I’m talking on the phone to a veteran TV producer and social activist in Hollywood and I’m asking how scriptwriters, film directors and producers in Los Angeles and other entertainment capitals around the world can make better use of their expertise and people to turn out more feature shows about climate change themes. Not documentaries, we have enough of them, good ones, too, but real movies, real TV serial dramas, written by people like Aaron Sorkin and produced by people like Marshall Herskovitz and others.
While my telephone friend in Los Angeles is retired now, he remains active as a passionate and concerned observer of where the world is headed, especially the world in this Age of Trump. He knows that runaway global warming is a serious issue and he knows that TV and movie producers have the means to address it.
“It’s just a question of getting the right people together and setting up some organizations to work on this issue in Hollywood,” he tells me. And he’s been arond the block a couple of times, many times, in Hollywood and New York. He knows what the game is all about.
I ask: ”Could we use serial dramas — narrative TV shows — for the primary purpose of entertainment that also inspires and educates people about climtae change themes through role modeling?” He says ”Yes, we can.” And we should, he adds.
There was a big wave of such interest back in the 1970s and 1980s that saw the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences basically turn the industry’s attention to teaching people about health issues and family planning through mainstream TV. They got involved with Everett Rogers and the three biggest TV networks in the U.S. to do this together with the Center for Disease Control, and their effort is still survived today by the organization Hollywood Health & Society which has a powerful advisory position to the Writer’s Guild of America.
So Hollywood knows how to do this.
“It’s important to get TV and movie people involved in climate change discussions,” he says. “And to goad them into making TV shows and movies that go right to the heart of the matter: how will future generations fare in a world beset by dire climate situations worldwide — doughts, floods, wildfires, sea level rise, heat waves.”
”Outside of Hollywood and New York, there are groups now in Vermont and China working on these concepts and trying to organize for actions to take, creative actions with movies and TV shows. Storytelling can work wonders. Story can capitivate the human imagination and push the emotiional buttons that might result in civic action, at the voting booths and in local communities nationwide,” he says.
After we end our phone conversation, I do some Googling.
It turned out that Marshall Herskovitz is another Hollywood player to watch. A producer, director and screenwriter who has also served as president of the Producers Guild of America (2006 – 2010). Alongside his career in the film industry, Herskovitz has devoted years to thinking about our society’s climate change problem.
“I first got into this more than 20 years ago, just by reading the science and getting really terrified. There was a big dividing line before and after ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ Before ‘Inconvenient Truth’ the issue really was that people were not aware of climate change. After ‘Inconvenient Truth,’ it became more complicated because people were aware of it, but it became much more politicized,” he told an interviewer in 2015.
”So, before ‘Inconvenient Truth,’ I was trying myself to put together a large communications campaign to get people aware of it, and I ended up through this weird, flukey thing, testifying in front of a committee in Congress. And basically what I was saying then is what I say now, which is that we are not even remotely on the right scale of what we need to be doing, and that we are all still in denial, and that, except for a small group of very vocal people, even among people who are really on board in terms of moving to combat climate change we aren’t really thinking about what we have to do. The only analogy for what we have to do is a World War Two-style mobilization.”
When asked if he thinks that Hollywood can create the narratives that needed to prod people to take action, Herskovitz said yes.
”Yes, we have the professionals who could do it. We have the professionals who could create the stories. Absolutely. ”
”I live in mass communications. I live or die by whether millions of people come and pay to see my product, and advertisers, the big advertising agencies, live or die by whether they get millions of people to respond, and that’s where the communications have to come from, and that costs a lot of money! Because you’re talking about television buys, and you’re talking about the kinds of marketing efforts that I’ve seen happen scores of times in my business. Where, for instance, we make a movie, nobody’s ever heard of that movie, you know? We then take 30, 40 million dollars and four weeks later, 96 percent of Americans know all about it. This is a very well established discipline, advertising and marketing, it just hasn’t been applied to this. So, that’s, to me, what still needs to be done. ”
“We are seeing that the tide is turning in America, there’s no question about it. There’s no question that a majority of Americans believe that one, climate change is real, two, it’s caused by humans, and three, that we need to do something about it.”
“I sort of keep track of these numbers, and basically, about 20-25 percent4 of Americans think it’s an emergency. And then there’s another 40 percent who think that we have to do something, but they don’t know what to do and they feel overwhelmed and so they don’t really deal with it in their lives. And then, on the other side, there’s another 35 percent who either don’t believe, don’t care, and a smaller percentage of them are actively opposed. But about 65 percent of Americans think we gotta do something, it’s just that we need a much bigger percentage of those people to become active. We have to make it possible for them to do something about it. Right now, they go, “It doesn’t matter what I do, you know? Even if America acts, what’s China gonna do? What’s India gonna do?” It’s changing that perception, and there are ways to do that.”