Clean energy stars at Martini Film Studios
Moves to net zero make Langley studios a Clean Energy Champion
Part of a series on BC Hydro Clean Energy Champions: businesses, homes, and institutions – large and small – recognized for reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.
When solar panels and electric cars were in the running for roles at Langley's Martini Film Studios, Gemma Martini was in charge of the auditions. That may not be what she envisioned as she started out as an actor years ago, but things have changed.
Martini is now the CEO of a studio – right in her home town – whose increased reliance on clean energy has made it a BC Hydro Clean Energy Champion. She is constantly on the lookout for ways the studio can hit its net zero targets in a cost-effective way.
"Even though I am passionate about sustainability, there can be high capital costs for equipment that helps our site become sustainable," says Martini, the Langley Chamber of Commerce's reigning business person of the year. "So, while I engage my team in the process of exploring options, I have to take costs into consideration before making the final decision."
Those decisions are paying off. After starting out with a switch to LED lighting, Martini Studio buildings now features 22 EV charging stations, some solar power generation, and the use of clean BC Hydro power over diesel. Near the top of the list is what happened at Martini Town, the studio's 6.5-hectare backlot set, a street and buildings designed with a New York theme, complete with brownstone, theatre and coffee shop facades along with an urban alleyway, small town shops and a courthouse.
"We built Martini Town three years ago, but up until recently, because we didn't have sufficient power to the site, productions would use up to four diesel generators to run the set lighting and power up their fleet of trailers," says Martini. "Every generator produces up to one ton of carbon per day, and I knew we could do better and started to work with BC Hydro to fully electrify the site using funding from their low carbon electrification program. We are proud that Martini Town is fully energized using clean power."
To help make the fuel-switch happen at Martini Town, BC Hydro provided Martini with low-carbon electrification study funding for a consultant to calculate GHG reductions from an increase in clean electricity use. Next was a capital incentive that was based on those study findings.
'In the film industry, it's hard to ignore sustainability'
Sustainability was never a hard sell to Martini, whose 2001-built home includes a geothermal heat pump and LED lighting. She has driven an electric car since 2015, and recently looked at adding solar panels to her home before deciding that it was cost-prohibitive.
So as chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. she has been a huge advocate for sustainability, in part by supporting Creative B.C.'s Reel Green program. Reel Green has trained more than 1,300 film and television crew members in sustainable production, and features a popular online carbon calculator for productions.
"Honestly, in the film industry, it's hard to ignore the sustainability movement," says Martini. "There were so many before me who started the movement and who have made great strides to put B.C. on the map as a global leader in sustainability. So we all step up to that."
Martini says her "light bulb moment' was working with BC Hydro and other energy consultants on Martini Film Studios' massive expansion and the potential to make operations carbon net zero. While Martini's existing studio space was converted warehouse space, this one will be built with film productions and sustainability in mind from the ground up.
For the expansion at 216 Business Park, Martini Studios plans to lean on CleanBC Commercial New Construction Energy study funding, and hopes to land up to 50% of CleanBC capital costs funding as a result of a study that will estimate greenhouse gas reductions.
"The difference in my mind between greenwashing and making a difference is measurable action," she says. "Real Green and their advocacy and education has really put British Columbia on the map globally as an overall sustainable leader. That reputation speaks for itself. But the power that we have in Reel Green is at that table, where there's every representative from every part of our sector who is keen to contribute to making a difference in their own businesses and on set."
BC Hydro funding for low-carbon electrification wasn't just vital in turning the Martini Town film lot from a diesel-guzzling workplace to reliance on 98% clean BC Hydro power. It's also helping communities, from Maple Ridge to the City of Vancouver, introduce clean power kiosks to a planned 20 locations across the Lower Mainland.
To help reach their net zero goals, Martini Film Studios also worked with FortisBC to switch from regular natural gas for heating its buildings to 100% renewable natural gas. Natural gas (methane) is commonly generated from hydraulic fracking and, according to the Government of Canada, is responsible for an estimated 30% of observed global warming to date. Fortis supplies its customers with renewable natural gas, also known as biogas, derived from decomposing organic waste in landfills, agricultural waste and wastewater from treatment facilities. Fortis claims that because this gas would normally be dispersed into the atmosphere, it's a carbon neutral energy source.
Coming to a film studio near you: EVs and solar power
Martini has an app on her phone she checks regularly to see how much power is being generated by solar panel arrays installed on Martini Studio's existing facility.
"A solar array install can be costly," she says. "We have a 50-kilowatt system so far, and it was the final piece of the plan to bring us to net zero. And then as it becomes more capitally realistic over time, we will move on to expanding that system. I have graphs and numbers on my phone and am quite obsessive about checking to see how much solar energy the system is producing on any day. It feels good to know that we are harnessing clean energy for our operations."
A favourite production facility of Netflix – with recent productions including Another Life, Space Force, and Ivy & Bean – Martini started a five-year lease extension with Netflix in 2022.
Martini Studios installed 22 electric vehicle charging stations at the facility, and plans to have 80 at the new business park expansion. The company owns and operates five EVs today, and a recent production on their site used 20 EVs, one of a series of steps towards climate action.
Not surprisingly, when the electric vehicle advocate organization Plug N'Drive was looking for a spot in the Fraser Valley to hold an EV fleet test drive event this spring, Martini's hand shot up. The showcase of electric pickups, vans and bigger trucks was held on the lot outside Martini Film Studios.
"I'm very impatient and want to see change come more quickly, but I have to appreciate that it's an ongoing conversation – it takes time for people to come around to change their habits," she says. "That being said, if we make it easy for production to implement climate action in their process, they will do it. For example, when you come to our studio facilities you don't even have to choose. You have to recycle everything because we already have every possible option for recycling. We provide composting, we don't allow plastic water bottles. And the biggest carbon reduction opportunity that we have is our clean energy to power up your production without any diesel generators!"
Meanwhile, the girl who got introduced to the film and TV industry as an actress 20 years ago, steps out of CEO mode now and again for an acting gig. Most recently she took on the role of team doctor of a football team in a Hallmark movie.
"I shot the movie yesterday," says Martini. "I don't often get to act, but I really enjoy it when I do. What I love most about it is I get to interact with crew on set. I don't get that experience day-to-day as a studio operator. It helps me keep in touch with every level of production."
And perhaps, it's another chance to spread the word on clean energy.