Handcrafted Films (London, United Kingdom) – Grease Lighting

Director: Paul Redman
An established documentary filmmaker, Paul Redman has documented some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. His work has involved investigating and documenting using covert and open filming techniques in some of the most remote parts of the world. Since 2001, working with the Environmental Investigation Agency, he has trained hundreds of environmental activists to use visual media to campaign for change, developing a network of groups in Indonesia, India and Tanzania. His work is award winning and has been used in news features and for programming on BBC, Sky, CNN, amongst other major distributors.

Producer: Tim Lewis
Tim Lewis has been working as a producer, sound recordist and editor in the documentary field for the past five years, producing films for a wide range of international charities and government agencies. His work has taken him to many difficult and challenging locations, whether filming semi nomadic tribal communities in the rainforests of Borneo, refugees in safe houses on the Thai-Burma border or following civil rights campaigners through war torn Liberia and the Congo.

Budget: 7,560 British Pounds

Imagine being able to power an entire modern office block without having to connect to the national grid. Imagine being able to do this by using second-hand cooking fat. The kind of stuff you would associate as coming from a Kebab House, Chip Shop or a Chinese Take Away. But how, you may ask, do you turn that quite awful and repellent mixture into tomorrow’s clean energy? A Southwark based company, Uptown Oils, does just this.

They travel through the city collecting used oil from restaurants and caterers. Then, almost like ancient alchemists, they transform the heavy, gloopy material into a shiny clear low-carbon bio-diesel. Situated beneath a railway arch in a Southwark back street, this was for a time the capital’s best-kept secret, the bio-diesel being sold only to a few local London Black Cab drivers who had switched to the cleaner and indeed cheaper alternative.

“If I had to choose, hand on heart, why people buy it, it’s the cost,” said Jason Askey-Wood, a director of Uptown Oils, in an interview at the company’s factory in South London. However this small-scale revolution was about to change into something altogether more unique and aspiring. When the leading accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers planned their new multi-million pound offices on the South Bank near City Hall they were envisioning a cleaner more environmentally sympathetic building. Using generators hidden below the building and following criteria from the Independent Building Research Establishment they assessed that the offices could run on bio-diesel. It seemed the only problem was sourcing such a large amount of oil – to run the building for a month would require 45,000 liters.

“What’s really important is we don’t use virgin fuel. What we insist on – and we have an audit trail for this – is that the only oil we use is waste cooking oil,” said Jon Barnes who manages PricewaterhouseCoopers buildings across the UK. The company currently spends £5m a year on electricity across their UK offices – they hope to cut £1m off that bill – and a significant chunk of savings will come from the installation of bio-diesel generators beneath their South Bank Headquarters.

“You have to remember that 70% of our staff are under 35. That clearly means they are in an era that really does care about the environment. They really want to see substantial savings in our carbon footprint.” Uptown Oil estimates that the city’s restaurants produce enough waste oil to fuel all of London’s landmark black cabs and bus fleet, as well as aspiring businesses’ keen to exploit their green credentials.

“We go out and do the rounds every day. From a fish and chip shop to a Marco Pierre White Michelin Star restaurant,” runs the narration of one of the Uptown Oil employees. “they all produce the same waste and we want as much as we can get.” We follow them and the collection of oil from commercial kitchens, we see the dirty oil being drained into big plastic vats and taken away, mixing images of busy London streets at night, people eating evening meals in restaurants or ducking into fast food shops.

Back at the production site we watch as the oil is cleaned, filtered and prepared for reuse. Using close-ups and different recording speeds, we follow this transformation. Slowly, the murky and distinctly unpleasant liquid becomes crystal clear and honey like.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers offices at South Bank will be shot using contrasting and quirky sequences. The offices are shown in their prime location, alongside the Thames opposite the Tower of London, the glass and steel structure will be shown in bright sweeping shots and focus pulls, bringing into realisation the size and scale of the building. The arrival of the newly cleaned oil is shown as the liquid is poured into one of the generators.

“This is like looking into the future not just by recycling vegetable oil, but by using our knowledge and understanding of eco-friendly materials, we will be able to power the cities of tomorrow.”  The film closes on a fast-paced selection of shots demonstrating the huge variety of equipment requiring electricity to function in a modern day contemporary office. This final sequence will be in a theme of ‘a day in the office’ starting with the cleaner coming in and turning on the light switch, the hoover swishing across a carpet, the clock ticking to nine, people arriving at work, the lift, the escalators, coffee machines bubbling, fax and photo copier flickering, computer screens and keyboards, telephones and closing into the finale where the same light switch that is seen in the morning is clicked to ‘off’ – the screen goes black.


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