Ecological Cost of Screenwriting

The creation of paper waste in the TV and film industry is significant – from countless call sheets and budgets to the many rainbow-coloured script revisions. This brief article will focus on the paper waste created in the industry from screenwriting alone. 

When it comes to screenwriting, the process is not as wasteful as it once was, with writers ditching pens and paper, or their typewriters, for computers. Mostly gone are the days when writers would crumple up their written pages in frustration and toss them at an overflowing garbage bin. Instead, with computers getting better, faster and more portable over the years, students and professionals alike have benefitted from the ease of writing, sharing, editing, organizing, collaborating, and formatting without creating physical waste.

typewriter on table
Photo by Dom J on Pexels.com

While screenwriters may have cut out a significant amount of paper waste associated with the scriptwriting process, now, once the first draft of the script is complete, is when the real waste begins. The industry has its own method for keeping track of which draft a script is on, called revision colours. What does this mean? Well, each time a change is made on the script, the production will print the changes on paper of a different colour. This way, everyone on set knows which pages have been revised and which version they are reading, based on the colour. 

According to the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), there is a standard order for these revision colours. For scripts, the standard order of colours is: 

  • White (unrevised)
  • Blue
  • Pink
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Goldenrod
  • Buff
  • Salmon
  • Cherry
  • Second Blue Revision
  • Second Pink Revision 
  • And so on..

While many productions never make it past Goldenrod before skipping ahead to “Second Blue…” this method of editing and disseminating scripts on set can be extremely wasteful. According to Masterclass, the average screenplay runs from 90 to 120 pages long. While there are not currently numbers available for how many copies would be made for an average production, we will provide an example.

Let’s say only 10 people on set need a hard copy of the script. That means about 900 to 1,200 pages would be printed for each round of full revisions. So, if this production made it to Goldenrod (6th round of revisions), they could have about 5,400 to 7,200 script pages printed by the time filming wraps. If the film ended up making it through to its 10th revision – which is not uncommon – they could end up with 9,000 to 12,000 pages. Keep in mind that these numbers would not take into account the individual pages that must be re-printed due to omissions, additions, and small changes.

The sad fact is that these numbers are on the lower end for what can be expected, as any production with only 10 scripts would be considered small. As such, the number of pages printed for a larger production with a large cast, could result in triple the amount of paper waste – or more. This is why The Sustainable Switch will be working to reduce the amount of paper wasted on set by seeking ways to reuse, repurpose, and properly dispose of it.

Keep an eye out for updates on our progress and for more data relating to paper waste and usage in the TV and film industry.

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