One of my favorite things about this project is how often it surprises me. And holy shit was it a surprise walking into Film Biz Recycling, an enormous basement warehouse in Gowanus in between the Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center and the Textile Arts Center, just bursting with castoffs from movies, television, and commercial shoots.
And I’m not just talking about plastic display food and costume jewelry and faux brick walling (although there’s plenty of those); there’s also racks of designer clothing and shoes, row upon row of high-end leather couches and brass lamps, plus headboards and telephone booths and bicycles and filing cabinets. And those are just the big items; there’s also aisles of small stuff, from books to toasters to street signs to toys.
What’s it all for? Well, for you, for whatever you can think to do with it, whether it’s building out your loft or decorating for a themed party. Eva, the founder, and her crew collect everything the film biz can’t use, and then they separate it into things to sell, things to deconstruct and reuse, and things to donate. They work with dozens of charities, including Blissful Bedrooms, Recycle-a-Bicycle, Room to Grow, Fertile Grounds, and Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, sending clothing to shelters, baby items to single mothers, e-waste to recycling centers, and building materials to reuse shops. In the three years it’s been open, Film Biz Recycling has diverted 180 tons of stuff from landfills. And they’re just getting started! It’s a space you’ve really got to see, and a cause that is so worth supporting, with your time (they love volunteers!), your money (don’t you need a new armchair?), and your ideas. Get over there! But first, check out my interview with Eva.
brooklyn spaces: What made you get into all this?
Eva: I worked in the film business for fifteen years, and I just spent so much time trying to find homes for all the leftover materials. I started a Google Group in 2007 to get all the art departments talking to one another, figuring out how to exchange materials. But the stuff needed a place to go, so in 2009 I got a tiny space in Long Island City. I used my savings for the deposit; it was totally underfunded, which was fine, that’s what ecopreneurs are famous for. But it turned out we had to grow or die, so I started looking for a new space. When I found this one—11,000 square feet!—I said, “We’ll be here or nowhere.” So we did an emergency fundraiser and raised $20,000 in two weeks, everything from $10 from a production assistant to $1,000 from Bridge Props, another prop house. We were weeping from the support. So we raised the money, signed the deposit, and got the hell out of Long Island City.
brooklyn spaces: Are you happy in Gowanus?
Eva: We love it! It’s like a perfect metaphor. We’re in between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, which are both gentrified and pretty wealthy; and then there’s this sort of ugly center, this butt crack in between those two lovely white cheeks. It’s so dirty here, but the people who love it really love it. One of the first things I did when we got here was start reaching out to anybody who’s trying to make Gowanus a better place, like Gowanus Canal Conservancy. I said, “Hey, we have materials, and we’re going to give them to you for free. Come down and see what you want.” Then I started finding local charities. CHIPS, a men’s shelter, is down the street, as is Camba Women’s Shelter. Sean Casey Animal Shelter is up the road.
brooklyn spaces: Are all the charities you work with so close?
Eva: No, they’re all over. Materials for the Arts picks up from us once a month, and Build It Green. Wearable Collections picks up clothing; they send what’s usable to South America and recycle the rest. Our mission is sort of a triple bottom line: people, profit, and planet. People are saving money, and these rich companies aren’t spending $900 a dumpster for all this usable stuff to just be tossed. It’s cheaper to donate it. It’s never not been that way.
brooklyn spaces: Okay, take me through all the different components of the space.
Eva: Well, first we have the Re-Workshop. We want this to be a community hub, a place for groups to meet and talk to one another. We have a Re-Gallery, to show the works of our featured artists, who have a workshop in the back. Right now it’s Dog Tag Designs. We’ve got our offices in the back, and a kitchen, and even an underground terrace, where they used to store the coal to heat the building. It’s our break room and spraypaint area and impromptu garden center—I’ve made some planters out of toilets that Build It Green refused, and we’re growing basil and things.
brooklyn spaces: Now tell me about what you’ve got for sale.
Eva: Let me just give you a couple of examples. There’s a set of brand new white leather couches that cost $3,700 new; the whole batch is $1,200 here. There’s a roll of rubber flooring, which costs $1,000 at RoseBrand, that we’re selling for $200. A gorgeous vintage lamp that was $2,300 new is $400 here. There’s a couple of crazy old phone booths that we just sold to Brooklyn Creative League to use in their coworking spaces. And that’s just the huge stuff. We also have a Small Boxes section. We have things like Bodega in a Box, Birthday Party in a Box, Hospital in a Box—these are usable items, not just props. We have salt and pepper shakers, lunch trays, trophy cups, petri dishes, candles, maps, a whole box of creepy clowns.
brooklyn spaces: So is everything for sale?
Eva: Not everything; we also have a rental-only section for items that are specific to the industry. Like, imagine a Downy commercial, with the mom looking into the dryer at her laundry, or a Sunny-D commercial, with the kid looking into the fridge. How do you get those shots? You cut a hole in the back of the dryer or fridge. And what did we do in the goddamn stupid industry forever? Bought a new one every single time. So now at Film Biz Recycling we rent them out.
brooklyn spaces: Have you found anything that you were just stumped about how to repurpose or recycle or resell?
Eva: Theatrical flats. They’re huge, they’re made with lauan—a rainforest material from the Philippines—and they get used once and tossed. But I’ve been thinking about remaking them into composting bins. Our composting company is Vokashi, and I’m going to see if they could use something like that. There’s a solution for everything.
brooklyn spaces: Do you want to export the Film Biz Recycling model to other cities, like LA?
Eva: Well yeah, but you know what? Brad Pitt needs to write me a check. I’m not doing it from the ground up again. But I really do want to fix the film industry. I don’t want to go to a movie and know that everything on the screen is in a landfill now. There’s a midcentury credenza I had to throw away once that haunts me to this day. That thing survived so many decades, made it to our set, and, because somebody flaked on Craigslist, was put into a dumpster and is dead now. That’s not okay with me. Film Biz Recycling isn’t the last resort; we’re the only resort.
brooklyn spaces: And it doesn’t just benefit the film industry.
Eva: The industry is only 10% of our revenue. This is stuff that anyone can use, and I just want to get the word out, so people will. It’s starting to work; Film Biz Recycling is being featured on a new Discovery show called Dirty Money. Eco Brooklyn just wrote a post on us; they redo brownstones sustainably, and they bought some materials from us, which is just what we want. I mean, it’s easy to sell a couch; it’s hard to sell a piece of wood. Anyone who’s redoing their apartment or building out their loft should come here, there are so many possibilities. You could use four theatrical flats to make a platform for your bed or your band or whatever. Trim it with some carpet squares or curtains, it’s beautiful. Anything you can think of.