I just returned from National Ocean Week in Washington, DC. While I was there, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation sponsored event. I received lots of compliments after the session, which may just mean the audience was intensely polite. In any case, several people asked for the outline and references from the talk, so I'm publishing it here. This is approximately what I said...
CHOW Film Panel 2012
10 years ago, the 11 month old girl my wife and I adopted from China could not speak English. Mei An eventually learned to say her name, but it came out as “na”. The word “milk” came out “nunk” and her word for cup was “chup”. So when she would say, “Na nunk chup”, it meant “Mei An wants milk in a cup”.
We later adopted a 2 ½ year old boy from Taiwan. Tynan had a language, but his version of Taiwanese was not useful … AT ALL. But he did learn that “Na nunk chup” meant he got milk. He adapted, why? Because he REALLY WANTED MILK. He learned the language because it mattered.
Today, “more than 50% of all content consumed on the internet is video content”. In addition, according to YouTube reports, in the time I’ve been talking, 48 hours of video content has been uploaded.
Film (and online video) has become its own sort of language, or at least the primitive beginnings of a language. I say primitive because if the predictions are correct, three things are about to make us fluent, not in English, nor Mandarin, nor Spanish… but fluent in video.
• Massive increase in IP traffic
• Massive increase in mobile devices and their capabilities
• Massive increase in IP delivered VIDEO content
Cisco, only a few days ago, released a forecast[i]
for 2011 – 2016.
Here are some of their predictions:
In 2016, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross global IP networks every 3 minutes. Global IP networks will deliver 12.5 petabytes every 5 minutes in 2016. (A Petabyte is 1 Million GB, or 1,000 TB). Globally, mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold between 2011 and 2016. Mobile data traffic will reach 10.8 exabytes per month by 2016. (1 Exabyte = 1 Billion GB or 1 Million TB) ALSO… Google has recently predicted[ii]that 1 billion people will use a mobile phone as their primary tool to access the internet in 2012. By 2016, it could take over 6 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month. Every second, 1.2 million minutes of video content will cross the network in 2016. Video-on-demand traffic will triple by 2016. The equivalent of 4 billion DVDs per month. Last November, Cisco predicted that in three years, 90% of all internet traffic will be video.
The point is this. If you want to make your point, you better learn to speak the right language. If online video is the language, then documentary is something like an dialect. As with any language, there needs to be structure, rules and standards… and the structure of film is STORY.
2. Love the story. Passion.
Something special happens when we start to care about stories.
A few years back, Mark DiOrio and Mara Kerr became deeply interested in the humpback whales that migrated between Alaska and Hawaii and gotten entangled in marine debris. Mara was especially touched by the effort to free them. In short, she started to care. The more she knew about it, the more passionate she became, and that fueled her already deep involvement in the ocean as an author. And that’s when Mark and Mara shared their contagious passion with me.
>> VIDEO CLIP 1 << (1:11)
So that provided the setting for the film. Classic story has a setting, a hero or protagonist, and a journey. And that’s what resonates with us.
“In The Wake Of Giants” was not a film about whales. I spent most of my 30 year career telling the stories of missionaries and NGO’s in developing countries. What I learned in that time was to tease out who is who. Our humpbacks are the damsels in distress. Our hero, in this case Ed Lyman, who represents the Marine Sanctuary Program and the whole network of rescuers who took us on a journey.
>> VIDEO CLIP 3 << (1:15)
So… the journey, it’s pretty clear that what’s at stake in this case is the life of a whale. This is the kind of thing that connected with Mara in the first place. You’re pulling for the whale and the rescuers there to rescue it. You get the feeling that they whale and the rescuers are working together to meet the task. And this story had the reward built in, as they make the cut and the whale is freed.
A couple things about style.
• MUSICAL SCORE I insisted that we score the film. We had no budget so I recruited my son Blaise, a talented but untested composer. Music played a key role in moving the story forward… why? Because our audience is musically literate. We had to respect our audience. They’re fluent. Blaise and I collaborated heavily on moving the story both visually and musically.
• CREATING WONDER Even a 5 year old is video literate. I recently watched a three year old navigate an iPad to Netflix to find her favorite kid’s program… Good story has a sense of wonder, (that’s done by asking the right questions), and highly disciplined editing.
• SEDUCTION Shortly into our 90 day process of making ITWOG, it occurred to me that my job was not to close the gap between the audience and the ocean… but to narrow the gap. The true test of persuasion is if you can get your enemy to do a double-take. If a whaler could say, “I disagree with you, but cool film…” I’ve narrowed the gap.
There is a difference between a lecture and a story. I believe we need to lecture less and seduce more.
There used to be patrons of the arts. The Medici’s funded the art of the day because it made them powerful and the desire to be a powerful force in Italian culture. To own art was to own the message. That’s not so different is it? Do you want people to care about the ocean? They have to fall in love with it, and I believe that’s done through story.
If you believe what Cisco is predicting is even close… you better start reserving part of your budget for making your work relevant to today’s viewers. Today we search for our content, but increasingly… our content has a way of finding us. YouTube reports that the vast majority of videos watched are not a direct result of a search. We watch what is recommended to us.
Bob Talbot said to me recently… “At my age it’s more important to be effective than to be right.” Another way to say that is… pay attention to how people are wired, LOVE the story you want to tell and tell it in a way that seduces them to narrow the gap between them and the ocean. Believe it or not, you will not save the oceans. You know who will? The billions of people who don’t see their connection to it. Film can connect people and the sea.
Ocean managers… grant writers… researchers… even corporate investors, the newest and most prolific language is evolving all around you. It’s time to step forward in a meaningful way and put funds into film… Develop a trusting relationship with a filmmaker who is fluent in story… when they become passionate about your work, others will begin to care about the ocean. Wouldn’t it be disappointing if, by 2016 your only meaningful message was… “na nunk chup”