Where Girl Power Matters: Greening Film Production
In 2015, the Film4Climate (the climate change communications program) established universal guidelines for greening film production, strongly advocating for the adoption of industry-wide incentives that encourage the reduction of carbon emissions, the recycling of sets and location waste, and the promotion of environmental literacy. These guidelines have been fully embraced by the Hungarian production company Pioneer, led by 3 women.
One of the ladies, Ildiko Kemeny, went to the National Film School in London, did a 4-year producing course, shot her first short film followed by her first feature film, and when the Hungarian tax credit was introduced, she got bombarded by her UK friends with projects for Budapest. She started looking for partners in her native Hungary and found Pioneer, a company producing commercials run by women. Pioneer was looking to enter feature film production services and Ildiko realized that the girls running the company had all she could relate to: a professional attitude, fast execution, clean presentation, not wasting words or money, and a commitment to a green environment. Ildiko jumped in and the ‘female setup’ paid off very well. Over the past 16 years, the Pioneer girls have become close friends as well as good business partners. We spoke with Ildiko via Zoom as she was shuttling between three sets in and around Budapest.
Protecting the environment is a cause very close to your heart. The German film industry is a leading European force of this movement: at the beginning of 2022, it introduced the “Green Motion” label awarded to productions complying with the requirements. How do you go green on a movie set in Hungary?
As it’s clearly stated in our mission statement, Pioneer is committed to enhancing environmental measures to further establish sustainable productions. We have recently become a proud partner of the Green the Bid organization to continue to support this movement. The ultimate goal is to shift our industry to zero-waste, carbon-neutral, sustainable and regenerative practices. Regardless of the financing, we always have room in the budget for sustainability consultants, such as Green Eyes (another female initiative by two bright young graduates) or a green steward, to make sure that we’re as green on set and in our production offices as possible. They help us keep an eye on recycling paper, plastic, and food; making sure that transport is used economically, which has been a nightmare during Covid with the limitation of so many fitting in the minivans; promoting the use of as many electric cars as possible, given that every studio now has electric chargers. Green Eyes help us work with all departments and promote a green mentality, including our production crew, construction companies, location management efforts, costume rentals, and catering companies, just to list those where the most changes are needed. They help us keep an eye on recycling paper, plastic, and food, waste management, compostable packaging for all crew catering, energy management, and productions to achieve carbon neutrality. Let me give you a few examples: for instance, when we go on location in Budapest or any other city, the residents always have an issue with us. In most cases, rightfully so. We’re noisy, messy, polluting, obstructing traffic, and creating turmoil when they want to sleep. We have to make sure that we’re friends with the locals. So, I always sit down with our locations team to brainstorm how we can help the district and areas in which we are filming. We now rent and use new, greener-type generators that plug into electricity. They’re much less noisy and not as smelly as the old ones. Even if they’re more costly, they’re worth it. If it takes to create a flower bed for a couple of old ladies who’re complaining about us killing the grass, we’re happy to build it for them. Because, in the end, it all goes back to the green mentality we’d like to promote. It’s, after all, about living together and saving our human and green environment for all of us. Whilst we are working with financiers like Disney, Amazon, Sony, Netflix, BBC, NBC with green commitment goals, we aim to make sure that we adopt and add whatever we can within our local possibilities, whilst following their sustainability guidelines. We aim to become a Green Leader in production in Hungary and set a standard for everyone to follow since we can only achieve this together.
When you started there were some tax breaks but very limited studio facilities in Hungary. What can you tell me about that evolution?
Luckily, at that time we attracted independent films that were mostly interested in locations. With my creative eye, I was very happy to be casting locations. That’s where we became part of the creative production process. Budapest was very rarely cast as Budapest. It was used as France, Germany, Russia, even America. During this process, we grew to become partners with major Hollywood studios. by which time the state-of-the-art sound stages (Korda, and Origo) became available. Yet, our first studio picture, The Debt, or Miramax, was completely shot on location. Even Fox’s Red Sparrow was shot 98% on location.
It’s three women heading your company and you make it a point to support female professionals as much as you can. Is this reflected in your hires?
Absolutely! By nature, female crews and filmmakers feel very much at home with us. But when it comes to hiring, we want the best professionals regardless of gender. Yet, somehow, we always end up with a higher ratio of female hires than other production service companies.
And how is it reflected in the pay? Do women make less, or equal money compared to their male counterparts in the industry?
It’s completely equal. We’re running the below-the-line budget and there’s a rate card to follow but, since we don’t have unions in Hungary, in accordance with other companies we try to keep a lid on the fees and adjust the pay raise on an annual basis. If I look at the big picture, we have female and male line producers, unit managers, assistant directors, accountants, grips, set dressers, and on and on. Female or male, they get the same amount in each role.
What about skilled professionals such as ADs, makeup and hair stylists, set decorators that the production doesn’t bring from abroad? Are they mostly female or male?
On one of our ongoing American TV series, the first and second ADs are all Hungarians: two are men, two are women, and the American producers adore them all. I’m extremely proud that most of the producers and financiers have been pleased with our partnership and keep returning to us. We’re currently in production on All The Lies You Cannot See, for Netflix, starring Golden Globe Winners Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie. Mark, by the way, is also returning to Budapest. He just wrapped Poor Things, with Golden Globe winner Emma Stone, for Yorgos Lanthimos. We’re shooting a huge TV series for Lionsgate, The Continental starring Golden Globe winner Mel Gibson, which is a prequel to the John Wick films. Interestingly, Budapest is cast as New York in the ’70s. Fortunately, we have studio backlots that already existed. We just had to adapt them for our project. And we’re filming FBI International for NBC, hoping that they stay with us for more seasons as the viewing figures have been higher than originally expected.