It's a Friday morning in mid-April at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif., and the place is a madhouse. A steady stream of traffic winds through the maze of streets and alleys that cuts between the production offices, backlots and 30 sound stages. From trucks and vans to actors' trailers, foot traffic to tour tram carts, there doesn't seem to be an inch of untraveled asphalt on the 110-acre lot. It's the kind of organized chaos you would expect at a major Hollywood studio.
For Jonathan Rosenfeld, Warner Bros. Studio Facilities' director of transportation, it's just another day at the office. He navigates through the traffic with ease from behind the wheel of a GEM neighborhood electric vehicle. Many of the studio's TV shows have wrapped for the summer, but a number of productions are still filming on the lot. Rosenfeld stops frequently to check in with his transportation captains and coordinators. Every production has one of each and many are old friends. He has only been on the Warner Bros. payroll for two years, but Rosenfeld is no stranger to show business.
"For 25 years, I worked as a freelance transportation coordinator for features and TV shows," he says. "One of the tools I brought to this job was experience in the trenches."
Every morning brings a new shooting schedule, and it's the responsibility of Rosenfeld, his team of dispatchers and more than 300 drivers to be sure each production gets the vehicles it needs for the day's work. The job already seems daunting - the Warner Bros. fleet includes more than 400 vehicles, including Toyota Priuses, three-axle tractor trailers and everything in between - but Rosenfeld also oversees an important ongoing project: He is now running part of his fleet on 20 percent biodiesel.
The cleaner-burning fuel helps Rosenfeld's largest vehicles meet California's famously strict emissions standards, which now require near-zero levels of particulates and nitrogen oxide (NOx) for heavy duty diesel trucks. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that switching from 100 percent petroleum diesel to a 20 percent biodiesel blend - commonly referred to as B20 - can reduce the output of particulate matter by up to 12 percent. Most diesel engines can run on B20, but Rosenfeld hopes to increase the biodiesel concentration as he cycles in newer trucks.
Meanwhile, he must also rely on the latest in diesel particulate filter (DPF) technology and NOx-reducing exhaust treatment systems to stay within state guidelines.
"We have now purchased 26 brand-new large trucks, with another 60 to go," Rosenfeld says. "Some of the vehicles are so old, they can't even be retrofitted. We came up with a five-year plan to phase them out."
At a sound stage near the center of the lot, Warner Bros. Television's "The Mentalist" is wrapping production on its third season. A 2009 Peterbilt three-axle is parked outside, its fifth wheel coupled to the crime drama's props trailer. Bolted to the frame is a factory-installed DPF, designed
to remove 85 to 100 percent of soot particles from the truck's exhaust.
To reduce NOx output, Peterbilt is among the majority of truck manufacturers that uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology. In an SCR system, an ultra pure urea, more commonly known as diesel exhaust fluid or DEF, is injected from a proprietary tank into the truck's hot exhaust stream. The resulting chemical reaction converts nitrogen oxide into harmless water vapor and nitrogen gas.
"Ideally, the air coming out of the tailpipe is actually cleaner than when it passed through the radiator," Rosenfeld says.
The move toward biodiesel has not gone unnoticed on the lot. One production that exclusively uses the greener trucks is "The Closer," a TNT police procedural filmed at the studio as well as locations all over Los Angeles. Thanks in part to efforts by the show's star, actress Kyra Sedgwick, the show has become the studio's flagship 'Green Production.' Biodiesel also fuels the generators that power the location lights, plastic water bottles have been phased out in favor of refillable aluminum canisters and the production offices are nearly paperless.
"We encourage all our productions to use the trucks running on B20," Rosenfeld says, "but I believe she was the first to actually ask about it."
Going green will require a fond farewell for some of the studio's most veteran vehicles. Rosenfeld drives past a trio of Ford three-axles with sun-bleached Warner Bros. logos. They have been in service for many years, but they're close to retirement. Rosenfeld will work with an auction house in nearby Fontana to remarket the trucks.
"Those older diesels must be sold outside of California, and they often end up outside the country," he says. "We work with a company that comes in, picks them up and takes them away."
On his way back to the transportation offices, Rosenfeld stops at the lot's fuel island. It's accessible 24 hours a day and automated by software designed specifically for studio transportation. Drivers can fill up on unleaded gasoline, super unleaded, regular diesel or B20. The twin 1,000-gallon, cylindrical biodiesel tanks are housed
in rectangular overflow bins and protected by concrete barriers. Those safety measures will remain in place until the tanks go underground.
A driver parks one of the studio's late-model International stakebed trucks near the island and Rosenfeld pulls alongside. He taps on one of the gray sideboards, which are made from 100 percent post-consumer plastics.
"This plastic composite can take a beating," Rosenfeld says. "You can tie down loads without worrying if the lumber will crack or splinter. And it doesn't have to be treated, because it's already water- and moistureproof. So we know it will last longer, and we'll save a few trees, too."
When the truck is retired, its bed will likely remain in service. Rather than ordering upfits for newly procured vehicles, Rosenfeld has them lifted and refit to new chassis cabs whenever possible. All the work is performed on-site by Warner Bros.' team of six full-time mechanics.
Lining the road between the auto shop and Rosenfeld's office is a long row of cargo containers lifted from retired semi trailers. They're no longer fit for roadwork, but they continue to serve as storage containers.
"When we say we recycle everything we can," Rosenfeld says, "we mean it!"
Sidebar: Getting Leaner and Greener
Since his first days at Warner Bros., Jonathan Rosenfeld has worked closely with garage foreman Dave Boston to make the studio's fleet as efficient as possible. The two offer the following tips for managing fleets of any size:
Reconsider your leasing strategy. Warner Bros. used to lease smaller vehicles with one-year deals on an OEM program designed specifically for studio fleets. When the program was discontinued, the company switched to two- and three-year leases and enjoyed near-term and long-term savings as a result.
Make new relationships. The studio's procurement process requires bids from multiple vendors, including those that serve the transportation department.
Keep the weight off. When spec'ing new trucks, consider add-ons such as liftgates and jockey boxes that are made from aluminum rather than heavier steel. Composite plastic stakebed sides, as described in the article, are now also widely available.
Know your cargo. The studio's courier department, which delivers scripts, other parcels and some boxed items around town, used to drive minivans and Ford Escape Hybrids. Rosenfeld sacrificed unused cargo space for mpg by phasing those vehicles out in favor of Toyota Priuses, improving fuel economy for that department by 30 to 40 percent.
Consider recycling truck bodies. You don't have to have a full shop with metal fabrication capabilities; check with your local upfitters to see if they will attach your current bed to a new chassis cab.