Usually, when ‘green’ is mentioned in the context of video producing, we tend to think of a chroma key shot using a green screen. It is rare to think of green or sustainable video production. This is an unusual topic lacking innovation, contemplation or best practices. There are by-products for most human pursuits, and video production is no exception. Currently, movie production has perhaps the lightest environmental impact compared to any point in its short history.

Back when all moving pictures required media, the concept of being sustainable was greatly complicated by the raw materials needed to manufacture and process movies. It all started in the early 1900s when pioneers like Thomas Edison began making moving pictures that were carried on celluloid film. This required acids, silver and a host of other chemicals to manufacture and process. After the processed film was edited, a multitude of duplicates were required for distribution around the globe.

When television came along the viewing was live. While not an exact replacement for film, live TV was good for things like game shows, sporting events and theatrical presentations. Videotape was invented in the 1950s as the first recordable media for TV, which gave TV producers similar capabilities for storytelling as film producers. But the videotape was a ‘greener’ medium because it is more durable, reusable and doesn’t require chemical processing just to record or view it. Being an electronic medium, TV programs are broadcast to screens worldwide rather than distributed in a molecular fashion like film. TV was more sustainable, having a lessened impact upon the environment. However, millions of TV sets were required for the audience to view the videos. TV sets presented a new set of challenges to a sustainable moving picture system.

When consumer videotape players (VCRs) came along in the 1970s, it gave more choice and power to the viewer, but this had a new environmental impact because each VCR required a videotape cassette for viewing. Landfills and dumps of the world have thousands of tons of discarded film and videotape. Then came DVD which required somewhat less chemicals and other raw materials, and takes up less space.

The delivery of video content via the Internet has had the most profound effect on the sustainability of our moving picture distribution system. Coupled with flash-based camcorders, the notion of disposable media has changed the volume and the composition of the refuse flowing from the moving picture distribution system. Even some movie theaters now use flash media to distribute movies.

What exactly should we do with a perfectly operational camcorder or video player that has become antiquated just a few years after it was manufactured? While the media consumption has been nearly eliminated, the consumption of the equipment is now our biggest challenge.

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