JCL Blog

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

Crashing into Garbage in the North Pacific

Chris Jordan and his team have reached their initial fund raising goal for the Midway Film project.  The total raised is now over $105,000 and continues to climb.  The Midway Film project has gone from 0 to over 1,500 contributors in less than a month because this story about plastic in the ocean resonates with people from all over the world.

Here is the link to the latest update from Chris and his team -- presently on Midway Island.

Here is a link to the Midway Film trailer.

Also ongoing right now is the bi-annual Victoria to Maui sailboat race.  You can track the progress of the boats, that left Victoria BC, Canada on July 3 and are now over half way to Maui on the official web site here.  It is interesting to note that the sailors are on the look out for floating garbage from the Japanese Tsunami last year -- just now reaching the coast of North America.  

Here is a link to an intersting tracking site on USA Today.

Here is a link to the story about the sailors and avoiding the garbage.


The Legacy of the Bread Clip

We cite the story of the bread clip whenever a buddy comes up with a business idea that is not sexy but could become ubiquitous.  I bet it was only yesterday that you heard yourself saying "You are a regular Folyd B Paxton" in response to a proposal for a handy belt holster for tooth picks.  After all, a person can get rich one one hundredth of a cent at a time -- as long as there are billions of times.

Floyd B Paxton, of Yakima, Washington is credited as the inventor of the bread clip.  I doubt anyone knows how many billions of bread clips have been made since that fateful day in the early 1950s, or if Floyd's Kwik Lok corporation made much money, but we can be quite sure that most of those bread clips are still in existence.  

If your sense of humor about this kind of thing is as warped as mine, you should check out this website that considers the bread clip a living organism that feeds off of the plastic bag.  They call them "occlupanids":

Since very little of occlupanid’s behavior has been recorded, its life cycle remains a mystery. Most scholars agree that occulpanids attach themselves to the plastic bags to gain nourishment. Plastic bags, when distended with matter, twist their anterior aperature (usually clockwise, but research is inconclusive), forming a tight stricture that ends in a halo formed by the fringe of the bag.

Actually, it would be much better if the bread clip was a living organism that ate plastic.  That is exactly what we need on this earth.  Unfortunately the bread clip is not biodegradable.  It takes thousands of years for them to decay.  That means that a single bread clip in the environment could be injested by and destroy dozens of animals as it and its sharp corners passes through one after another.

If you want to think more about this kind of thing, join us at the Midway Film project on Kickstarter:  6 days and $25,000 to go to make the goal so Chris Jordan can produce this incredible film.

If you are wondering how my no plastic July is going, the answer simply is not good.  This week I had to break down and get toothpaste, and the other day I was at the movies and ordered a water -- before I thought about that blasted plastic bottle.  Good thing I don't have much hair left to pull out.


Living Without Plastic: Mission Impossible?

Day 0 (my Costco trip before July started)

There is plastic everywhere.  There are some situations where avoiding plastic is pretty easy -- not buying bottled water, avoiding electronics with big plastic packages.  These situations are rare compared to the items where there does not seem to be any viable alternative but to buy the plastic.  Toothpaste, dish washing detergent, cheese, meat.  In some cases I had the choice between a plastic bottle and a glass bottle -- olive oil for example, but those situations were rare.  My month without buying plastic had not even started and it seems impossible.

Day 1 (yesterday)

Luckily I did not need to buy anything yesterday -- so I was able to make it through the first day of my quest without an outright failure.  It is really no victory because I did in fact just stock up with mountains of plastic at Costco.

Day 2 (today)

I may just make it through today for the same reason as yesterday.  But in the four days since I thought of this -- I have become accutely aware that our society will have to change significantly if we are going to be successful in reducing the use of plastics.

Remember this?


  • Ben! Excuse me.
  • Mr. McQuire          
  • Ben.              
  • Mr. McQuire.               
  • Come on with me for a minute. I want to talk to you. I just want to say on word to you, just one word.
  • Yes, sir.
  • Are you listening?
  • Yes I am.
  • Plastics.
  • Exactly how do you mean?
  • There is a great future in plastics.
  • Think about it. Will you think about it?
  • Ben! Excuse me.
  • Mr. McQuire          
  • Ben.              
  • Mr. McQuire.               
  • Come on with me for a minute. I want to talk to you. I just want to say on word to you, just one word.
  • Yes, sir.
  • Are you listening?
  • Yes I am.
  • Plastics.
  • Exactly how do you mean?
  • There is a great future in plastics.
  • Think about it. Will you think about it?


It is hard to believe that this scene with Ben and Mr McQuire in The Graduate happened in 1967.  Back when toothpase came in an aluminum tube, and motor oil (and beer) came in metal cans.  It was only 45 years ago.  In this short time we have filled the oceans with plastic waste.  

If you have found a way to avoid buying plastic - leave me a comment and I will compile a master list.

Check in on Chris Jordan's Midway project here.  15 days and $58,000 to go.  Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

Here is an interesting story about fishermen, fishing for plastic in the north sea.


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.

Quality Propels Itself on KickStarter

It seems that everyone has an opinion on crowdsourcing.  Some say it is going to liberate the artists, others say that scammers will ruin it.  

My observation is that the crowd has the ability to recognize quality and that good projects get funded.

Here are two examples:

Chris Jordan's Midway Project

Chris is a very talented and successful photographer who has launched an incredible project featuring the albatrosses on Midway in the north pacific ocean.  You can learn more about Chris here. You can see the a video treatment of the idea here. And you can contribute on KickStarter here.  In two days he is already at 238 backers and nearly $15,000 of his $100,000 goal.  

Neal Stepheneson's Clang

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors.  Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books of all time and I liked Reamde quite a bit too.  He wants to revolutionize swordplay in video games and has launched an effort called Clang.  Check it out here.  In two days he has over 3,000 contributors and is about to push past $200,000 on the way to his $500,000 goal.  

It is hard to watch either of these pitches and resist getting involved.  And getting involved has never been easier.  

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!