Only 2.8% of movie and TV scripts released between 2016 and 2020 even mentioned climate change, according to nonprofit Good Energy
It’s not even about making every film or show a “Don’t Look Up” climate change satire – although the director of this film, Adam McKay, is one of the playbook sponsors – but the founder and director of Good Energy, Anna Jane Joyner, says to ignore climate change in your stories is to ignore the reality we live in.
“If you stop reflecting the world your audience lives in, it drives a wedge between the audience and the story,” Joyner told TheWrap. “It would be strange at this point to have modern scripts written that didn’t include cellphones or modern technology. And that’s the direction we’re headed in with the climate crisis.
As part of the playbook, officially titled “Good Energy: A Playbook for Screenwriting in the Age of Climate Change,” Joyner, in partnership with USC’s Media Impact Lab at the Norman Lear Center, found that out of 37,453 television scripts and films published between 2016 and 2020, only 2.8% – just over 1,000 – mentioned climate change. The screenplays studied were not fantasy films, period dramas or reality television, but rather contemporary stories or futuristic projects, many of which, according to Joyner, failed to tackle the less reality of climate change. And she would like to see that number rise to at least 50% by 2030.
“Climate change is not going away. It will only become more substantial over our lifetimes,” Joyner said. “It helps normalize the conversation with the climate. There’s this dynamic going on right now where a vast majority of Americans are worried about the climate, but very few actually talk about it in their day-to-day lives.
Joyner analyzed scripts for terms such as “solar panels”, “sea level rise” and “climate anxiety”, and she found that the word “dog”, for example, was used 13 times more than 36 keywords she researched combined. But she says climate change, and its effects, are affecting our lives both physically and “in intense psychological and emotional ways” – which just happens to be ripe for storytelling.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that this is a crisis within a crisis that is happening, and we know from psychological research that television and film can be a very good container to help us deal with harder emotions, like anxiety and fear,” Joyner said.
Joyner refers to the “Hacks” episode, but also to shows like Netflix’s “Dead to Me” and CBS’s “Madam Secretary,” which Joyner previously consulted on. These are projects that have brought up climate change in casual conversation and done so in a way that is in the context of the characters.
In addition to quotes from stars such as Zazie Beetz, Scott Z. Burns, Don Cheadle, Rosario Dawson, Lyn and Norman Lear, Adam McKay, Mark Ruffalo, David Rysdahl and Sarah Treem, the manual also includes case studies and insights rooted in climate science and developed in partnership with climate professionals.
For example, a case study in the playbook is called “Maria’s Two Worlds,” which was crafted by a NASA scientist and story consultant for the Marvel Comic Universe. In this one, a girl is born into two separate realities: in one, society acted late on climate change but still took drastic measures to slow the effects on the environment, while the other shows that the world is rapidly collapsing as the world essentially continues to do business. as per usual. The story plan builds scenarios that pick up with the girl in each reality but at different times over the 50 years of her life and shows how climate change has impacted each reality.
Joyner hopes to release additional data through the USC Media Lab in the coming weeks on which studios, networks, shows, or movies have mentioned climate change the most in the past few years. But above all, Joyner’s playbook is a guide for screenwriters in particular and always keeps good storytelling as a top priority when thinking about anything climate change. A simple exercise writers can do as they approach their next scripts is to ask at a grassroots level how their characters might encounter climate change in their daily lives.
“What are the climate impacts happening in the Midwest or New York or wherever you define your story? What will it look like in 10 years,” Joyner said. “How would my characters feel about it? How would they meet him in their real life? Would they talk about it with their friends, would they be worried about it? So for me, it really helps to get into the story by thinking through that lens.
The Playbook will be available as an online resource at goodenergystories.com. Throughout 2022, Good Energy and its partners will host workshops and programs to bring the playbook to writers’ rooms and creatives across the industry.