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The Power Arrangers

UPDATE SEPT 10, 2019

Sim VP Jeff Ramsey says he read our article “Power Arrangers” and had to bite his tongue because, obviously, Sim has had these power packs in development for a long time.

They are significantly more sophisticated and powerful than anything we have seen of this kind before. There are two units in Vancouver at this time and both are on rent. As you can imagine, they are still very expensive but Sim plans on getting more soon because they believe in green energy. We will keep you posted.

We will attach the Sim brochure here so you can read the specs for yourself. Pretty impressive. Obviously a harbinger of what is to come. Soon there will be no diesel generators, no diesel trucks, no diesel lifts. It is a good thing.

On a side note: Herc just brought in two Genie electric hybrid Z60s. Charge ’em with the on board generator or plug them into 110V. Thank you, Genie.

Our parent company, Reel Resumes Inc, does consultation for business enterprises unfamiliar with the film business in Vancouver, and those who want to explore other revenue streams. We consult for other types of businesses but our expertise is mostly for studios and rental companies in film. There is business intelligence that companies moving into Vancouver for the first time, particularly from outside the country, can profit from.

One specific area of expertise is, an understanding of the film business’s attitude toward environmentally impactful things such as pollution, recycling, waste management and renewable energy.  If a company does not understand those things, they can make mistakes that could lead to additional expenses or a lack of employee engagement, and they may have difficulty finding the best people to fill key positions. It is, in fact, risky to even joke about the environment to customers or potential customers. Conversely, a product that has a feature that is designed to protect the environment, has a significant selling point.

The film business was one of the first industries to make the environment a priority. People in Vancouver, in general, are well-educated and very much attuned to environmental issues.

Canada is, in fact, currently the most educated country on the planet. Particularly in the cities. More than 50% of Canadian adults have post secondary education and there are  more degrees per capita than any other country.

This fact is undoubtedly tied to recent conversations about diesel generators, hence, there is a proposal on the table to ban diesel generators in the city of Vancouver’s parks. That will be just the start of that movement. Diesel generators have a bad reputation. Read this article to get a feel for where we are on that issue and who some of the stakeholders are.  My concern after reading this article is, there isn’t a suitable replacement for the diesel generator.  At least not yet.  How close are we?  Well, that is the important question because, clearly, the will within the industry is there. It appears the technology is lagging behind the film industry’s commitment to mother earth.

As the busy season for 2019 fires up, and it appears to be big one, the  talk about generators is mostly going to get put on hold because the Gaffers and Rigging Gaffers, who are key stakeholders and the ones who know the issues best, are all going to be too busy for a lot of conversation about it.  Having said that, pressure from the city could move the issue up on the agenda.

The first thing the Gaffer needs to know with regard to a shooting location is, what power is available. As you probably know, diesel generators are necessary for shooting in any place that doesn’t have a huge pile of electricity available, either within the structure or available from a nearby BC Hydro power line.  BC Hydro power is relatively clean power and is usually the first option.  If there is enough and it has the right infrastructure, the Gaffer goes there first.  It is where there is no hydroelectric power available, or not enough, that raises most of the environmental concerns.

Shooting on location nearly always requires several generators. They are a particular type of environmentally current, diesel fueled, large output, ultra quiet, fully encased, generators ubiquitous on most film production sets. The productions  in Vancouver primarily rent these generators from either Sim International (formerly Production Services) or William F White (a Bronfman/ComWeb company). The “Gen Sets”, as they are called, are available in smaller quantities from other rental companies in Vancouver, also.

Being environmentally conscious themselves, Gaffers are always thinking about using new, cleaner, usually cheaper, technology in place of the current lights and generators.  They are constantly examining low voltage lighting and alternate power sources. You’ve probably read a lot about LED lighting and how it is bringing down the electrical loads on movie sets. It is a significant change and there is more to come but, just like power generation, they aren’t viable for some situations. We are not going to be selling the big lights, or the diesel generators, just yet. That is the general plan, however.  We just need to get low power lights to be brighter and the environmentally friendly portable power to be more powerful and longer lasting.  These two things, obviously, are married together.

With regard to lights, things are changing rapidly and many can envision the end or near end of hot, inefficient, power-sucking big lights.  Even now, they are used much less indoors, where less light is required.  The power supply issue is a little further away and has a few different solutions still being researched. Which solutions become the standard four or five years from now, is anyone’s guess.

What are the choices? We should probably talk about battery technology first. At this time, the electric generators take too long to charge, require electricity onsite to recharge them, do not have enough power to run some things and the batteries cannot keep them running long enough. Battery development is racing down many paths and is sure to be good enough in the near future. There is other technology being explored such as, hydrogen fuel cells which you have probably seen running buses in many cities. Generators running on hydrogen have small carbon footprint.

There are some small battery packs that are suitable for some particular circumstances, already.  In addition to the environmental and cost benefits, these electric power packs are easy to haul around and, perhaps more importantly, they are inherently quiet. The truth is, ideal battery technology is just not there yet but it is getting closer all the time.

Gaffer Darren McLean says he is very happy using battery-stored electricity when he is in a location where the power packs will work. Since television is running at approximately $10,000 an hour, and films can be much higher than that, he would never want to take a risk that might cause his department to be responsible for a delay in filming. For that reason, Gaffers just don’t take chances.

Similarly, Rigging Gaffer Mike Mayo of the series Supernatural would very much like to use green energy but it doesn’t fit a lot of situations for him. Supernatural shoots a lot of the time outdoors at night, often in the woods. They need to use big lights which draw a lot of power and there is no hydro around. Possibly even more important is the fact they often need portable power for 16-20 hours at a time. The bottom line is, for now diesel gensets are the only way to go. However, Mike believes as does Darren, that we are getting much closer every day and soon the issues will be resolved.

Here is an article on new tech for generators:

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