The Silver Screen Goes Green at USC School of Cinematic Arts

SCA Green Seal
SCA Green Seal

BY Chandrea Miller

“Sustainability is on everybody’s mind,” said Professor Michael Taylor from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “One of the great things about our school is that we prepare our students to be professionals in the industry in every way and this is just one additional skill they need to know which is sustainable filmmaking.”

In the summer of 2020, film studios and television companies from Universal Pictures to HBO approached SCA and other top film schools about the prospect of training students in eco-friendly moviemaking.

Professor Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor, B.A.
Professor of Cinematic Arts
Former Chair, Film & Television Production
Executive Director, Media Institute for Social Change/Photo courtesy SCA

“All the big studios in Hollywood want film students to learn environmental production protocol,” Taylor said. “The studios are doing sustainable filmmaking on their sets and want graduating film students to learn these skills prior to entering the industry.”

Professor Taylor brought this information to Gail Katz when she became the Chair of Film and Television Production for the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Professor Gail Katz
Gail Katz, MBA
Chair, Film & Television Production
Professor of Cinematic Arts
Mary Pickford Endowed Chair/Photo courtesy SCA

“It was a no brainer,” said Katz. “It’s something we be should doing and we decided right then and there that we were going to do whatever we could to try to put these sustainable standards into practice.”

USC and the other founding schools including the American Film Institute (AFI), California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Chapman University, California State University – Long Beach (CSULB), California State University – Northridge (CSUN), Emerson College, Hussian College at LA Center Studios, New York Film Academy (NYFA), New York University (NYU), and the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) teamed up with the Sustainable Production Alliance (SPA) to create the Green Film School Alliance (GFSA).

The GFSA is committed to specific actions aimed at reducing the impact of physical production on the environment and creating industry-level sustainable production standards and best practices for the film schools’ programs and curricula.

Professors Taylor & Katz
SCA Colleagues Michael Taylor and Gail Katz/Photo courtesy Roberto A. Gomez

Cinema Professors Katz and Taylor played an integral role in creating the SCA Green Filmmaking Checklist with the intent to set the standard for green filmmaking.

“The checklist is broken down by production departments,” Taylor said. “If you are a cinematographer, production designer, or art director, you would refer to the checklist to see what kind of practices you could use that would reduce the carbon footprint of film production in your specific department.”

The checklist is paired with a green resource guide that covers where to find nearby recycling plants, food donation centers, charitable organizations and chemical disposal sites throughout Los Angeles County.

In addition, the Cinema school has also created an official SCA Green Seal.

“Having that SCA Green Seal that students can add to the credits in their film will be a motivation for them and it will be an incentive for them,” Taylor said.  “The seal will be really attractive to film festivals because now they’re looking for films that have been made sustainably with the proper environmental practices in mind.”

Professor Katz is quick to point out that the alliance is environmental education in practice.

“It is just another way of educating good filmmakers,” Katz said. “To teach our students that film can model good sustainability behavior and learn to act responsibly in our society in addition to making good film and television—it’s a win-win.”

USC School of Cinematic Arts student Evan Hartney said making sustainable films couldn’t have come at a better time.

Student Evan Hartney doing sound on set
SCA student Evan Hartney/Photo courtesy Evan Hartney

“As a student, it’s often tempting to imagine that combating climate change requires grand gestures and large-scale reforms,” Hartney said. “It’s far too easy to forget the processes we have control over right now and by providing today and tomorrow’s filmmakers with the right tools and guidance, we can not only make a positive step forward for ourselves but for the planet as a whole.”

The Green Film School Alliance founding school members are reaching out to other film schools around the country and around the world to join GFSA in an effort for the betterment of filmmaking and the planet.

“USC is on a mission to do better,” Katz said. “President Folt is leading the way on sustainability throughout our campus and she just hired our first chief sustainability officer. The film industry expects our future filmmakers to be green—it’s simply the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

For more information on the GFSA: