Cardboard could be a game-changer as the film and TV industry seeks to clean house | UK News

A visit to Greater Manchester film studio The Vectar Project is an eye-opening experience. But as is so often the case in the film and television business, all is not as it might seem at first glance, even to the industry insider.

The movie sets on display here play a double trick on the eye. Backless buildings, steel doors that aren’t steel, and train carriages that go nowhere are established tricks of the trade for the set designer.

But what makes these sets different is that they are not made from the usual wood, MDF and plastic. They are all cardboard.

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In an industry that in recent years has been encouraged to reduce its environmental impact, cardboard could be a game-changer

Cardboard is 100% recyclable

And in an industry that in recent years has been encouraged to reduce its environmental impact, cardboard could be a game-changer. It is 80% cheaper than a traditional wooden or MDF set, its carbon footprint is 90% lower and it is 100% recyclable.

“Our industry is doing an incredible job of raising awareness of the climate crisis, but often has no alternative but to make the damage worse,” says Tom Henderson of The Vectar Project.

“Each year we build thousands of studio sets from wood and MDF, then throw them away when filming is done. It sickens me and others in the industry to see how much we waste, but now there is another solution.”

A cardboard Aston Martin DB5 and The Beatles guitars – with strings

Tom had his cardboard Eureka! moment while filming in the Caribbean for a TV commercial. The carbon footprint of the project was huge, so Tom decided there had to be another way.

He teamed up with cardboard artist Chris Gilmour, who has worked with the material for over 20 years and can do just about anything with it.

Backless buildings, steel doors that aren't steel, and train carriages that go nowhere are established tricks of the trade for the set designer
Picture:
Backless buildings, steel doors that aren’t steel, and train carriages that go nowhere are established tricks of the trade for the set designer.

His previous works included life-size replicas of an Aston Martin DB5 (with ejection seat and spoked wheels), a dentist’s chair and Beatles guitars (with strings), all made entirely of cardboard.

Thus, a prison cell door or the wooden beams of a Tudor house are perfectly within reach.

“It’s such a versatile medium,” says Chris. “And the Vectar board we use is also very strong. So we can build lightweight sets, which can also be load-bearing, which we couldn’t do before.”

The wood used for the carton comes from Sweden and comes from trees that are harvested for their branches, rather than being felled entirely. The company claims this is a fully sustainable method that provides 100% recyclable materials.

The sets are not only cheaper and less harmful to the environment, they also save time during production. The fact that they can be moved easily by one or two people, unlike much heavier wooden sets, means they can be repositioned much faster, saving time and money.

The door to No. 10 in cardboard
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The door to No 10 – in cardboard

“I imagine there could be all sorts of benefits”

Environmental groups are eager to see the impact that cardboard innovations can have.

Mike Berners-Lee of Carbon Footprinting UK says: “You know, I can imagine that cardboard film sets could be easy to make, easy to take apart, easy to put away later, reused for other purposes, I can imagine it could be all sorts of benefits, and it just takes a bit of creativity on someone’s part to get it off the ground.”

The good news for Vectar, and its hopes of cleaning up the industry, is that many companies are getting in on it.

In just six months, Tom and Chris’ work has garnered interest and support from ITV, the BBC, BAFTA, Creative England, the National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company. They also work with the Berlin Film School and German TV stations, as well as companies in Canada, Australia and throughout Europe.

Remarkable to think that the environmental sustainability of film production may soon be indebted to a company, based in an industrial estate in Greater Manchester, that can make humble cardboard look anything you want.

About Victoria Rothstein

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