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Chris Paine, Local Hero

Saving Energy
On and Off the Screen

You may know Chris Paine from his movie Who Killed the Electric Car? As a documentary filmmaker living in Culver City, California, he’s saving energy on and off the screen.

What got you into electric cars?

One of my childhood heroes was this guy, Paul MacCready, who built the first bike-powered airplane to fly across the English Channel. He proved you don’t need to have massive jet engines to fly. You can fly faster and farther by doing things more efficiently. When the electric car came around I thought they were more futuristic—and of course much faster. I realized that most of the energy that normal cars create is just turning into pollution, noise and heat.

Have you always been energy conscious?

I grew up in the ’70s, and my parents were very interested in the environment. They were involved in preserving open space, and my mom taught environmental education in schools. I was lucky to get lots of great messages about how to live in a way with minimal environmental impact since I was young. Also, you could see the problem with too many cars with all the air pollution. You could see that power plants were also creating more pollution.

“It’s so easy to not use energy if you don’t have to.”

Chris Paine

So how has energy efficiency translated into your adult life?

Our house is powered entirely by solar, which also powers our plug-in cars. We have double-paned windows—I remember having windows where you could sit there and enjoy the breeze right through the glass. Also, we have LED lights everywhere. Originally, energy-efficient lighting wasn’t pretty: you felt like you were eating in a fast-food restaurant. Now the lights can be as warm as old incandescent bulbs. We’re not 100% pure, but energy conservation comes one step at a time, and the more you do the more exciting it becomes.

Have your energy-efficient habits carried over to your filmmaking?

The biggest advance in energy efficiency in filmmaking has come from lighting. It used to be that if you wanted to match daylight lighting you had to have very expensive, very energy-intensive bulbs. You don’t need to have them anymore. Also thanks to drones, we don’t need helicopters anymore. It used to take tons and tons of gallons of gasoline to get these aerial shots; now you can make them with rechargeable lithium batteries. When I made movies 10 years ago, we were energy pigs; it was very difficult to avoid, but it’s become possible now.

Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow Californians?

It’s so much easier to not use energy in the first place than it is to make it. If you look at the cost of building and operating a power plant, it’s super expensive, but it’s so easy to not use energy if you don’t have to.