After more than 10 years of being off the air, Will & Grace returned to NBC in September 2017. But the season 9 premiere brought back more than snappy banter. It featured 80% of the show’s original apartment set from the ’90s sitcom.
“We always try to reuse sets from our canceled shows on our current productions, but the life span of a set tends to be about five years,” says Becky Casey, Vice President of Production Operations at Universal Television. “This was an unusual situation, where the Will & Grace set had been on display at Emerson College in Boston and was still in good condition when the show came back 10 years later.” So instead of building a new set from scratch for the reboot, the production was able to acquire the original set and make some small changes.
“Making the most of the resources we have is important to NBCUniversal and to our filmmakers, producers, and crew,” says Shannon Bart, Sustainability Director at NBCUniversal.
Bart leads the NBCUniversal Sustainable Production Program, which provides our film and television productions with the information and the resources to operate sustainably. The program — backed by the Green is Universal initiative, an effort to bring an environmental perspective to everything we do — focuses on green practices, including waste reduction, responsible sourcing, recycling, and energy efficiency.
The Sustainable Production Program is incorporated into more than 70 productions a year. Because each production is unique, the program begins with a mandatory — and welcome — meeting with the production team. During the meeting, they discuss the production’s specific situation and collaborate to create a plan to lower its environmental impact.
In the nine years that this program has been integrated into NBCUniversal productions, this past year we made exceptional strides in sustainability.
Sets That Keep On Giving
When a film finishes production, many of the sets and materials are stored until closer to the release date. In 2017, the Universal Pictures’ Assets Department was able to donate more than 300 tons of set materials from multiple films to be reused in communities where the films were made. They worked with local groups to donate the materials to schools, theaters, nonprofits, individuals, and other productions.
“Our team is deeply committed to integrating sustainable production practices wherever we can,” says Jeff LaPlante, President of Physical Production at Universal Pictures. “It’s rewarding to see materials from a movie set reused by communities long after a production wraps.”
Casey’s L.A. Television Asset Center, part of the NBCUniversal Asset Management Program, works with 60 to 70 productions, pilots, and businesses every year to provide them with sets, props, clothing, set decor, construction materials, and furniture from completed productions all over the United States and Canada.
Given the success of the L.A. Center, another asset center was opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2011. In 2016, Casey’s team opened an asset center in New York City that was expanded in February 2018.
But Where Does All the Food Go?
NBCUniversal film and television productions have been donating excess food for nearly a decade. In 2017, the Sustainability Team worked to navigate local food donation laws in Chicago and the United Kingdom to grow our food donation program. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was one of the first U.K. productions across the major studios to donate excess catering food to local Londoners in need.
Even at home on the Universal Studios Lot — which comprises nearly 400 acres and more than 30 soundstages and television studios — we’re working to strengthen and be creative with our food donation efforts.
The show Superstore, a sitcom with a set full of fresh produce, canned goods, and more, works with local nonprofit partners to donate the food to hungry people in Los Angeles.
Overall in 2017, 48 of our productions in 12 cities donated over 34,700 pounds of excess food — approximately 28,900 meals — to feed the hungry.
Shining a Light on Energy Savings
Many of our film and television shows are produced on the Universal Studios Lot. NBCUniversal continues to invest in new technologies, such as LED lighting, to lower our environmental impact.
In 2017, LED set lighting made up an average of 45% of the lighting packages for scripted NBCUniversal TV productions on the Lot, quadruple the amount used only four years prior. We also launched a new line of LED lights called NBCUniversal LightBlade. LightBlade is available for TV and film productions in our regional facilities in Albuquerque, Chicago, and Atlanta. NBCUniversal LightBlade services the New York and Louisiana markets as well as international facilities in London, Vancouver, and Toronto.
LED lighting systems help productions reduce their carbon footprint. Compared with conventional production lighting, LED uses up to 70% less power, generates less heat, and emits less carbon dioxide. Importantly, it also benefits our productions by enabling two crucial things: creativity and efficiency.
“Advancements in LED system technology are allowing greater capabilities in production lighting, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that movement,” says Jamie Crosbie, Vice President of Studio Services at NBCUniversal.
Sharing in the Future
NBCUniversal consistently takes a hard look at how we can make our internal sustainability processes better and continue to lead the film and television industry in sustainable productions. We were honored to receive 35 Green and Gold Seals at the 27th annual Environmental Media Association Awards — the most of any studio. But a beautiful thing about the industry is that the people who work in it collaborate across productions and studios.
“In my experience, whether someone works at a studio or as an extra, people want to make their world a better place,” Bart says.
NBCUniversal is a founding member of the Green Production Guide, a resource that helps filmmakers find sustainable products and services and that provides a sustainable production toolkit to get started. Additionally, we are part of a studio sustainability group within the Producers Guild of America that shares best practices and resources across the industry. We’ve learned that in the field of sustainability, more can be accomplished at a faster rate when we all work together.