Researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed 37,453 scripts from 2016 to 2020 looking for 36 climate keywords such as “climate crisis” and “deforestation.” They found only 2.8%, or 1,046 scripts, that contained any mention of the keywords. In contrast, the word “dog” was mentioned 13 times more than all 36 climate words combined, researchers said.
Katherine Oliver, a principal at Bloomberg Philanthropies who helped fund the release of the playbook, said at a Good Energy launch event that 2.8% is a “dwindling low.”
“Our goal should be to build a bridge between the world we live in and the modern world we watch on television,” Oliver said.
Good Energy founder Anna Jane Joyner said the playbook was written after consulting over 100 screenwriters and producers as well as climate experts and psychologists. Climate data is discussed in the guide along with suggestions on how to shape characters, plot lines and present climate solutions on screen.
“If your characters cling to the bow of a ship à la The Perfect Storm, why not include an underplot about how these monster storms come every year now due to man-made global warming?” a passage suggests.
“Discussions about climate can be personal, dramatic or even fun,” reads another.
Humor and satire are used in Netflix’s Oscar-nominated “Don’t Look Up,” which plays Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in a story that satirizes denial of climate change. Author-director Adam McKay was among those consulted for the book.
“We have seen how the film has created more talks and protests to demand that governments look up,” McKay said in a statement. “Nevertheless, it’s just one movie and we have so much more to do.”
“Don’t Look Up” was released a year after the data used in the study, which also measured the audience’s awareness of climate-oriented films. The survey surveyed 2,000 people and found that the films “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” were mentioned the most, the survey found. Nearly half of respondents said they wanted to see more fictional stories highlighting climate issues.
“This is Hollywood’s role for life,” Joyner said. “We have to talk about it in our stories so we can talk about it in real life. We have to imagine a different ending than just the apocalypse.”
Joyner launched the Good Energy playbook Tuesday night at a gathering at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in front of a mix of Hollywood creatives and followers, including Bill Nye, actor Kendrick Sampson from HBO’s “Insecure” and “Contagion” screenwriter Scott Z. Burns .
Do it about the most affected people
Playbook contributors also encouraged content creators to build stories around minorities and indigenous peoples.
“They are the ones most affected and suffering from the climate crisis,” said Pastor Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus and senior adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The playbook is not pale in suggesting potential villains to story lines. In a section titled “Why”, the fossil fuel industry is a target.
“They have cast themselves as heroes and undermined key actors, politicians and government actions at all levels,” writes one contributor in an essay entitled “Greenhouse Gaslighting.”
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry association representing major oil companies, pushed back in a statement to CNN. Referring to rising energy costs and war volatility, “we must both reduce emissions and ensure access to affordable, reliable energy,” said API spokeswoman Bethany Williams. “That’s exactly what our industry has been focused on for decades. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
Proponents of the playbook call this just the beginning, saying it’s up to Hollywood to tailor scripts that reflect the serious situation the world is currently facing in real life.
“If we make a scene on the roof, let’s have solar panels on the roof. Or if we make scenes where we can model healthy eating, let’s have a filtration system and not a bottle,” said Gloria Calderón Kellett, co-showrunner of “One Day at a Time” and “How I Met Your Mother.”
Joyner ended Tuesday’s event with a final push for Hollywood screenwriters: “The most important thing you can do for the climate is to write a damn good story,” she said.