March 30th, 2012
The webpage for the S Factor 2 last month in Salt Lake City is now complete — have a look.
THE S FACTOR 2 IN ACTION. Here’s a 6 minute video giving you an overall feel for how the S Factor 2 event last month at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Salt Lake City went. It was great — an excellent mixture of brave new videomakers and a panel doing their best to help improve the level of storytelling. Can’t wait for the next one.
The future is now, with the S Factor workshops! In the future, pretty much everyone will be “speaking” to the world through video. Almost as easily as you write an email you’ll be “writing” a short video to convey your thoughts. Plenty of scientists are beginning to realize this, so we’ve put these workshops together to help the process.
There’s two basic steps in making effective videos. First, you need to learn how to shoot a video camera and how to edit the footage together. Then, once you’ve developed the ability to actually make a video, it’s time to move to the next level by having your clips assembled in such a manner as to tell some sort of coherent story that can: 1) GRAB the interest of viewers, 2) HOLD their interest as you lead them along a journey, and 3) PAY OFF their interest by answering the question(s) you posted in the beginning.
The S Factor workshops are an evolutionary process, sponsored by NSF and ASLO, as we slowly work with the science folks to help them produce smoother and more effective videos. We’ll be doing it again later this year with S Factor 3 — stay tuned for details!
March 29th, 2012
Was the KONY 2012 media campaign just a flash-in-the-pan or a gigantic victory? It’s too early to tell.
ACTION PLANS vs. ENTHUSIASM
I often open my talks with the warning, “For some of this stuff I’m making it up as I go along.” But then I add, “However, in today’s rapidly changing media world, if you’re not making part of it up as you go along, you’re probably not connected with the cutting edge.” There’s just no reliable sources for knowing how things like Twitter work. It’s only been a couple years since everyone went Tweet-crazy — there hasn’t been enough time for textbooks to be written on how exactly it works. You have to try and figure the rules out for yourself. Same thing for the KONY 2012 video.
Last September I was at a dinner party with a few know-it-all blowhards (hmm, wonder why they thought to invite me?) just a few days after the first Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began. These particular blowhards were very confidently opining on the newly born OWS movement which they thought was pathetic, misguided, and certain to be extremely short-lived. They kept saying, “They have no Action Plan.”
Well, I have no “Action Plan.” Never have. Some of us don’t have our lives all planned out — we live it day to day, in the moment, spontaneously, trying to listen to the world around us and make things up as we go along.
So I took exception to their blowhardiness. I pointed out that Action Plans are easy, enthusiasm is rare. Lots and lots of causes have Action Plans that accompany them to their graves. Only a few have genuine enthusiasm.
It’s now more than a half year since OWS was born. No, it hasn’t changed the nation, but yes, they did succeed in creating a symbolic milestone surprising many cities with how broad of a chord they had hit. And they’re not done. The fire is still there, they are maturing, and may slowly be assembling an Action Plan, which is fine.
The bottom line is that there was no reason for the blowhards to pass judgement so quickly on OWS before they could even get off the ground. And I say this because it was much more than just my blowhard friends. I heard the exact same opinions/complaints on lots of news talk shows including my hero Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball — he said the same thing, “They have no action plan.”
SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER, KONY 2012
So I suggest we all hold off judgement on KONY 2012 until six months have gone by. In September it should be possible to say whether it truly was just a “flash in the pan” or whether they scored big by having made “Kony” into a buzzword with enormous name recognition that’s worth its weight in gold. I’m willing to go with the latter. It’s impossible to obtain “the metrics” to reflect the value of such huge name recognition, but suffice it to say pretty much EVERYONE wants it for their cause or products. These folks, complete with their naked masturbating fearless leader, did what millions of others have failed at. I’m willing to bet that by September people will still remember Kony. Marshall MacLuhan and Andy Warhol would be applauding the Kony campaign.
Everyone is so impressed with the stunning communications success of the Kony 2012 campaign. Could it be because they spent more than half their budget on communicating effectively? While not a welcoming thought, it’s how things work in our world today. Get used to it.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE. Some day science grants will have the same budget allocations as the Kony 2012 project.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
How many times can you say this? The science world is slowly absorbing the message. When I was a graduate student, NSF grants didn’t require you to spend anything for communication (“public outreach”). Somewhere back around the time I left the science world they began to require 10% of the budget go to outreach.
There’s a crazy schizophrenia going on with this media attention stuff. EVERYBODY wants attention these days (as predicted by Richard Lanham in his excellent book, “The Economics of Attention,” which I quoted a bunch in my book). There seems to be this general ethic that you must scoff at the idea of seeking and gaining attention. And yet .. EVERYBODY wants it.
Even the most self-serious science bloggers, late at night lie awake thinking, “I wish I had more traffic on my blog.” EVERYBODY wants it.
And when something like the Kony 2012 project finally scores it in a staggeringly successful way, instead of taking an honest, objective look at “How did they do that?” large numbers of people attacked, critiqued, vilified and denigrated the campaign. The answer to the “how?” question is simple — they paid for it.
More than half their budget went to communications. Especially if you add in the salaries of their main players and accept that their main activity was making the media that would gain them the prized “attention.”
YOU WANT SCIENCE TO BE POPULAR LIKE KONY? PAY FOR IT
The biggest science organizations contact me for input on communications. When I say, “Pay me,” they balk and say they have small budgets for communication. And yet, they all dream of making, “viral videos.”
Ahhhhhhh … viral videos … just hearing the words is like heavenly music. I want a viral video. We want a viral video. Our organization wants, needs, lusts for, gets down on the floor and grinds their loins for a viral video campaign, with Kony 2012 being the ultimate orgasmic dream fulfillment.
But, alas, they don’t got the money needed to make it happen. But in the future they will. You watch. That 10% for outreach for NSF will grow to 20, then 30, then 40, then the day will happen when half of the entire budget of an NSF grant will go to hire a p.r. firm, web design firm, graphics firm, communications consultant, and personal publicist for the principal investigators.
You laugh. It’s not that far off. The only question is how much kvetching from the scientists it will be accompanied by.
March 21st, 2012
I’ve spent two weeks taking in the Kony 2012 phenomenon. It’s not all bad, but it mostly is.
HITTING THE JACKPOT WITH KONY. The guy is storytelling gold. Enormous studios in Hollywood dream of finding such a perfect villain.
“YOUR STORY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR VILLAIN IS EVIL”
In film school at USC I had the good fortune of taking Frank Daniel’s script analysis class. He was one of the legendary instructors. He created the 8 sequence model for screenwriting. David Lynch spoke at his memorial service and credited him for much of his success. The guy was amazing.
One of the basic rules I remember him saying many times is, “Your story is only as good as your villain is evil.”
So now take that basic rule of storytelling and think about Joseph Kony. Is there any better villain in the entire world right now? The founders of the Invisible Children organization realized this. When you combine this element of FEAR, with the element of HOPE, examined by Teju Cole today on The Atlantic‘s website, you get the classic Hollywood screenwriting combination of “Hope and Fear” that is at the core of most powerful storytelling. When you get that, you get to ride the rocket to communication success as the Kony folks have done.
EVERYONE is always desperately searching for a good villain. Just look at Hollywood where they have been run through the wringer over the past few decades, forced to let go of almost all ethnicities as bad guys. As soon as you try to make your bad guy an Italian American or Muslim or Eskimo you’ve got their respective anti-defamation group coming after you. But there ain’t nobody gonna come after you if your villain is a guy who makes children eat their parents or whatever they say he does. Kony is storytelling gold.
And once you find someone that everyone can agree is pure evil, then the masses love nothing more than joining together and forming a lynch mob. Which is kinda what they were creating through the internet for Kony, with a spirit of, “Yeah, let’s go get him, through our keyboards!”
A lot of people are asking what can be learned from the success of the Kony 2012 video. There are some things, as I’ll discuss in the next essay. But just be aware that fear is the number one motivational factor and you aren’t going to find a much better villain to light the bonfires of fear in the masses than Joseph Kony. He’s the jackpot. So of course the Invisible Children organization cashed in on that (until their leader ended up last Thursday running naked through the streets masturbating — roops!).
Not sure the science world has ever had a more powerful popularizer than this guy. Yes, there are lots of very enthusiastic science popularizers, but none with the sheer media muscle combined with the 100% joy and enthusiasm for it all.
TODAY’S JACQUES COUSTEAU, ONLY MORE SOPHISTICATED
James Cameron is the real deal. You want to know who’s the best voice for the oceans specifically and science in general? He’s your guy. When you look at how incredibly active he continues to be, you see he’s kind of like Superman — able to descend deep oceans in a single vessel, more powerful than the entire movie industry. Look! Down in the sea! Its a fish, its a whale, no, it’s Super-Cameron!
As if making the two highest grossing movies ever — both of which were technological marvels — weren’t enough … now he’s poised to descend to the deepest depths of the oceans.
I can tell you his enthusiasm is real and is rather astounding. In 2003 I was part of a group from Scripps who met with him to look at some clips of his deep sea hydrothermal vent footage he was loaning them for an exhibit. We were warned he was very busy and could probably only manage about 15 minutes. But once he started showing clips, well … it turned into 3 hours, literally. As the scientists identified the creatures in the footage and told him about the science, he got more and more excited, calling up to the projection booth asking them to show one clip after another.
Truly a little kid. His long time assistant told me later if Jim could have his way he’d retire from the movie business and just explore oceans and space for the rest of his career. As he’s about to do with this deep dive. He’s amazing. He’s better than Sagan for today’s world.
In 1995 Mark Dowie sent up as big of a flare as possible with his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, “Losing Ground.” He “told the story” of what had happened with American environmentalism under Ronald Reagan — it had morphed from the non-profit collaborative spirit to the soulless competitive corporate model of today. But his warnings fell on deaf ears. Now here’s a new report from Sarah Hansen that details pretty much what he predicted — that the funders would shrink their practices down into a visionless world of “quarterly metrics” producing a movement that has no major accomplishments since 1980. I’m just glad it’s other people saying this and not me.
SEARCHING FOR LIFE AMID THE RUINS. A new report from Sarah Hansen details the non-winning approach of the environmental movement over the past 30 years and points to the one under-cultivated source of hope — the grassroots.
THE DECLINE, CRASH, BURN, DEMISE, DECIMATION, AND DEATH OF AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM
I’m afraid it’s about this simple — here’s four major milestones in the mess that is today’s environmental movement:
iiiiINFECTION – 1980 Election of Ronald Reagan, appointment of James Watts as Secretary of Interior as a symbolic moment
iiiiiDANGEROUS DIAGNOSIS – Publication of Mark Dowie’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, “Losing Ground” (such a perfect title) predicting problems ahead
iiiiiPOSTMORTEM – Sarah Hansen’s 2012 report, “Cultivating the Grassroots” which notes no major environmental achievements since 1980.
Tragic. The American environmental movement struck an iceberg around 1981 when they panicked in response to Reagan’s appointment of James Watt as Secretary of Interior. In response, money came pouring into environmental organizations from donors like never before. And guess what money does. It corrupts.
The movement got corrupted. Not in an evil way. Most of the people who began reshaping the major organizations into more corporate-like forms had good intentions. They kinda just drank the Koolaid that you can bring in corporate marketing, communications, and strategy folks and not lose your spiritual way.
Mark Dowie in his landmark book, “Losing Ground,” quoted Nobel Laureate George Wald‘s warning at Earth Day in 1970 that America was coming, “perilously close to allowing ‘anti-pollution to become a new multi-billion dollar business.” By “anti-pollution” he meant the environmental movement in general. He was right. By the mid-1990’s the large environmental NGO’s became another corporate styled set of businesses, complete with renaming their “Executive Directors” as “CEO’s” (could you ask for any clearer sign of selling out?).
I think a lot of people thought they could take on the appearance of corporate professionalism yet retain the soul of grubby hippy enviros. Didn’t work. Oh, well.
Now Sarah Hansen has produced an interesting report (though Mark Dowie said pretty much the same stuff in the video we did with him in 2005 titled, “Empowering the Grassroots,” which you can still find on our Shifting Baselines page here). She makes some nice blunt statements, but in the end I think she misses the biggest problem, which is that the heads of the major environmental groups have become, not leaders with grand bold visions they are willing to individually fight for, but rather “FACILITATORS” with the mission of conducting polls, securing “metrics”, and basically asking the public and their employees, “what do you people want to do?”
What can you expect for results with that sort of system?
Who’d a thunk a documentary about the ultimate head banging music tour would be so interesting and enjoyable. It’s a great and memorable film.
The trailer can’t convey the storytelling — you really can’t do that in two minutes. Just take my word for it, the trailer is great, but the movie is even better.
ONCE AGAIN, ITS ABOUT FINDING THE STORIES
Okay, who wants to sit through an hour and a half of pierced, tattooed and screaming teenagers banging their heads to the “music” of unknown groups? Definitely not me last night. But I was wrong. What a great movie. Seriously.
My friend Agi Orsi (who produced the excellent classic documentaries, “Dogtown and Z Boys,” and “Riding Giants“) invited me to the opening night screening of the new documentary, “No Room for Rockstars,” which she produced. The movie covers the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. I remember talking to her that summer when they were in the thick of it and wondering, “how in the world did she get roped into that project?”
It’s an excellent movie. Seriously. I sat in the back for the first ten minutes, seeing all the standard high energy wacky punk ska shouting bands scenes and wondering if I would last the entire screening. But then an amazing thing began to happen — the characters and stories began to emerge. And at the core was one very strong and compelling kid they managed to find to tell the entire story of the tour through his eyes.
He’s a chunky rocker named Joe (you see him a bunch in the trailer driving their van). He and his band, “Forever Came Calling,” aren’t even a part of the tour — they’re tagging along, desperately hoping to become part of the tour someday as they sell their CDs in the parking lot and try to raise enough money for their gas and Top Ramen meals. They provide everything you need for a classic story arc. They begin wide eyed and enthusiastic, raving about the tour and their dreams, begging people to buy their CDs, but by halfway through the movie they end up in complete tatters, sitting on the ground beside their broken down van, completely out of money, and all of them literally crying like a bunch of elementary school kids who just got beat up. It’s a tremendous scene, from which they immediately cut to one of the most successful lead singers on the tour sitting in the comfort of his touring bus having the time of his life.
JUST LIKE “REAL SPORTS” YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE THE SUBJECT MATTER TO LIKE THE MOVIE
This is what I keep talking about with the art of storytelling, and what the science and environmental worlds need to grasp. When you get so overly consumed with your subject matter or trying to “communicate a message,” you run the risk of boring people. You have to be able to back off enough and find the broader, more human stories. This is the deal with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that I’m constantly pointing out — the show isn’t about sports, it’s about people. It’s the deal with NPR’s “This American Life” — just great storytelling. And it’s the case with this solidly made movie — they didn’t get carried away with all the details of which group sings which song and how. No, they just looked for and found excellent, interesting, relatable characters and stories in the midst of all the seeming chaos of the tour.
And there’s several other really great characters in the movie — breakout star Mike Posner shows the joys of success, lead singer Mitch Lucker from Suicide Silence does a great job of explaining the personal side of screaming his lyrics at the insane mobs of kids, tour founder and director Kevin Lyman reveals the sort of charisma that makes it instantly clear why the tour works so well, and Chris Drew of Never Shout Never is half likeable, half annoying. But all of them are distinctive, well defined characters. And Fletcher from Pennywise (whom I remember meeting 15 years ago in a bar in Hollywood one night with friends) plays the role of grand old man eventually offering up the title as he says what becomes abundantly clear, that on the Vans Warped Tour there really is no room for rockstars as everyone is down and dirty from start to finish.
Great film. Excellent work by the director, Parris Patton, who spoke after the screening and showed that he really did know exactly what he was doing as a director. And of course Agi brought the same A-plus producing skills and vision to the movie that she has to all of her work.
They said it will be released on iTunes in a few weeks. You should watch it. You’d be surprised at how much you’ll like it. Seriously. This is kinda shocking but it really made me want to see the tour some day, and if Joe the chunky kid had been there with his band I would definitely have bought their CD.
March 1st, 2012
CHOSEN FOR THE MONTHLY 100 ON AMAZON
Here’s their page where you can get the Kindle version for a mere buck ninety nice. Of course the first thought is, “Oh, a clearance sale to get rid of back inventory.” But no, it’s an eBook — not quite the same.