Ask Your Audience: A Winning Product Development Strategy

As individuals with a desire to bring new things into the world, you get a lot of “how to” messages. Creative people tend to struggle with a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. Should you begin with the product (for lack of a better work–though it could be a service, art, etc.), or by building your audience and starting a dialog?

What if you want to offer something, but you’re not even sure what it is?

It’s more common that you might think. In this situation, an entrepreneur or maker might begin not with an idea for a product, but with a desire to connect, knowing that he can offer value in the relationship. The starting point is building a brand–conveying why you’re out there doing what you do–wherever that may lead. You want to build an audience around your innate “why”, find out what that audience wants and what you can do for them.

Here’s a great example. Like you, I read a lot, gathering insight and inspiration from various disciplines and voices. There’s a lot of noise out there, and the voices that cut through the noise, who we return to again and again, are the ones that we can trust, and with whom we have some affinity. Over time, if their message remains relevant, we begin feel as if we have a relationship. One day, we might make a product purchase. In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand goop, she began by building an audience and learning what they want. First selling partner products, Paltrow eventually initiated her own products, which include a skin care product line. Gwyneth built an audience, learned what they wanted, and found ways to fulfill those desires while staying true to her brand.

Think of your own brand. You’re considering an idea and timing your move. What if the most important thing (after why) isn’t the what, but who, as in the audience that can also be your first customers?

According to Dorie Clark, we don’t have to go to market with products and services; starting by building an audience is inverting the typical model to your advantage. According to Scott Belsky (Making Ideas Happen 2010), many thought leaders keep blogs as laboratories where they experiment with ideas, gathering early feedback before deciding whether to execute.

Focusing first on audience is a product development strategy that works for many entrepreneurs and artists, and it might work for you. So next time you’re trying to develop product ideas, consider first “who is my audience” and “how can I find out what they want”. It might just be a winning approach.

TOLDJA! Diversity Pays

Originally published in Cultural Weekly on April 13, 2016 

Last month, I wrote about the make-believe economics of the movie industry that people use to convince themselves to cast actors who are white, and avoid actors who aren’t.

The diversity issue is particularly annoying because as much as the movie industry has reinforced racial and gender stereotypes, and it has, films have also pushed audiences to important social change. But diversity casting is often challenged based on a common misconception among my industry colleagues.

Here’s a true story from earlier in this decade when I was approaching a well-known sales company about representing a film I was putting together. I gave them a list of the actors we could consider for starring roles. They were not all white.

“You can’t cast these people,” the sales agent said, crossing the black actors off the list. “We can’t sell them overseas.”

“What about Will Smith?” I asked.

“Will would be OK. He’s not black,” the agent said.

Yep, that’s verbatim dialogue.

Racism in Hollywood is rarely that overt. But, as I wrote, “The lack of overt racism, like so much in the entertainment business, is an illusion. I have never had financiers or producers tell me they only want to cast white actors. Instead, they couch their racism in economic terms, explaining that the movie business is, first and foremost, a business.”

In my article I used historic box office performance numbers to dispell the myth that only white actors do well at the international box office.

Now there’s data to drive the conclusion further: diversity can be a key component of box office success. This week I attended CinemaCon, the annual convention of theatre owners, where Chris Dodd, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, and John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, presented their state of the industry reports.

Movies have had a record-breaking year, grossing $38.3 billion worldwide and $11.1 billion domestic. Globalization has its upside, and the expansion of international markets bodes well for diversity casting. Furious 7, with its diverse cast, grossed $351 million domestic and an astounding $1.16 billion international. As John Fithian said, “When movies look like the world, the world goes to the movies.”

Then there’s U.S. audience. Among the many facts and figures of the MPAA’s 2015 report, this one stands out:

moviegoers graph

U.S. moviegoers’ ethnic breakdown, 2015. Source: MPAA

“Hispanics are more likely than any other ethnic group to purchase movie tickets (23%) relative to their share of the population (17%).”

Let’s be clear. When it comes to social justice, money cannot and should not be our guide. There are far more important reasons than money to cast movies in a way that represents society. In fact, we should use the beautiful medium of film to represent barrier-free images of people of all ethnicities and genders.

Movies are often about the way we want the world to be, and we should not pander to audiences. But in this instance, the audience — global, rainbow-hued, and hungry for great entertainment — is there and they are right. When the false economics of racism fall, we’ll all make better movies.

Top image from Furious 7, courtesy Universal Pictures.
Headline with apologies to the legacy of Nikki Finke, Deadline.

Connect Like Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is a performance artist, dramatist, singer and songwriter who has built a remarkably loyal following. They love her punk-cabaret music as performed solo, with the Dresden Dolls, and in various collaborations. As she describes in her TED Talk, her former label considered her album releases failures because her audience didn’t expand enough. Palmer decided to leave the label, and her fan base has continued to support her via Patreon, a platform that enables her to continue to support herself while making her art. It’s a phenomenon any artist should like to repeat themselves, and a story that translates well to any type of entrepreneurship.

Perhaps the best advocate for how to connect like Amanda Palmer is Palmer herself. Since departing from Roadrunner (a Warner Music subsidiary) in 2009, Palmer serves as her own promoter, organically sharing and cleverly partnering to trumpet her work to the widest audience possible. As she told Pitchfork in 2009, building an audience requires a long view of success. “You tour and you work hard and you take care of your fans and very real things lead to other real things. There’s never been some fantastic fluke or break in my career, it has all been very slow and steady.” Here are a few techniques that have served her growth:

  1. Collaborate–She recorded her album “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” at Ben Folds’ studio. Ben Folds produced, and he and others played on the album. She has included people such as Margaret Cho in various projects. Each time she collaborates, she inches herself out there a little bit more, connecting with her collaborators’ fans as well.
  2. Borrow—Covering other artists’ songs is yet another way to spark connections with audiences who may not have encountered Palmer otherwise. This could be said for her ukulele covers of Radiohead songs.
  3. Facilitate–Palmer hosts a community, Shadowbox, where fans discuss all things Amanda Palmer. It’s meta, it’s bold, and it keeps her fans engaged when there is downtime between tours and album releases.
  4. Share–Palmer makes masterful use of social media (follow her on Twitter here). There she manages a balance between the public and private that is compelling. Palmer shares personal updates, political views and links to content, as well as frequent updates about her creative life and progress on new work.
  5. Ask–Palmer is a big proponent of the “ask”–of being forthcoming about the economic exchange artists require. Art is work, and artists deserve to be compensated fairly for it. She made headlines in 2012 when she funded a project by launching a Kickstarter that earned $1.2M, setting records for funding on the platform. Rather than empowering gatekeepers to set prices for her work, she prefers instead a true free-market approach. Leveraging her own website, you can download her music for free. The “ask” comes in when you donate what you think it’s worth or can afford. She has also used the Patreon platform, where you can subscribe for early access to releases and extra content.

There are many who claim to know how to build an audience–here Palmer truly shines. She is a tremendously approachable artist, and I challenge you to adopt some of her techniques. Consider your audience early and often in any undertaking, and find ways to connect that create a dialog. That way, your audience knows what’s coming next, its value and place in your body of work.

ART AGAINST ANGER

Originally published in Cultural Weekly on April 6, 2016.

Trump is the symptom. We are the cure.

It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee, takes a third-party run, or retires from politics and uses his increased brand recognition to inflate his net worth.

His candidacy has unleashed a nativist anger, an anger that has always existed in America but, until Trump, had not found an mass-market spokesman in this generation. It will not go away even if Trump leaves the scene.

Trump is part of a long, tragic lineage of American hatred. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump said, “I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First.’ We have been disrespected, mocked, and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher.”

Is it just me, or do you hear a reference to the America Firsters, the pro-Third Reich group led by Charles Lindbergh before the US entry into WWII? In Trump’s vilification of people who are “smarter, shrewder,” do you detect anti-Semitic jargon? That’s the idiom of dog-whistle politics. You can hear it if your ears select the right frequency.

But Trump is just the vessel; these new America Firsters now have an organization and they will continue to mobilize it. The implicit violence he advocates – against Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, women, the poor, anyone who opposes him or stands in his way – is not new, it is just magnified. We’re witnessing the creation of an American National Front, with Trump as our Jean-Marie Le Pen, and, likely at some point, Invanka as our Marine.

The anger of artists is not the anger of the mob.

It’s a time of cultural transformation, and not the good kind. As always, artists will be on the front lines. Artists will be targets even more than we are now. And artists, as always, will be prophetic in showing a path out of the mire.

Artists are angry too. All good art has anger in it. Art is the reaction to seeing the world as it is and the desire to shape it in a different way.

But, as artists, our anger is different.

Artists’ anger is borne from love. Real love. Not the pretense of love that’s cloaked in violence, which you’ll hear from some fundamentalist groups – the people who say they “love the sinner but hate the sin” as a veiled threat to women’s rights or the LGBTQ community.

Artists’ anger comes from the love that wants to make the world a better place. Our anger is not prone to physical violence because we seek constructive change instead of destruction.
We’re scared of violence and have every reason to be. It takes years to create and seconds to destroy.

That’s why, now, it is imperative to support artists of all kinds, and especially artists at the margins, whose creative spirit moves in the direction of change. Their work, our work, is to move culture away from the destructive anger of nativist politics and toward a better world. Given the rise of the new America Firsters, this work will occupy the rest of our lives.

Image modified from Doanld Trump’s official website, photo by Gage Skidmore.

Breakthrough Failure to Success: Doing the “Thing”

As I meet people from all walks of life, I often encounter those pursuing a profession with plans to change tack someday. Usually the idea is to establish herself well enough to then do something completely different, such as become very serious about a creative hobby or start a business. This type of ambition is so common it’s practically a human leitmotif, so it never surprises me that people of all professions harbor goals to do something else—some “Thing”—in the future.

One of my roles as a speaker and educator is to offer succor and support to people of this ilk. I have learned many lessons through my own work and working alongside many dynamic people in theatre and film. I have witnessed trials undergone at great expense for the chance at terrific rewards, and there has been incredible success and tremendous failure along the way. What have I learned? That there is no chance at success until you do the Thing. Whatever that Thing may be for you, the journey has not started until you have stopped considering, planning and hand-wringing and start doing. There is virtually no way to make progress without taking that risk, and it requires that you put yourself out there. While there is no way to be entirely certain of a win, taking the risk is the only chance at reward, whatever you may seek.

I was reminded of this idea recently as I read a Brainpickings  interview with Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton. Like many people fascinated by culture and seeking to expand their knowledge, I’m a great fan of both Maria Popova’s Brainpickings and Stanton’s Humans of New York. Each offers a unique perspective—Brainpickings is curated and distilled as if from a visit to the rare editions section, while Humans of New York shares visceral stories curated from the streets of New York. Both are beautifully redolent of humanism. In the interview, Stanton shares how he finally began to do the Thing: He had a day job as a bond trader, and the unraveling of that job and his nascent talent for photography is what brought about the phenomenon that is Humans of New York. It’s an inspiring story, one that reminds me of how our failures can lead to success. If you’re someone tempted or pushed to make a go of a long-smoldering avocation, I challenge you to go and do the Thing.

 

4 Ways to Be Creative, No Matter What Your Mood

Does creativity seem to be a fleeting mood? Is finding ways to be creative proving elusive?Sometimes I wish I could bottle it for the next stretch when I require its powers but they elude me. Well into writing my third book, I’ve experienced days when the words were fluid and easy to catch as if by the bucket, and others when distraction left me high and dry. To combat these lurches, I’ve devised four tactics that have helped me reach a creative mindset. Follow these tips, and you’ll find you can call upon your creativity when you need it.

Beckoning Your Creativity

  • Like children in a fairy tale who stray too far from home, sometimes we just need a trail of breadcrumbs to help us find our way back. Breadcrumbs are reminders that bring us back to the mindset we were in when we halted our work. Try to stop when you’re really into something (a vivid scene in a written work, for example), so you’ll be able to pick up when you return. Write yourself concise notes, focusing on details about where you left off, what problem you’re working to solve, or the next steps. This way, you can dive right back in when you’re fresh, rather than repeating work or trying to remember what to do next. You’ll save time and enjoy better focus when you return.
  • If you haven’t tried this method, I highly recommend it. Start with a timer set for 25 minutes, and work continuously during that period, without interruption or distraction. When the time is up, take a five minute break. Repeat this cycle several times, then take a longer break (15 minutes). This proven method puts our natural rhythms to work for us. What’s the relationship to creativity? With a limited time to work on a task, your mind relaxes about expectations. You’re not taking on creating an entire work; you’re working for 25 minutes. It’s amazing how quickly work can absorb our attention, and how much we can accomplish in these time boxes.
  • It may sound odd, but letting your subconscious mind work on a problem before your give it your full attention can lead to more creative results. It turns out that when given a challenge, our brains begin working on possible solutions, even before we begin our efforts in earnest. So, if you want to optimize creative ideas, let your ideas ferment.
  • Mise en place. If you want to do your best work, put your tools in place first (mise en placeis a French term commonly used in culinary arts to mean “putting in place”). Set a routine for your creative practice, and repeat the routine as fully as possible. Even better, work in a familiar place or with familiar objects nearby. With practice, you’ll begin to associate the routine and setting with the creative state of mind, and the routine itself will provide cues to jumpstart your creativity.
Make-Believe Economics Bolster Hollywood’s ‘Sorority Racism’

Originally published in Cultural Weekly on March 2, 2016.

Chris Rock got it right when he called out Hollywood on Sunday night’s Oscarcast: “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. But it isn’t the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like — ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”

Rock got it right because #OscarsSoWhite is merely the latest newsworthy example of #HollywoodSoWhite.

In my experience, racism in Hollywood is rarely overt. However, the lack of overt racism, like so much in the entertainment business, is an illusion. I have never had financiers or producers tell me they only want to cast white actors. Instead, they couch their racism in economic terms, explaining that the movie business is, first and foremost, a business.

“They don’t like black actors in Asia,” financiers and sales agents have told me behind closed doors. “Or in Europe. Or in Latin America. You just can’t sell them.” Their subtext is: Hey, I’m not racist, and we don’t have a race problem here in the US – but other countries do. We’re making movies for the world market, and we have to give the customers what they want.

Bill Maher, on his HBO show Real Time, said it in public:

Most movies are made now with an eye to the foreign market, and Asians really are racist…. I’m just honest. They don’t want to see black people generally in their movies. The Hollywood executives are, like, ‘We’re not racist; we just have to pretend to be racists because we’re capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China (and) they don’t like Kevin Hart.’

I have written and spoken at length how money and aesthetics are not measures of each other. A good movie can make much or little money; a financially successful film can be excellent or execrable. But what happens in Hollywood is that taste and money conflate: here, taste means you make things that make money, and you do not transgress the perceived wisdom of what makes money. Hollywood’s version of taste is supported by the economic argument that actors of color don’t sell tickets overseas.

Cultural critic Susan Sontag said, “Rules of taste enforce structures of power.” She was writing about womanhood and aging in the early 1970s; the dictum applies equally to race and Hollywood today.

One wonderful thing about the movie business is that so much information is publicly available. We can check out race-based assumptions, and see if the economic arguments are accurate or wrong.

The website the-numbers.com aggregates box office information about movies and actors. You can type an actor’s name in the Search box and discover the actor’s box office track record, split between domestic and international. The movie business today draws about 70% of its revenue from international markets, but because each actor’s box office history dates back to career beginnings, few actors actually get 70% of their box office performance from overseas markets.

We might take Tom Cruise as a benchmark – he’s worldwide star. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation got 72% of its box office from international.

On a career basis, 56% of Tom Cruise’s box office is international. Therefore, we might deduce that if an actor falls at or near the Cruise Benchmark, they are economically viable internationally, regardless of the color of their skin.

Here’s what the data says:

  • Will Smith: 58% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Samuel L. Jackson: 55% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Dwayne Johnson: 67% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Penelope Cruz: 67% of her lifetime box office is international
  • Sofia Vergara: 53% of her lifetime box office is international
  • Javier Bardem: 68% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Gael Garcia Bernal: 64% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Michael Pena: 57% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Michelle Rodriguez: 69% of her lifetime box office is international
  • Morgan Freeman: 51% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Chewetel Ejiofor: 64% of his lifetime box office is international
  • Idris Elba: 61% of his lifetime box office is international

Clearly, there are a lot of diverse actors who meet or exceed the Cruise Benchmark, and some that fall just below. According to the data, the perceived wisdom is incorrect. Still, I don’t want to misrepresent. This kind of data does not share a full picture; some of these actors gain box office bumps because they are members of ensemble casts or had supporting roles. Just because an actor has a lifetime box office performance percentage at or above the Cruise Benchmark does not mean they are a bigger star than Tom Cruise.

Casting is not a formula because art is not a formula. There are few if any actors who literally “open” a movie, whom audiences will see no matter what. The right casting is always the alchemical triangle of the right actor, the right role and the right audience. Put Gerald Butler in an action film, and he usually works gangbusters; put him in a romantic comedy, and audiences are mainly lukewarm. Audiences seem to pigeonhole actors as much as executives do, and maybe that’s why executives do it. But I believe, and the data suggests, that an actor’s race is not the governing economic factor. Still, many in Hollywood quietly assume that race is an economic factor and have not questioned this assumption.

When Alejandro G. Iñárritu accepted his second Best Director Academy Award on Sunday, he said: “What a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and make sure for once and forever that the color of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”

The make-believe economics of acceptable casting choices is another version of tribal thinking. The real problem that the global entertainment business must confront is the structures of power, the ways in which power enacts creative “taste” that’s justified with an economic rationale – economics that are wrong. Seen in this light, the whole illusion tumbles down.

Top image: Chris Rock hosts the 2016 Academy Awards. Photo courtesy AMPAS.

8 Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson for Creative Results

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize Neil deGrasse Tyson’s unique talents. His baritone voice is virtually the sound of modern physics, so accustomed we’ve grown to his narration in scientific documentaries. A natural teacher, his ideas instill in us curiosity and a desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder, how does he do it? Not to mention, Tyson laps us all in productivity, seeming to get more done than most other humans. In an effort to capture what makes him such a star in his field, I’ve identified eight behaviors Tyson uses that drive creative results.

  1. Obsess. Does your creative practice inspire you with passion, does it wind through your thoughts like an obsession? Tyson studied astrophysics with such fervor that he was noted for giving talks about the topic by age 15. If you devour the wisdom of the best and brightest in your field, then evangelize, you’re obsessing like a rocket scientist.
  2. Renew. Do you have a counter balance to your work, something that helps you renew daily? In addition to scientific studies, Tyson participated in crew, wrestling and dance during college. There are many ways to say it, all of them true–you have to renew what you use. When you have found a way to recycle your own energy, you follow in Tyson’s steps.
  3. Be tenacious. Are you driven to persevere, even in the face of failure? Tyson’s attempt at a PhD from University of Texas at Austin was denied, but he continued his quest and earned his credentials. If you are serious about your goals, make achieving them only a matter of time.
  4. Give back. Do you consider becoming a mentor to others part of your creative path? Tyson credits Hayden Planetarium as a hub for his early education, and assumes responsibility later in his career for continuing that tradition. People who take an interest in bringing up the next generation in their field have a bit of Tyson’s scholarly ethic.
  5. Fascinate. Can you translate your work into concepts that are accessible and interesting to laypeople? Tyson has consistently brought the public sticky ideas about physics. He coined “Manhattanhenge,” a name for the phenomenon two days per year during which you can see the sunset on some streets in NYC. When you coin terms for ideas people want to understand and share, you’re downright Tysonian.
  6. Be true. “[Tyson’s] a creative guy and sort of a lone wolf. He has gotten where he is basically because he’s followed his own voice, not anyone else’s,” says Columbia professor Joseph Patterson. Develop your voice, and carve out your own space.
  7. Give face. Are you willing to be the poster boy for your field? Tyson has appeared as on-camera host in several scientific shows and series, and made several appearances in pop culture films and shows. Perhaps most notably, he championed then hosted the series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Leaders in their field take opportunities to speak up and represent their specialty, as Tyson does.
  8. Ship. Do you get things done, and then find more things to do? Tyson has authored 12 books, in addition to his 13 research publications. That’s not even counting chapters and prefaces he’s written for other books. He credits using “interstitial time” as one of his secrets to productivity. If you like to bring work into world, then get up the next day and do it all over again, you’re creating like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Sources:

Alison Beard. “Life’s Work: An Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson” Harvard Business Reviewhttps://hbr.org/2016/01/neil-degrasse-tyson

Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson

Hayden Planetarium http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/

Karen Heller. “Star talker: Neil deGrasse Tyson on fame, education and tweets” http://wpo.st/XzaA1

Spark Innovation the Renaissance Florence Way

When considering how innovation stacks up, it can be difficult to gauge who has the most lasting impact in real time. When we go back in time, it’s easier to read innovation more clearly, without the distraction of brands and details about technologies. Suddenly, the question becomes “did the work stick”? And the stickier the work was, the more effective the innovation.

For that reason, I was intrigued by Eric Weiner’s Harvard Business Review piece “Renaissance Florence Was a Better Model for Innovation than Silicon Valley Is.” Talk about a compelling title–everyone wants to be the Silicon Valley of their industry, and yet Weiner has pointed out what is lacking in that fabled land of innovation.

Weiner presents several principles of an innovative climate, two of which I’d like to share. Taking a look at the novice-master relationship, he suggests that people today move out of the apprentice stage quicker than necessary. In contrast, Florentine Leonardo da Vinci remained an apprentice for 10 years before beginning his remarkably innovative career.

“… Why did Leonardo stay an apprentice for so long? He could easily have found work elsewhere, but he clearly valued the experience he acquired in the dusty, chaotic workshop. Too often, modern-day mentoring programs, public or private, are lip service. They must instead, as during Leonardo’s time, entail meaningful, long-term relationships between mentors and their mentees.”

Mentorship has a huge impact on growth, and we ought to do a better job feeding those relationships. At the same time, Weiner feels that a candidate with great potential but relatively little experience might just be the best choice to deliver results–even if he has not achieved in the same arena previously.

“When Pope Julius II was deciding who should paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was far from the obvious choice. Thanks to the Medici patronage, he had become well-known as a sculptor in Rome as well as Florence, but his painting experience was limited to small pieces — and little in the way of frescoes. Still, the pope clearly believed that, when it came to this ‘impossible’ task, talent and potential mattered more than experience, and he was right. …”

In this way, we err on the conservative side when we insist the best for the job has already done the job. The Renaissance atmosphere allowed for granting a relatively inexperienced painter the opportunity to create a magnum opus work–isn’t that an environment we should remake? Frequently I discuss the importance of mentorship in the arts, because I feel that mentorship is vital for mentees in gaining experience, as well as for mentors who have a need to give back. I think we as a culture would spark innovation by recreating some of these Renaissance conditions for artists today.

A Plastic Ocean: First Look

Originally published in Cultural Weekly on February 3, 2016

“What are you working on?” people always ask me. For the past three years, I have been telling my friends about A Plastic Ocean. Today we’re sharing our trailer for the first time.

How did this project start? You may have heard media stories about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You may even think you have seen pictures of it. Jo Ruxton, an adventuresome soul who has produced for BBC, heard the stories too and started thinking about making a documentary. She joined a scientific expedition to the center of the Pacific for a month of research. Jo discovered there is no floating plastic island… instead, there a truth far more insidious. The doc she wanted to produce became her mission.

That was seven years ago. Documentaries take time! Jo and her colleague Sonjia Norman embarked on a fundraising drive. It was another two years before they had raised enough for the first filming trip to seek the elusive Pygmy Blue Whales in Sri Lanka.

Production continued in stages of fundraising and filming, resulting in trips to twenty locations around the world, all the time accruing more and more information as research was building within the scientific community. Journalist Craig Leeson became an on-camera explorer and the film’s director, and world record-holder free diving champion Tanya Streeter joined the team. I came on board as a producer as well. In A Plastic Ocean, Craig and Tanya investigate how plastics enter the environment and affect wildlife and human health. They join expeditions by world-leading scientists, diving to the bottom of the ocean, visiting first-world countries as well as the remotest island communities blighted by excesses of waste. Most importantly, they share solutions that are real and practical. The film will make you aware, present optimistic choices and, we hope, incite social and political action.

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We have locked picture and will have the film completed in a matter of weeks. At that point we will start to reach out to possible distributors to complete this journey with us. If you’d like to get updates along the way, please sign up here.

Every year humans produce more than 300 million tons of plastic, half of it designed for single use, and more than 8 million tons of it ends up in our oceans. Because the Earth is a closed system, we can’t throw things away: there is no “away.” Plastic does not biodegrade, and almost all the plastic ever manufactured still exists here, somewhere, in some form.

Perhaps the most poignant of all sequences, certainly in Jo’s eyes, was the situation in Tuvalu, a tiny island nation few people have visited. Once part of Kiribati and now independent, the islands that make up Tuvalu lie along the rim of an extinct volcano in the southern Pacific Ocean. Surely they should be everyone’s idea of a tropical paradise, with palm-fringed, white-sand beaches. Yet, as A Plastic Ocean reveals, they resemble an unregulated landfill of plastic waste. There is no space to bury it, more and more is building up daily and the only solution is to pile it up – or worse, burn it, forcing toxic fumes to permeate the air. In many ways, Tuvalu is a microcosm of our entire planet.

We are all extremely proud of this film, and I think it will astound you – just as it did our adventurers, who captured never-before-seen images of marine life, plastic pollution, its ultimate consequences for human health, and viable, practical solutions that are already working and just need to be put into global action.

Please share this trailer with your friends and all who will be interested.

Website: http://aplasticocean.film/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aplasticoceanfilm/
Twitter: @awaveofchange
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aplasticocean/
Sign up for updates: http://aplasticocean.film/index.html#signup

Craig Leeson

From left: Free diver Tanya Streeter, producer Jo Ruxton, explorer/director Craig Leeson (photo: David Jones)

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Top image from the film’s key art. Courtesy Plastic Oceans Ltd.