Posted July 29, 2016
When the heat and humidity of summer get to be too much, there’s nothing better than escaping into a cool, dark movie theater.
GIF Credit: James Curran
Summer is the best time to enjoy all that delicious, movie theater air-conditioning, because the majority of big Hollywood blockbusters come out between May and August. According to the Economist, summer releases earn an average of $15 million more than releases at other times of the year. (Check out the Economist’s neat interactive graphic here.)
Whether it’s superheroes (Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse), super villains (Suicide Squad), adorable animated features (Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets), or a newly re-energized and CGI’d reboot of Ghostbusters, there’s plenty of movie magic on the big screen this summer in particular.
Big movies are very big business. The crop of 2015 movies brought in a record high $11 billion in box-office revenues. In fact, as the Economist graphic above notes, the number of films that earned more than $500 million from theaters worldwide increased from just five in 2006 to 14 last year.
What might surprise you is that the very process of transforming a movie from mere words in a script to a “coming attraction at a theater near you” takes a whole lot of energy from a variety of sources.
The motion picture industry is such a large user of all kinds of energy – everything from the diesel fuel used for its location shooting to the electricity used on sound stage shooting. Some recent films (Inception and Bad Words among them) have even used solar-powered generators on set. Because you better believe Leonardo DiCaprio likes to chill in a nice, cool trailer between takes.
So just how much energy is used in the making of a film? Let’s break it down.
There’s tons of travel in the pre-production stages, whether it’s to scout locations or bring producers, directors and actors together for meetings from all over the globe. Post-production requires even more travel, as journalists, stars and publicists will often fly around the world as part of the movie promotion. All that travel requires fuels, virtually all of it made from petroleum.
Then there’s the production itself, which entails hundreds of trucks, buses and airplanes moving crowds of people – try and count the names in the closing credits sometime – and equipment from studios to locations (sometimes quite remote) and back again. More fuels. There are trailers for the actors and crew during the filming and catering trucks to keep everyone fed and hydrated. There is electricity and diesel-run generators to power so the director can holler, “Lights, camera, action!”
Here’s another thing: All the special and visual effects on those summer blockbuster action films take lots of energy and also chemicals, a number of them made from petroleum and/or natural gas. Want to age an actor, create some elf ears or build the ultimate superhero suit? You’re going to need a lot of latex, gelatin, silicone and other chemical polymers that are either directly derived from or transformed by using energy.
The ghosts in the new Ghostbusters reboot also depend on energy, this time in the form of LED lights. Director Paul Fieg explained in Empire Online:
“[W]e have this new system we use with LED lights, and we put the actor in full costume and make-up and they’re covered with these LED lights that throw light interaction onto the actors and the environment. Then we’re just augmenting with CG to make it a little more spectral.”
According to this chart by FiveThirtyEight, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of explosion in a blockbuster film – whether it’s a car, a building or a body. “Since 2010, 77 percent of blockbusters featured at least one explosion,” the site notes.
Ever wonder how a director can blow up the White House or create some other type of massive explosion? Well, it’s not always CGI, as this Gizmodo video explains. Special effects directors and their safety teams regularly use fuels from oil and natural gas such as butane, propane and methane to create pyrotechnics that jump off the screen.
Even producing the traditional film format – 35 mm film – (which, admittedly, is increasingly giving way to digital) is an energy-intensive transformation process that starts with an acetate or polyester base, emulsions and chemicals, primarily at Kodak’s 11,000-acre industrial campus in Rochester, N.Y. (Kodak is the only company still producing motion picture film today.)
Finally, the movie makes it to your local theater, which uses power to keep the lights on, the popcorn machines popping and the air conditioning on – all powered by electricity that is increasingly being generated with natural gas. Oh, and energy to actually run the projector to show the final film.
So while bashing the oil and natural gas industry might find a place in a Hollywood movie plot every now and then – looking at you Promised Land – the (Inconvenient) Truth is that oil, natural gas and other energy sources are actually the secret sauce powering that movie magic. Now that’s entertainment.
See also Energy in: A Warm Home, Valentine’s Day, The Electrical Age, Rail Transportation, Manufacturing, Healthcare, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness Hoops, Spring Break, Play Ball! Medicines, Clean Water, Good Homes, Mother’s Day, America’s Defense, Future Careers, Taking a Drive, Dinner, Breakfast, Music, Picnics, The Internet, Chemicals, Conventions (Cleveland) and Conventions (Philadelphia).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.