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Lights, Camera, Sustainability! Fishtown Films’ path to a zero waste movie
Philly

Lights, Camera, Sustainability! Fishtown Films’ path to a zero waste movie

The story behind ‘Citywide’ setting a new standard for Hollywood

At first glance, “Citywide,” a romantic comedy set in Philadelphia, might seem like just another low-budget film.

But this unheralded work is poised to revolutionize Hollywood. “Citywide” stands as the world’s inaugural zero-waste film, a feat the filmmaking duo Emily Gallagher and Austin Elston achieved under their Fishtown Films banner.

This milestone marks a significant turning point for an industry grappling with environmental challenges. To put it in perspective, a typical Hollywood feature generates a staggering 500 tons of waste, equivalent to one million pounds, as reported by Earth Angel, an environmental consulting company. Meanwhile, “Citywide,” inspired by Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy “After Hours,” leaves behind a mere 16 ounces of trash, proudly displayed in Gallagher’s glass jar.

Gallagher emphasizes that the transformation must extend beyond documentaries focused on sustainability. “To truly revolutionize the industry, every piece of content must embrace sustainability. Films, TV shows – all can adopt this ethos.”

Elston’s approach is unconventional; he begins with the end in mind. This means contemplating every step, from pre-production to post-production and scripting, while considering all stakeholders, from production heads to cast and on-set crew members.

Gallagher underscores the importance of sustainability discussions before shooting begins. “We required their commitment from the outset. No casting or crew hiring without buy-in for our mission.”

Fortunately, getting buy-in for “Citywide,” described by Fishtown Films as “a punk rock queer romantic comedy-thriller,” proved remarkably straightforward. The reactions they received when sharing their vision of a zero-waste film were overwhelmingly positive.

Elston highlights the cost-effectiveness of zero-waste filmmaking. He claims that it saves a substantial $10,000 compared to traditional methods. According to Gallagher, “Citywide,” shot in 2019, cost less than $75,000 to produce.

One significant source of savings was the choice to use existing locations for sets including the East Kensington bar The Monkey Club and The Head and The Hand Books.

Gallagher explains, “Building sets from scratch would have been prohibitively expensive. Working in existing spaces saves money and fosters a sense of community.”

Furthermore, Gallagher and Elston invested substantial effort in working with costume designers to ensure that every cast member wore second-hand outfits. Gallagher proudly asserts, “Not a single article of clothing in the film was new,” an impressive feat considering the film featured 17 main characters.

Gallagher and Elston’s commitment to eco-friendly filmmaking extends beyond “Citywide.” They recently filmed a zero-waste music video for Philadelphia-based singer Kayleigh Goldsworthy and have future film projects in pre-production. They’ve also launched YouTube and TikTok channels for Fishtown Films, sharing valuable zero-waste filmmaking tips.

However, their ambitions stretch far beyond reducing trash in a jar. “It’s about making this planet livable for us continually in the future,” says Elston. “Imagine if we were able to make this change, so that other people could continue living healthy on a planet that sustains them.”

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Rashaad Jorden grew up in the Philadelphia area — the New Jersey suburbs, to be exact — but has taught English in Japan and France in addition to getting a Master's degree from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He also has run several road races in Philadelphia, completing the Broad Street Run numerous times. View all posts by Rashaad Jorden
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