JCL Blog

See the Ice - While You Still Can

I was lucky enough to see the big glaciers in action in 2008 when we did the inside passage trip including Glacier Bay.  If you have not been to SE Alaska - I highly recommend it.

This is a picture I took of the Marjorie glacier in Glacier Bay.

The movie Chasing Ice, opening this weekend in Seattle at the Egyptian Theater, is an incredible film that gets you right up close to many of the big glaciers in the northern hemisphere.  It is a good reminder of the absolute majesty of our earth, and an inspiration to go and see for yourself.

If you are not a documentary person, check out this review by Roger Ebert.  He will help you get past any preconceived notions of this film genre.

Earlier this week I attended an advanced screening of the movie in San Francisco and met James Balog and learned more about the project and Extreme Ice Survey, his foundation that is continuing the work chronicled in the film.  Mr. Balog and his dedicated crew are modern day heroes and people we can all look up to as they work to do something for us and for our planet.  

You just may find yourself feeling like you would like to do something for the cause after watching the film.  If so, there is a donate button on the Extreme Ice Survey website -- making it super easy to take action.  


The New World of Film Making

Here is more from my effort to learn as much as possible about where the documentary film business is going.  The following seven observations may be obvious to people in the business, but hey, I am not in the business.  

Pick the Right Topic and No Polarization

Projects must tend more towards journalism and less towards propaganda.

Audience Comes First

From a proof of concept by raising seed funding, to keeping the project alive until it is fully designed, the audience comes first and tracks the project all of the way.

The Roadmap - Finish the Movie Before...

Since the audience funded production, the big money can wait until the film is done, and it is time for P & A.  The film maker can now avoid dead end funding sources or giving up control.

Big Money Relationships

With the film complete (paid for by the audience) and the audience following verifiable, P & A money can be raised without giving away the farm.

2 Way Conversations 

The relationship between the film maker and the audience involves a conversation.  The audience can be a source of inspiration without letting the crowd pick the ending.

Free Generates More Revenue

The film can build audience, interest and momentum by offering any combination of free and paid content.  Err on the side of wider distribution and the money will come from everything ranging from companion products to events. Build a Brand and Connect the Lists Always keep an eye on the next project and employ tactics to connect one following to the next.  This is brand building at its most fundamental.  

The Sum of the Parts

The week is only half over and I can already say it has been one of the best weeks of the year for me.  I had the chance to spend the last two days with a small group of very smart and motivated people talking about how the documentary film business is evolving and to think out loud about how films could be used to change the world.  

As we wrapped up yesterday afternoon, many of the participants somewhat sheepishly mentioned to me that they didn’t feel like they contributed as much as they got back.  I say sheepishly because the people involved are not ones to shy away from contributing. This leads me to think about how collective impact (outside of the not for profit world this is sometimes called collective action) works and how systems can be created where each participant does not feel overwhelmed or over taxed, but everyone together accomplishes great things.

Fortunate people have been on small teams that work together well and make great things happen with a level of effort that may be great but never seems painful.  In my experience, those groups have been small.  What would happen if that same ease of working together, trendier people would use the word “synergy” here, could be expanded to thousands or even millions of people? If this could happen, we just might be able to change the world.  

We have some pretty big problems to face and it is going to take something like this to stare them down.  No matter your political stripes, pollution, population, healthcare and wealth distribution are some big issues that are influenced by extremely complex systems.  What if each of us only needs to do one little thing, but by working together could change things dramatically?  

A recently study reported that 75% of people that watched the movie “Food Inc.” changed their eating behavior. Films just might be a big part of building a system that would reverse some of the unbelievably bad trends we see today.

The dark side of collective action is already at work ensuring that our appetite for fuel and french fries always increases.  We live in a system -- and I think we can change it.  We can be part of a world where the result of our collective action is greater than the sum of our individual contributions.

Stay tuned for more of this thinking.  Until then, check out these films:  

The Midway Film by Chris Jordan

Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski

Speaker Summary: Richard Stevenson

Film maker Richard Stevenson presented to Emerald City Rotary today about the work he is doing on the 5000 Days project.  After a quick introduction he showed a short film featuring just one of hundreds of kids he is creating video biographies for.  It was an inspiring story about Christian, an immigrant from Mexico who is living in Seattle, attended Shoreline High School, and making a life for himself.  After over ten years of working with these incredibly inspiring kids, and many more in the five countries where he has launched his project, Rick has learned that all middle school aged young people feel incredibly alone – and can be helped by knowing that everyone feels the same way.  The 5000 Days Project videos serve to communicate this learning to students and is being adopted as curriculum in several school districts including Shoreline and Issaquah. 

Here are some links should you wish to learn more:

5000 Days Project / Two Brothers Movie:  http://twobrothersthemovie.com/

Richard Stevenson Biography at The Film School:  http://thefilmschool.com/rick-stevenson/

Paper or Plastic?

I have been working with Chris Jordan on his Midway Film project for the past month and have decided that at the very least I have to try to not contribute so much to the problem of plastic in our oceans.  So for the month of July, my family and I are going to try to not to buy any plastic at all.  

Sure, asking for paper bags at the grocery store is a start.  But as I suspect I am going to find out later this week when we go to Costco, not buying plastic is probably impossible.  I will be reporting my progress here.

If you are interested in the project, here are a few things to check out:

Chris Jordan's TED talk about waste.

A post about how long plastic lasts (forever).

A post about the myths of plastic recycling (doesn't really work).

Another TED talk about plastic trash.

Later, maybe August, I am going to try to figure out how to responsibly dispose of the plastic I already have.

If you want to do something to help, but aren't quite ready to give up plastic, here is a link to Chris Jordan's MidwayFilm project's Kickstarter.

Heroes in a Complicated World


You see, its complicated.  We live in complicated times.  Even simple solutions like: use less oil, evoke a tangled web of implications and polarized constituencies.  As the mountain of data available to us grows exponentially, and the tools to analyze it repeatedly double in capability, the complexity we face only gets, well, more complicated.
In these complicated times, the value of the story teller is going up.  Boy do we need people who can weave together compelling narratives from the chaos of our world.
Last week I was lucky enough to meet a handful of storytelling heroes.  People who have dedicated their lives to sifting through the human experience to craft stories that grab us, convey understanding and compel us to do something.  These people are documentary film makers. Here are some great ones you should check out:
  • Chris Jordan went to the middle of the Pacific ocean to photograph the Pacific Gyre.  That island of floating garbage that we have all read about but have never seen.  It turns out we have not seen it because it defies the camera.  The waste is in small pieces, and spread widely enough that it cannot be seen by a person or a camera.  It can however be seen in the stomachs of sea birds dying on Midway island.  Check out the trailer for Chris Jordan's new project Midway.
  • Louie Psihoyos went to Japan to see dophins slaughtered and their mercury laden meat fed to school children.  His creation, The Cove, won an Academy Award and cut the dolphin death rate in half.
  • Chris Paine took on both Detroit and Washington with his 2 movie series: Who Killed the Electric Car and The Revenge of the Electric Car. Now he has created a web site to counter the spin about the environment in the media.  It is called CounterSpill and there you can see a living archive of 100 years of environmental events.
  • James Balog installed 31 cameras to capture the slow motion death of glaciers in "Chasing Ice".  He also has published an excellent string of books.
  • Peter Byck created Carbon Nation, the movie billed as "the climate change solutions movie that doesn't even care if you believe in climate change.
We live in a world where heroes are rare.  We have made Warren Buffet, Lloyd Blankfein and Mark Zuckerberg our heroes because we just don't know where to look for the real heroes.  The next time you find yourself frustrated by the state of things in the world, give some of your time or money to your favorite documentary film maker.  It will feel great and who knows what will come of it!