn Cemetery. They call it the Materials Oasis. As exhibited in their Facebook photo gallery, the space is brimming with donated walls, doors, tires, paint, giant crayons, Christmas decorations and artificial plants.
As the Oasis photos show, EcoSet definitely has many a wall unit and wooden doorframe, but it should also be noted that they clearly have no glass ceiling. The company was founded in Minnesota by Shannon Bart, who shortly thereafter moved on to become the Sustainable Production Manager at NBCUniversal. Since 2012, Kris Barberg has been the firm’s Executive Director. Kris began her career as a videographer and editor, then became a freelancer for ten years in commercials and features on the West Coast. Amy Hammes is Kris’ Business and Community Engagement Director and self-proclaimed “Waste Warrior.” And Jamie Bullock, their former production supervisor in LA, came to New York in December and now oversees all East Coast projects.
Today, these leaders and their crews know that their work is cut out for them. According to the industry publication SHOOT, more than 8 million pounds of waste are discarded annually from commercial productions in Los Angeles alone, with a typical shoot generating 500 – 1,000 pounds of waste per day. And looking beyond the ad world, the Producers Guild of America has reported that a single motion picture can generate 275 tons of set debris and 70 tons of food waste.
Interested in joining the EcoSet cause? L.A. based folks with film production experience are invited to apply for on-set freelance here. Have materials to donate? You can become a donation partner by signing up here. EcoSet also has a free email alert system that lets participants know about upcoming available items. To request to be added to the list, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Sign me up for EcoSet’s Free Alerts.