How to get more Good Energy

EXT. Earth -- Day

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Gonna tell my kids this was HBO/HBO Max/Max

Welcome back.

This week I wrote about a groundbreaking and essential new study that — thank christ — is not actually about which seemingly reasonable dietary supplement will definitely extend/tragically cut short your life.

It’s about 🍿 film, and after you’re done reading, I’d love it if you replied to this email with some favorite movies that moved the needle for you in some way. We’ll share the list with everyone soon.

— Quinn

Listen to last week’s essay now 👇️ 

I’m Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit.

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Last August I wrote an essay about how my ten-year-old — who was still, literally, soaking wet from hours of playing in the ocean, and who had every intention of going right back in the waves after dinner — really wanted to watch Jaws.

Our conversation inspired me to write about — because he loves the ocean so much and because it’s an incredible, layered movie about, but not exclusive to, dads and local government — how doing this would be both a terrible and a wonderful idea.

In both cases, the experience would be irrevocable. Of course, all the best movies and TV are.

I used Jaws in that essay as a jumping off point to talk about how making and experiencing intentional art can remind of us what we’ve accomplished, together, and how we can affect the world back. How we need to celebrate our wins, and how the job is never done.

How Jaws, but even more so, how Saving Private Ryan, and 9-5, Tootsie, Selma, Do The Right Thing, Abbott Elementary, Home Before Dark, Hidden Figures, and even Star Trek: The Next Generation tell us in no uncertain terms that “shit is hard, it doesn’t have to be this way, we can do better, but it’ll take all of us“ and, like I emphasized last week, “We have to act right the fuck now.”

This week, Good Energy, the consultancy non-profit founded by Anna Jane Joyner and for which I advise released the results of a new study for which they co-partnered with Colby College.

The study question was simple:

How many of the 250 most popular films of the last decade passed the new “Climate Reality Check”?

Before I tell you the answer, a brief reminder from Fast Company about what the Climate Reality Check is, and its legendary inspiration:

“(It is an) environmental equivalent of the Bechdel Test.

It’s a quiz as simple as Bechdel’s famous measure of whether a film treats women as humans, asking just two questions:

Does climate change exist in the world of the movie, and do any characters know that?“

The criteria for each film, besides being ranked on IMDB as a top 25 film (YMMV) in a year since 2013, were:

  • Be set on Earth

  • Be set primarily between 2006-2100

  • Not really involve itself with high fantasy

(to note, I love high fantasy, historical fiction, and science fiction, but the goal with this study was to understand if movies depicting a grounded “here and now” (or relatively soon) representation of the world we’re actually living in. Which is vitally important, because even as far back as 2001, 55% of Americans were “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change)

The result?

24 films (of the original 250) — almost 11% — passed both questions, and 32 films passed at least one.

It probably won’t surprise you that despite not reeeeaally being a sustainable business for anyone but Netflix (and only recently), streamers are over-represented in the success stories.

But, related, an interesting little nugget from the study is this:

“Among the 220 films on the list with theatrical releases, those that passed the first part of the test — climate change exists — earned, on average, 8% more at the box office than those that did not, and those that passed both parts — climate change exists and a character knows it — earned, on average, 10% more.“

On the one hand, fascinating.

On the other, every single time a film by, including, and for Black people, and/or women “over-performs” at the box office, my friend, producer, and The Black List founder Franklin Leonard shakes spreadsheets at people who are surprised, proving that this has always been the case. He argues that we should (finally) raise our expectations for these films, and of course, commit to making much more of what the people clearly want.

Anyways, you can click through to the Fast Company coverage to get more context for the new Good Energy study, but I don’t need another 3000 words to climate-splain to you why it’s so consequential — truly — that we see a diverse set of characters on screen, persevering through hard shit.

A climate (or public health!) story doesn’t need to hit you over the head, it doesn’t need to literally be about sea level rise, Gary, but to really connect, it does need to be intentional.

Is it a beloved romantic comedy about loving people for who they are, about risking everything for your relationships, like Bridget Jones? Into it.

Is it for kids, but still real as hell and makes parents cry, like Bluey or Coco or UP? Great.

Is it a horror movie for adults but actually a manifesto on casual racism, like Get Out? Sure!

10% of the most popular grounded movies from the last 10 years is actually better than I expected, but we can always do better.

From Rocky to Wall-E to Glory, it’s what audiences want:

Remember what legendary film producer Lindsay Doran said: “The accomplishment the audience values most is resilience.”

Whatever your art, one thing you can do (but not even for your whole career! Or even a whole film or TV show or play or musical or book or whatever!) is to, simply:

  1. Set it in a relatable world, one that so many of us can touch and feel and experience the minute we walk out of the theater

  2. Stock it with complicated characters with a variety of intrinsic motivations

  3. Put them through their own particular worst nightmare

  4. Give them some allies along the way

  5. And then require them to show up and fucking persevere.

Related protagonists coming out on the other side, together — not unscathed, but still unbowed?

That’s the good shit. That’s good energy.

— Quinn

✏️ Recommended Reading

Read this one article about why Good Energy’s work is so groundbreaking, and then watch this absolutely excellent, timely, hilarious, spot-on 5 minute short from Yellow Dot Studios.

Get all of my 📚 book recs at Bookshop.

How To Give A Shit header

Last week’s most popular Action Step was volunteering with YIMBY to solve housing issues in your community.

  • Donate to Eco-Anxious Stories to help create stories about meaning, mental health, and climate change.

  • 🌍️ Volunteer to share your climate solutions story with the Global Solutions Diary from Project Drawdown.

  • 🌎️ Get educated about how to integrate climate change into your writing in an authentic way by booking a consultation with Good Energy.

  • Be heard about the climate crisis and urge Congress to act.

  • Invest in a climate-positive future using ATMOS.

🌎️ = Global Action Step

🙋‍♀️ Vote!

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