There’s no stopping the woman who set out to make the film industry sustainable.
“I’m just a Taurus female. There’s no getting around it,” says Eva Radke, the owner of Film Biz Recycling, as we settle on one of the many couches spread across the soon-to-be-shuttered 11,000-square-foot warehouse space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. I mentally place her celebrity look-alike (Amy Poehler) as she shuffles the pillows around and tells me about the course of events that led to the decision to close FBR, a nonprofit and retail store that diverts discarded set materials, despite her bullish efforts to keep it afloat. “It’s like watching a unicorn die,” she says.
Talk to this 44-year-old film industry veteran, and she might recount that time her eight-year-old son Hudson ate all the store’s prop candy, give you some tips on how to avoid a rattlesnake on a cow path, and offer you a sugar-tipped Nat Sherman cigarette. She might even invite you to a party, like the one she’s throwing later that evening, featuring a bacon-themed menu and a keg. “We throw amazing parties here,” she says. “The most fun people come.” If like attracts like, I can see why.
While we talk, a stout woman approaches and settles into one of the two studded white Elvis chairs opposite us. “Tell me what you think,” Eva says. “It’ll be 25% off for you.”
The woman explains that she is a medium who does “channeling,” which allows her to read the possibilities of a person’s life. The rocking chair she has used for two decades is “finally going.” When I ask her to tell me more about reading the Akashic records, she says, “A good question to always ask is, what next step should I take in this situation?”
“God, I need that advice,” Eva moans.
FBR is not just an apartment-furnishing mainstay for people in the neighborhood (including this one—I once hauled a desk chair 18 blocks home from FBR), but a huge coup for sustainability in an industry that couldn’t care less.
In fact, Eva faced resistance even before she joined the film biz. Once told to get off set because her young, blonde presence was “distracting,” she has been running on her own verve since she fled her conservative Texas family for New York City at age 22. With an oil company in the clan, they were gunning for her to study law and become the family lawyer (Film Biz Recycling may have won an EPA Award without even being nominated, but Eva’s grandfather was sued for dumping toxic waste into the water supply in the 60s and 70s). She respected their wishes as far as the University of Texas, where she told them she was studying business. She sold those textbooks to buy film books instead (pocketing any remainder).
In New York, she worked her way up through the creative ranks, eventually becoming a freelance art department coordinator for the likes of Spike Lee.
She quit that to start FBR, a one-stop drop-off point for the paint, furniture and wardrobe leftovers that production companies usually unload at the dump. “I wanted that service for the industry to be easy,” she says. “Because that’s the only way that they were going to do it.” The only things that Eva and her team threw out were “bags of potato chips, tape, and photographs.” Everything else, down to the bubble wrap, was repurposed. But despite a diversion rate that would make any environmentalist weep with joy (97%), the nonprofit was losing money every year. While the organization managed to cover 80% of operations costs, it still needed $100k more annually to break even. That money, Eva says, was “nowhere to be found.”
“And that is chump change to the film industry,” she adds, mentioning working on the Super Bowl commercial that launched Under Armour for which she was given a budget of $350k. “It was the desire to do the right thing that wasn’t there.”
When she tried to take up the problem with the powers-that-be, she was met with a whole lot of “not in my backyard.” One sanitation department worker suggested she call Leonardo DiCaprio. (“I wish I would’ve said, ‘he told me to call you,’” she lamented. “You think of all your good comebacks later.”) Her “Hail Mary” call came on Earth Day of this year, when she talked with the Motion Picture Association of America to ask the “big six” in the production industry to give her the needed funds. Only two listened to her plea.
The others simply didn’t take the time to come and see what FBR was really about, Eva says—there was “no motivation for them to do that.” They had already accounted for their props and set pieces in their massive budgets, so “who cares that you throw mid-century credenzas in the dump?”
The toll is human as well as environmental. Film Biz Recycling is a neighborhood resource for designers, filmmakers, students and artists who come to the prop house for materials they couldn’t otherwise afford, not to mention volunteers from the local PTA scoring cheap three-ring binders.
“It’s been like a funeral procession,” Eva says. “I’m shocked people don’t have casseroles with them.”
Even as we talk, another woman approaches and tells Eva how much she and her colleagues at the Creative League will miss Film Biz Recycling. Eva’s eyes tear up.
“This is the second time I’ve broken down today,” she says.
Even so, she’s optimistic about the change she has made to the culture of the film industry. She has also gained enormous skills and connections through her years running FBR, business savvy that she is using for her next project, Artcube and the soon-to-be-launched Artcubepedia. That business essentially involves making FBR all virtual via a production-to-production collaboration platform that connects production companies with businesses. Eva already has clients in 17 cities, with big plans to expand.
If she breaks down from time to time along the way—well, that’s all part of the business plan.
“Emotion is power,” Eva says. “I use my emotions every day, and I’m never going to apologize for that—for feeling.”
Now, though, it’s time to ice down the keg.
Photos courtesy: Adam Golub