Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most treasured actors of his generation, not just because of his undeniable talent but because of his relentless campaign for environmental reform. Yet he is a shining example of hypocrisy in the film industry. It’s not just that individual actors have been environmentally reckless; even the way we make films is utterly unsustainable, and needs to change.
DiCaprio is not the only perpetrator of this hypocrisy, but he is a good example. He’s given speeches to the UN about climate change, and posed for selfies with the inspirational Greta Thunberg. However, he’s also been rightly slated for his decision to take a private plane to Google’s Climate Conference of Sicily and his ownership of six residences across Central and Northern America, including his own island off the coast of Beliz.
Yet beyond these obvious hypocrisies, his career also highlights that the way we make films is fundamentally problematic. Take Inception, possibly his most critically and commercially successful film to date. It’s a film I love, mixing heavy concepts with breathtaking action. It is also an environmental nightmare.
It was filmed across six countries in three different continents. If each of those locations required just the primary cast and crew, that would be bad enough. But there’s the cooks, the gaffers, the mobile homes for every major star on set, the make up artists and the countless other people who go into making any modern blockbuster film.
Then there’s press junkets, in which actors and directors travel across every major consumer country to sell their film. Most of these interviews could be done over Skype, but studios are so desperate to sell these films they’re willing to pay for an all-expenses trip across the world to boost the movie’s publicity. That’s a truly staggering amount of pollution in a bid to secure every available scrap of notoriety.
If people like DiCaprio genuinely want to help, they need to put pressure on the film industry to turn towards much more localised filmmaking. They need to pressure studios to hire local actors, local crew members, to film in local locations. If a film requires foreign locations, then directors may have to rely on artificial sets or even CGI. If the BBC can make Wales look like anywhere in the universe for Doctor Who, surely Christopher Nolan can make London look close enough to Berlin.
Undoubtedly, as with any measure, there will be downsides to this. A certain amount of authenticity will be lost when directors can no longer take 200 crew-members to Paris for a single scene. Representation might become more difficult in the short term, especially in communities with low levels of diversity. We may have to reevaluate our entire relationship with stardom when studios can no longer bring in Chris Evans or Antonio Banderas to liven up their indie drama.
But there are advantages to a more local approach too, aside from the obvious plus of not destroying the planet. We might get to see films made outside the hubs of Los Angeles and London, giving a wider variety of filmmakers a voice. Foreign language films will continue to grow in popularity, becoming part of the norm rather than an exception to the American-dominated world of Western cinema. In Britain, we might see more opportunities for working and middle class actors, as studios become increasingly unable to parachute in the latest private school pretty boy to boost sales. It could even undermine the deep-rooted and nauseating nepotism that permeates so much of not just cinema, but the arts in general.
Furthermore, if studios are prevented from resorting to sheer spectacle to win over audiences, they may need to rely on old fashioned devices like characters and themes. We could see the return of successful, intelligent, character driven films and a whole world of new voices that are currently ignored by Hollywood. And, not to overemphasise the point, but there’s the plus side of not destroying the planet just so we can see Tom Cruise try and kill himself in new and exciting places.
Hollywood needs to change. Some of those changes will be difficult, resulting in an end to some the undeniably entertaining blockbusters that we know and love. Yet it could also give a whole new lease of life to indie filmmakers struggling to make waves in the current system, whilst simultaneously ensuring a better, more environmentally sustainable industry. The film industry can no longer get away with just paying lip service to sustainability; it needs to take drastic action if it wants to be part of the solution, and not the problem.
Image: US Department of State via Wikimedia Commons