Savannah non-profit breathes new life into film set props, keeps them out of landfills

Our Changing Climate

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “Forrest Gump,” “Baywatch” and “Magic Mike XXL” are just a few of the many movies and television shows previously shot in Savannah and Tybee Island.

It’s not uncommon to spot cameras and actors making movie magic in the area, but have you ever thought about the environmental toll of the film industry?

Take this interesting statistic from Columbia University’s Earth Institute:

Movies with budgets over $50 million typically produce the equivalent of about 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — which is roughly the weight of a giant sequoia tree.

However, many people are starting to understand the industry’s impact on the planet and are striving for more sustainable practices.

“In the industry, it’s like, ‘This is the way we’ve done it, this is the way we’ll continue to do it,’” said Samita Wolfe, president of Film Biz Recycling, an environmental non-profit that is operated out of Savannah.

“I think people now are trying to figure out how to do it better because we’re in peril,” Wolfe added.

She and her husband’s unique prop house is one of those that is having a more positive impact on the film industry in Georgia. 

Outside of the massive warehouse located off of Dooley Avenue stands a green sign — a fitting color — that reads: “Film Biz Recycling is a not-for-profit organization creating socially responsible, sustainable solutions from media industry waste.” 

When you wander inside, an amalgam of former set props and other items donated from the community fill just about the entire warehouse space, roof to floor.

All the stuff that was originally going to go into the landfill will now have another life, and be useful for years to come.”

Samita Wolfe, President of Film Biz Recycling

Board games. Enough books to form a mini-library. Musical instruments. A wall of retro analog TVs. You name it. A plethora of items that once decorated the sets of film or TV productions are now stored in one space, where people have the chance to give them a renewed purpose.

Items are primarily up for rental, and occasionally up for sale.

To Wolf’s knowledge, there isn’t a non-profit business, at least in Georgia, that is doing quite what they are.

“We keep things out of landfills and on the shelves for other people to use them in creative capacities,” Wolfe said. “That could be film and television, the SCAD students, theater groups, some weddings, photography.”

Wolfe didn’t come up with the idea on her own, she told News 3. The original version of the business started in Brooklyn, New York, in 2008. 

After skyrocketing rent costs forced the original owners out of business, they passed the business along to Wolfe, who lived in the Big Apple at the time.

She wanted to bring the business to Savannah, where she had bought a house and also previously lived for about five years. 

“Savannah’s kind of the only place that I thought that I could do it because I had a community of people that supported me,” Wolfe said. “I realized there wasn’t a prop house, and one of my last jobs in New York was being in charge of a set decoration for a TV show called ‘The Americans,’ and I was good at it, so I figured that I could bring that here.”

Eighty-five percent of items from the local film industry comes through the doors of Film Biz Recycling, according to Wolfe.

They often go right back to the industry in the form of set rentals. 

Recently, the series “Underground Railroad,” filming in Savannah, has borrowed props from Film Biz Recycling, Wolfe said. 

“It is cool to see the different things that people use the same items for, and just for them to continue to serve a purpose,” she said. 

One of Wolfe’s passions and concerns is the state of the environment, along with film and community involvement. She told News 3 that this revamped version of Film Biz Recycling allowed her to combine all of these passions at once.

“Being able to do that is kind of an amazing thing,” she said.

Hulu show “The Act,” which built a hospital set, jail set, and a home on a soundstage on Fahm Street, had a lot of items to get rid of once production wrapped.

“A dear friend of mine, Judith Moore, reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, there’s all this stuff. Is there anything that you can do?’” Wolfe said.

She was able to help find all of those materials — thousands of pounds of them — a new home at Savannah Tech. 

Wolfe estimates it was a diversion of 14 tons of materials and paint from landfills.

“This fall, Savannah Tech is going to do a haunted house with all those materials, which is going to be really cool, it’s going to be their fundraiser,” Wolfe said.

“So now, all the stuff that was originally going to go into the landfill will now have another life, and be useful for years to come.”

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