The Green Screen
Here in Aotearoa, we are lucky to have our very own vegan king and queen of the screen in Holly Shervey and Emmett Skilton. Actors, writers, directors, producers, and partners, the creative couple talk to Adrian Hatwell about putting veganism in the frame, both here and internationally.
As the threat of climate change looms ever larger, the global entertainment industry continues to look for ways to become more sustainable. From enviro-focused documentaries to exclusively vegan award ceremonies, there are a variety of ways players are looking to make the screen more green. Kiwis can proudly count two of our talented entertainers at the fore of this movement, role modelling the vegan lifestyle while conquering the television world. Holly Shervey and her partner Emmett Skilton are both veterans of the local screen industry, appearing in beloved programmes like Shortland Street and The Almighty Johnsons, creating their own shows from the ground up, and appearing in high-profile international productions. And both of these screen darlings fuel their busy lives of creation, performance, and promotion with a healthy plant-based diet.
Together, Holly and Emmett have created two award-winning web series: Auckward Love, a show about young women looking for love in Auckland, which ran for three seasons from 2015; and Millennial Jenny, a comedy about a typical millennial searching for her purpose. Holly has also recently been seen in local productions Mean Mums and Head High, while Emmett plays Dwayne Johnson’s real-life football coach in the NBC sitcom, Young Rock.
When it comes to working on local productions, Holly says that both the television and film industries in New Zealand are very vegan-friendly. “There’s always been vegan options for me on set,” she says. “Before I begin any project, the production always checks in to see if I have any dietary requirements, and cater to me being vegan.”
Emmett happily reports that it is much the same in the international scene, with many people in the industry looking to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles as a means to lessen their environmental footprint. “Firstly, they offer the entire cast and crew vegan and vegetarian options for all meals of the day,” he says. ”Then, in front of the camera where my character is required to eat ‘meat’, the art department provide vegan alternatives, ensuring they still tell the story of a football coach from Louisiana, while respecting my lifestyle choices.” The entertainment industry includes a great deal of emission-generating practices, including flights, fuel, and food.
A recent study by the British Film Institute suggests every blockbuster film with a budget over US$70m produces approximately 2,840 tonnes of CO2, or about the amount a 3700-acre forest absorbs in a year. But the vegan couple has witnessed heartening industry initiatives to create a more sustainable work environment, including encouraging cast and crew to be proactive in sustainable practices. “We’ve noticed cast and crew bringing their own keep cups and water bottles, and production’s encourage this,” says Holly. “The television industry is showing strong signs of moving with the times and it’s a very satisfying and exciting thing to be part of. It’s not a perfect system yet, but it’s improving!”
One of the big changes Emmett has been excited to see big studios start adopting is the shift to digital scripts. “For a long time, we would receive full printed out scripts— sometimes up to 80 pages per episode — which, as you can imagine, would use an incredible amount of paper. Many production companies have turned to emailing digital copies of the scripts now, which cast and crew can read on their tablets, computers, or phones, reducing the use of paper drastically. I think continuing in this manner is and will continue to make a big difference.”
All these changes indicate a willingness to evolve, but even within an industry that is taking positive steps, living a vegan lifestyle can often present its own unique challenges. Luckily, when it comes to the entertainment industry, both Emmett and Holly have found any difficulties very minimal.
“It’s kind of like going to a family dinner; there are vegans and non-vegans,” Holly outlines. “You have your own values and other people have theirs, and we can set a good example by sharing the positives of having a plant-based diet but we would never force it upon anyone.”
Of course, when you create a production from the ground up there’s the opportunity to build vegan values into the core of things. And that is exactly what the pair have done with their bite-size comedy series Millennial Jenny, which Holly describes as being for both millennials and any other generation that has to put up with them. “Each episode blends light-hearted comedy with the darker truths of the Millennial generation we have all come to recognise; their values, their work ethic, and their self-entitled attitude toward their colleagues and toward furthering their careers.”
Within a relatively short time, television has evolved from something that lived solely within a screen in household living rooms to something far more amorphous. The rise of streaming technology, smart devices, social media, and the ever-evolving way we interact with content means that television content now comes in many different forms, via many different platforms. As a short-form web series, Millennial Jenny sits squarely within this new mode of television and, as such, the digital platforms Instagram and TikTok are the perfect place for the show to thrive. “It has been the perfect way for us to develop Millennial Jenny and test the concept on an audience,” says Holly,who is both writer and lead actor in the show, while Emmitt directs and co-stars. “Self-producing on the web means that we have creative freedom and don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves, like you often do with a network on traditional television.”
Calling the shots like the boss vegan power couple they are, Emmett and Holly were able to keep the entire Millennial Jenny production completely vegan and even had local sponsors Hell Pizza and Proper Crisps keep the whole cast and crew fed with delicious vegan kai.
“For us, nothing beats collaborating with like-minded creatives to bring entertaining stories to audiences, and with Millennial Jenny we get to do just that,” enthuses Holly.
For the past three years, those entertaining stories have been garnering acclaim and awards from various commentators and festivals around the world, including the Portugal International Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Rome Independent Prisma Awards, and Short Stop International Film Festival, among many others. As this issue was getting ready for print, the show’s third season picked up both the Best Writer and Best Director awards in the NZ Narrative section at the New Zealand Web Fest 2021 Awards.
While the couple has clearly been on a roll over the last few years, even the stars are affected by current events, and the global pandemic has certainly made its effects felt in the entertainment industry. At the time of our interview, Holly has had shooting for a feature film delayed by several months due to Covid and Emmett is quarantined in Australia having just finished shooting season two of Young Rock. Luckily, they are equipped to do a good portion of work from their Auckland home.
“Emmett created a home studio so we can do our voiceover work, and for our acting we have script read-throughs and rehearsals over Zoom,” Holly says.
“For any writing and show development work, all we need is our laptops.”
That said, the creative couple is eager for life to return to normalcy so they can continue their steady vegan domination of the industry. Holly is looking forward to starting shooting on a feature film at the close of 2021 and the next season of Young Rock is scheduled to start airing on 15 December, plus they already have a couple of shows currently in development that are scheduled to begin shooting early next year. It sounds as though 2022 is already shaping up to be a good year for vegan entertainment.
Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.