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Tech's role in greening show biz

NEW YORK - Confession: I went to the "Greening Show Biz" session at last week's BSR Conference 2010 as sort of a guilty pleasure because I'm a closet paparazza. Didn't know what to expect, but was gratified to discover there actually was an angle for this blog.
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

NEW YORK - Confession: I went to the "Greening Show Biz" session at last week's BSR Conference 2010 as sort of a guilty pleasure because I'm a closet paparazza. Didn't know what to expect, but was gratified to discover there actually was an angle for this blog. Because it turns out that technology has a leading role to play when it comes to green business practices for television programming and feature film productions, alike.

There is a virtuous intersection between some of the digital visualization and production technologies that are already finding their way onto production sets and working toward a better planet. "A lot of what we are talking about is change management," says Meredith Bergmann, principal for Green Media Solutions, which is a consulting firm that focuses on sustainability business strategies for the entertainment industry. "People need to understand the rationale, and everyone needs to participate."

So, here's one simple example of a technology that matters: LED lighting.

For various aesthetic reasons, the industry has avoided the LED lighting movement because the hues cast by previous technologies were very green-ish, according to Bergmann. But, truth be told, the lighting on any kind of production set is extremely energy-intense. New color rendering technologies that are emerging (Cree offers one example) could address this problem. And, oh by the way, it turns out that these new technologies are not only more energy-friendly -- using sometimes up to 70 percent less electricity -- but lighting designers can change the colors for the mood more easily, simply by programming them instead of crawling around and changing the gels over the light source. "Now you can just program in a lighting color," Bergmann says.

Another technology that could offer major environmental benefits is the idea of the smart stage, says Beth Colleton, vice president of the "Green is Universal"/Sustainability program for NBC Universal. One of the most carbon-intensive activities in the entertainment industry is one of its most important, the production set. Sets are built up and turn down habitually all the time. People travel "on location" to major cities around the world. All of these activities aren't just inefficient, they aren't that great for the environment. But what if you could create a virtual set digitally that could be used as appropriate, notes Colleton. This is sort of an extension of the green screen concept, where actors are filmed separately of the backgrounds and then added later in the editing phase. More and more sets may become virtual over time, Colleton suggests. "The relevant solutions will come out of the industry," she says.

Another example is the editing process itself. Earlier this year, I wrote about an example using cloud technology and the editing of Despicable Me. According to Colleton, by allowing editors to do the work from around the world and by using centralized cloud computing capacity, the production team was able to cut energy use by almost half.

Where else might technology be harnessed on behalf of the environment? Here's a big one: theme parks.

Think about all the electricity used to run those massive rides. Now, think about what happens at night, when the lines are all gone. By using power management software, Colleton says theme parks may be able to reduce their electricity usage by up to 40 percent. "Technology allows people to say 'things are possible', " Colleton says.

Finally, entertainment also has a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) role to play as role model. You're probably sick of hearing about all the green celebrities in the world. And, certainly, no one is going to stop watching a program or a movie because there isn't some sort of advocacy message. But the dialogue already going on in society needs to and should be translated into the dialogue of the big and little screen. "We can talk to them where they are already consuming entertainment," Colleton says.

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