Making a No Impact Movie About No Impact Man


The No Impact Family and Filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival
(L-R) Eden Wurmfeld, Laura Gabbert, Michelle Conlin, Colin Beavan
and Justin Schein

Making a movie about No Impact Man means also going no impact during filming...or at least as low impact as possible. So just how does a movie get made? Justin Schein, the co-director of No Impact Man is taking us behind the scenes about how the movie No Impact Man was created with as little impact as possible. (By the way, the film premieres tonight!)

Justin Schein states:

Why a Movie About No Impact Has to Be No Impact
If you are going to be making a film about me you have to go No Impact too....That was the condition that Colin Beavan laid out if he was to agree to let us document his life during his experiment trying to live a year with no environmental impact. As a documentary filmmaker who specialized in cinema verite storytelling, I always strive to be unobtrusive. There are no trailers for hair and makeup, no loud generators for massive lights and no tables filled with bottled water and candy on my shoots. Still, Colin wanted us to find room to improve and we his challenge to heart.

The Filming Gear
The first issue was our gear. Often when a new project starts filmmakers often go out to find the latest camera to get the best image. In the old days a good film camera could last you the better part of a career. These days there is a new crop of cameras with the latest advances comes out every 9 months or so. One of phases of the No Impact year was to address consumption... buying nothing new. With that as inspiration we decided to stick with the camera we already owned. It was a decision that saved us money, since we had to get filming right away and it started us off in the spirit of the project.

There's No "Camera, Action" Without the "Lights"
The next issue was lights. The NIM project went in stages and Colin and Michelle were going to be turning off their electricity in the middle of the year. Running extension chords to the neighbors apartment was not going to fly. Also, we wanted to convey the shift that occurred in their lives from the incandescent bulb to the candle, so we decided to forgo lights all together. It made some of the darker scenes grainy and gritty, but to us it feels real.


Getting From Location to Location
Transportation was the next hurdle. One of the base stipulations of the NIM project, was that Colin and Michelle were not going to be using any carbon producing transportation during the whole year. Now that we were sticking with a small camera and using no lights our gear was extremely portable, so we decided to swear off all production vehicles other than the subway. (Colin and Michelle decided for the sake of the project to not even use mass transportation). The subway was fine for getting to and from their apartment in Manhattan from Brooklyn, where I live, but as the weather wormed up biking became a major part of their lives. Normally we would get shots of our subjects riding from the back of a car, but that was not in the deal. At first I rented a bike rickshaw with a driver to and got some very bumpy shots that way. Finally I decided to get on my own bike... and I learned to shoot cradling the camera weaving around the potholes.

Battery Power
Another part of the challenge that I took to heart was to create less trash. In keeping things intimate I worked without a sound person, and thus used wireless mics powered by 9v batteries on every shoot. So I did some research and found that there was a new breed of rechargeable 9v lithium battery on the market made by I power. Over the course of 16 months I used the same 4 batteries instead of the estimated 200-300 I would have used.

Changes On The Home Front
Lastly and most importantly shooting the No Impact project made made a major impact on how I was living my life at home. It wasn't really possible document Colin and Michelle as they radically reexamined their lives and not start asking those questions about myself. From using cloth diapers on our newborn son, joining a CSA (buying a share in a local farm), composting and line drying our laundry as much as possible, to joining some environmental organizations.... we became a more aware of all the choices that we have that can lower our impact.

Our hope is that the No Impact film will help people to ask some of those questions and see that they have the power to make some positive changes in their lives.

More on No Impact Man
Reel Impact: No Impact Man (Trailer)
No Impact Man: Sneak Peek: Laundry Time
No Impact Man: A Stunt or Not a Stunt? That Is *Not* the Question

Tags: Documentaries | Movies | Waste Not Want Not