Above: still from Patagonia's 'Unbroken Ground', directed by Chris Malloy
Few companies have as deep a connection to nature, communities, and the issues plaguing both as Farm League. The creative film company, under the direction of its founder Tim Lynch (TL), has always had sights set beyond the glossy world of ads, looking instead to underground scenes and subcultures, sporting extremes, and far-flung places where the delicate beauty asks to be captured and protected at the same time.
Even a quick look at Farm League’s library of work - numerous films for Patagonia and YETI, ‘Wax & Gold’ for Stumptown Coffee, to name but a few - make clear that sustainability is very much front and centre to the company’s raison d'etre. When we ask about it, TL is quick to say that “no one is doing enough” in this area. “Not too long ago there was a sense that everyone was a bit more conscious on sets with regards to waste, energy consumption and fuel, transportations, but that’s largely gone away,” he observes.
Above: 'Wax & Gold' for Stumptown Coffee, directed by Britton Caillouette
As for Farm League’s own productions, TL says that the first step is having “awareness of our impact” on every shoot. “We’re conscious of how inherently wasteful the production process can be.” But just because it can be very wasteful, doesn’t mean that it has to be. While some companies may have to retrofit their production model with a sustainable mindset, Farm League embeds it in their operations through the people it hires so that it’s an organic part of doing business every day. “We purposefully built a roster of directors who genuinely care about the natural world. They always filter their vision through a sustainability lens and the community aspect of filmmaking which sets the tone for everything we do,” adds Lea Miller, the director of sales and marketing.
TL echoes Lea’s sentiments. “Choosing the right leadership is vital because those people will then naturally gravitate towards like-minded crew and vendors so the whole chain is tuned into a greener way of doing things.” TL very much sees how small steps can add up to a bigger whole whether that’s encouraging reusable water bottles on set, using electric generators, offering carpools to cut down on transportation, and generally being aware of travel miles when considering locations and crew origins.
The other part of the sustainability conversation is communication with clients and encouraging them to work in a new way. Old habits die hard in the world of production, even when better - not to mention greener - options are available. “For example, a core tenet of our company is to film on location where the story is truest, but we longer need to go and scout locations on every project,” says TL. “There are a variety of tools available that allow us to reduce the overall production carbon footprint from the very start, but we still see a lot of box-ticking taking place. People do things the way they’ve always been done, so as not to rock the boat with their bosses. The idea of presenting options for options sake can be wasteful, so we encourage a more direct approach that requires good communication and some trust.”
Rocking the boat has never been an issue for Farm League though and, while the company is more than happy to step into an educational role with clients, (“We do always try to include messaging in our treatment about trying to make productions carbon neutral,” TL mentions.), it also loves working with companies who have their own bold environmental stance. “From Farm League’s inception, I knew that I wanted to work with clients who prioritise green issues. Brands like Parley (For the Oceans), Nike, Clif Bar, Toms, Patagonia, and the agency InGoodTaste have always embedded sustainability into how they work. Whenever we get a call about a project with a sustainability angle or a social cause, we’re all over it because we actively want to be a part of that conversation,” he adds.
Above: 'Ubroken Ground' for Patagonia, directed by Chris Malloy
A standout project for TL is the Chris Malloy-directed ‘Unbroken Ground’ for Patagonia. To him, it exemplifies the kind of magic that can happen when everyone is on the same page. A film highlighting the benefits of regenerative agriculture sponsored by a brand because its founder believes in making a positive change in the world, and produced by a company who shares those views.
As for the future outlook, TL wants to be “bolder in messaging” to continue attracting the right collaborators and highlighting environmental causes. “We need to reinforce to people and the industry that this is a priority.” On a practical level, it may mean embedding the cost upfront into the pitching process. “When we pitch, let’s add the sustainability cost throughout and communicate how we arrived at that number,” says TL. Budgets are always a cause for concern and TL has seen how quickly the proposition to cut the cost of making a production greener arises.
The truth is that sustainability does not come cheap - right now - but it’s a short-term cost with tangible long-term benefits that anyone paying lip service to needs to start embracing. For the time being, TL reiterates that “no one is doing enough.” For Farm League, that statement is a motivator to keep thinking and pushing on how to do more; it should be that for everyone else too.