Published on: 15 April 2019 in Directors UK

Planet Placement: a new resource to future-proof our industry

Reading time: 6 minutes and 35 seconds

On Wednesday 3 April, BAFTA albert hosted the launch for Planet Placement, a new resource that explores how film and TV can raise awareness of climate change.

Directors UK Chair and albert ambassador Steve Smith was in attendance, and has provided his report from the launch below — where you can also watch a video of his Q&A from the evening. 

I don’t normally go to many showbiz parties, but this month’s event by BAFTA albert to celebrate the planet’s 4.5 billionth birthday was an exception.

As a director who’s also an albert ambassador (someone who teaches the industry about climate change and tries to encourage sustainable production) I’d been invited to help launch Planet Placement: a brilliant new resource to future-proof our industry — created by albert in partnership with change agency Futerra.

It was also an opportunity to meet Christiana Figueres, one of my all time heroines and the Former Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Convention. Christiana was the woman responsible for successfully negotiating the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which was the first time the whole world had come together, in over 20 years of climate conferences, to unite on a plan to tackle climate change.

As the director of The Graham Norton Show, I’ve been privileged to meet some incredible people over the years, but Christiana Figueres is in a different league — one of the most impressive and inspirational people I’ve ever met. Despite the grave warnings from leading scientists on climate change, Christiana remains filled with optimism that we have the power to act. Addressing nearly 400 programme makers at the party she told us that our industry should “use the power of human stories to create a world worth living in. It’s time to use that power to help address the most daunting challenge of our times:  climate change.  We must get out of the story that we cannot address it, and replace that mindset with determination, creativity and innovation. Planet Placement can help us do that.”

The science is simple; burning fossil releases carbon into the atmosphere which heats the planet. Scientists tell us that if global average temperatures exceed 1.5℃ above the pre-industrial average, the world will become dangerous and inhospitable for humanity. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) say we need to halve world-wide carbon emissions by 2030 to stand any chance of preventing this warming. 

So what does this have to do with us in the media? Well, we have two really important tasks. Firstly, like all industries, we must reduce our programme-making carbon footprint - with the enormous benefits that brings. Second, and perhaps more importantly as story tellers, we have a unique role to play in the huge societal shift needed to enable audiences to understand, participate in and influence the outcomes from climate change, that left unaddressed will have a monumental impact on humanity. For our industry this presents the greatest creative challenge and opportunity of a generation. The Planet Placement website explores how film and television content can help to raise awareness about climate change by introducing authentic sustainability messages into the content we see on our screens. Its purpose is to challenge the creative community and inspire them to create world-changing content.

Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra and co-author of Planet Placement says “Conversations about sustainability and climate change are at the forefront of our culture, from making sustainable lifestyle choices to the global climate strikes, but we’re not seeing these stories on our favourite TV shows. There is a huge opportunity for the screen industries to tell the stories of this generation, help make positive environmental behaviours mainstream, and reach audiences in meaningful new ways.”

Planet Placement is an essential resource for anyone working in our industry. Whether you own a production company, run a development team, produce, write or direct, you need to know about sustainability to be able to produce content that will resonate with viewers and be sufficiently compelling and easy that new lifestyle habits may be encouraged. If you don’t, you or your company will get left behind. Until recently, most programmes about climate change have focused on science, the natural world or have been about “torturing” audiences as we challenge them to live without things for a month to somehow prove their green credentials. We urgently need to move beyond this limited idea of what it’s all about. Over the next decade climate change will affect everything we do; the way we eat, travel, work, play and what we see on screen. It will change the content for cookery and lifestyle programmes, give us new ideas for entertainment and reality shows, fuel our news, current affairs and documentary coverage and inspire new dramas.

Meanwhile, as we’ve seen from the recent school climate strikes, the next generation care passionately about climate change and are demanding urgent action to address the issue. For our industry to ignore this risks alienating the 16-30 year old audiences we try so hard to reach. They are already making their own content and sharing it on new platforms, so let’s make sure traditional broadcast platforms don’t look tired, irrelevant and out of touch.

I hope we as programme makers can be brave and bold in the way we respond to this challenging creative opportunity. As Aaron Matthews, albert’s Head of Industry Sustainability says “climate change is the biggest problem mankind has ever faced but we have the collective brain power to address the issues as long as there is the collective will to get behind the endeavour. The problem is our problem. Not someone else’s. The problem is huge but not insurmountable”.

I know if we start creating fresh new formats we will be rewarded with new commissions. Last week’s launch of Planet Placement ended with the BBC’s Director of Content Charlotte Moore saying, “We know there is a real hunger amongst audiences, of all ages, to find out more about environmental issues and arm themselves with the facts. So in the years ahead we will commission programmes which challenge and inform audiences, and over the next decade we will build up a collection of online resources and archive about our planet and the environment in which we live.”

I know Charlotte’s door is now open to these new ideas. As an industry, let’s get on with pitching them!  

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