When was the last time you saw climate change being represented on a show or movie? Was it Don’t Look Up (2021)? The Day After Tomorrow (2004)? Something else? More importantly, how often do you see climate change represented on screen? Do the fictional characters you love share your concern for the climate crisis, or does it feel like they exist in a world where it isn’t happening?
Good Energy is a nonprofit creative consultancy that’s unlocking the power of TV and film to inspire courage in the face of climate change. They tackled these questions head on, and found that even though 75 percent of Americans are alarmed, concerned, or cautious about climate change (according to the Yale Program for Climate Change Communications), climate change is barely acknowledged in the stories we see on screen.
Good Energy partnered with Maybe Ventures to understand why climate change is absent from fictional TV and film, and to build a brand and website that would communicate the urgency of the climate crisis while enticing stakeholders across Hollywood to collaborate with them. After all, Hollywood helps shape our culture and creates the cultural conditions for change, so increased portrayals of climate change will lead to positive climate impact.
Through multiple phases of work over the course of two years, founder and CEO Anna Jane Joyner and the Good Energy team worked with Maybe Ventures to develop a captivating brand identity, a website that encapsulates Good Energy’s essence, the Playbook for Screenwriting in the Age of Climate Change, entertainment consulting services to support writers and showrunners, workshops to train Hollywood creatives, and a groundbreaking research report in collaboration with USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center Media Impact Project.
According to Anna Jane, this work has “enabled Good Energy to make it as easy and inspiring as possible to portray climate change on screen. We’ve been able to differentiate ourselves from others in the industry and show storytellers that this work can be exciting. Writers and our audience can feel that we’re intentionally working to connect with them from a creative standpoint, which makes them more open to working with us. Our positioning and strategy are strong because they’re rooted in deep listening, in deep research, and the brand is so beautiful that we stand out from the crowd.”
— Founder, Good Energy
Not your typical climate nonprofit
Early in our qualitative research, we learned that Hollywood creatives are suspicious of entertainment nonprofits that prioritize “pushing their agenda” (in our case, a climate activism agenda) over supporting the creation of an excellent story.
Good Energy had to be seen as a creative collaborator, not as a climate watchdog, so the brand needed to communicate Good Energy’s commitment to telling great stories. Instead of the cliché shades of green and images of earth, Maybe Ventures developed a brand that creates a story world of its own, and that invites Hollywood creatives into a visual universe that feels magical and new.
“Every single time someone looks at our playbook teaser or our website, automatically the first emotional response they have is positive – and that’s special in this line of work,” Anna Jane shared with us. “A lot of climate-related content has a great deal of anxiety, fear, anger, boredom, or overwhelm associated with it, but I don’t know of anything in the climate space that is as visually beautiful and sophisticated as what we do. The brand transports you. You feel like you’re immersed in a different world. That’s what great TV and film does, and that’s probably why this brand is so effective. It opens up so many more possibilities and relationships.”
A groundbreaking resource for Hollywood
In April 2022, Good Energy published the Playbook for Screenwriting in the Age of Climate Change— a first-of-its-kind interactive digital resource that serves as a foundational guide to weaving climate change into shows and films. Maybe Ventures led the research, design, and implementation of the Playbook, creating a robust and engaging digital home.
The world we created for Good Energy came to life during the Playbook’s launch event, which was attended by Hollywood and climate influencers from Peter Kalmus to Scott Z. Burns and Bill Nye. Maybe Ventures defined the look and feel of the event from top to bottom, designing everything from keynote slides, lighting design, and photo backdrops to attendee wristbands and wayfinding signage.
This event also set the stage for Good Energy to announce that it would be building consulting services to support storytellers as they wove climate portrayals into their stories. Maybe Ventures led the qualitative research and strategy that shaped and sharpened Good Energy’s offerings.
— Founder, Good Energy
Creative leadership rooted in science
Knowing that Hollywood creatives prefer working with people who understand the entertainment industry, Good Energy built a team of consultants who have experience working in Hollywood — as writers, showrunners, researchers, and more. Informed by the recommendations that came from the design research program, Good Energy was also able to develop a suite of creative consulting services that are informed by a deep understanding of its key stakeholder’s needs. One of the creative executives we interviewed said, “Good Energy is for creatives, by creatives,” and that’s what gave him hope that it would succeed in its mission.
Anna Jane came from a communications background, so she shared that “deep listening is a value that has always been drilled into my DNA.” However, the collaboration with Maybe Ventures “turned this value into a very thoughtful and strategic research process that allowed Good Energy to get deeper into the needs and motivations of writers, showrunners, and creative executives. You were able to translate this into tangible, actionable insights and recommendations that have shaped our consulting practice – and that allow us to constantly iterate and improve. Deep listening has become a core part of our strategy.”
The decision to staff creatives instead of scientists was a power move in the climate space, but it does not mean Good Energy is not deeply rooted in scientific expertise. We learned that one of the biggest difficulties writers face when writing stories that touch upon climate change is synthesizing complex research and reaching the right experts. Therefore, Good Energy developed a vast network of climate experts as a resource for storytellers. Through Good Energy, writers and studios can access climate scientists, psychologists, economists, and even politicians.
Additionally, Good Energy and Maybe Ventures worked with the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center's Media Impact Project to surface exactly how absent climate change is from fictional TV and film, and to understand how audiences feel about it. Through a keyword analysis of 37,000+ scripts, we learned that the term “climate change” only shows up 0.6% of the time on scripts from 2016-2020. When we added 36 climate keywords, such as “global warming,” “solar panels,” and “fossil fuels,” that number went up to 2.8%. For context, the word “dog” was mentioned almost 13 times as frequently as all 36 climate keywords combined. (We are very pro-dog, but come on.)
Already a sought-after resource
Hollywood creatives have flocked to Good Energy for support. Less than six months after officially launching its consulting services, Good Energy has reached the capacity of projects it can take on.
Good Energy also wanted to give Hollywood creatives a taste of what it’s like to work with them without having to sign on a full project, so they partnered with Maybe Ventures to develop a series of interactive, hour-long workshops that embody a bite-sized essence of the organization. Rachel Sondag, an actress, producer, and writer who took part in one of the workshops said, “I was sincerely shocked by the breakthrough your questions gave me…This would be amazing for a writers’ room. The first prompt plus the pitch session was a bit of a mind-blow: I don’t need to preach the climate crisis through story, I just feed that reality into a show’s ‘machine’...through our characters’ fear/want/folly. I fucking loved it.” These workshops have catalyzed new projects and relationships for Good Energy.