Sometimes it’s harder to see the absence of something and then when we do, we wonder why it took so long to notice it was missing. That’s exactly the problem the British film and television industry wants to address with “Planet Placement,” an initiative to get climate conversations woven into our favorite shows and programs.
The industry recognizes that the shows, characters and story lines we love don’t mention carbon footprints, or clean energy or food miles. In fact, a yearlong study of four British broadcasters representing 40 channels and 128,719 programs looked at the frequency of words used in contexts like character dialogue or documentary script, and found “tea” was mentioned more than 60,000 times and “cake” was at 46,000 or more.
But food waste? Just 546 times, and that was far more often than carbon footprint (226), clean energy (136) and food miles (57). This just doesn’t reflect our climate reality, according to BAFTA, the British industry association, and the entertainment industry’s sustainability arm albert. The organizations worked with global auditing firm Deloitte to run the analysis on programs for the “Subtitles to Save the World” report.
“Climate is the food we eat, the homes we sleep in, the holidays we go on and the parks we play in. Climate is about our relationship with nature, the societies we live in, the bedrock of our economy and the country we vote in,” the project collaborators said. “Climate is every aspect of society. The TV industry will have successfully acted upon its obligation to society when this undeniable reality is represented on-screen.”
To help achieve that goal, “Planet Placement” was created as a resource for broadcast writers, editors and producers to find ways to integrate climate change into their programs in much the same way that products are physically embedded into sets and scenes, or their mentions placed into conversation.
“An example of a topic which is currently better integrated is money (383,509). Cost is often brought into conversations about food, furniture and fashion,” the report said. “Should the TV industry wish to bring the environment into the cultural conversation, it should seek to find the environmental angle of other topics just as naturally as money is currently brought into these conversations.”
There are case studies with scenes from “Coronation Street” and other programs that show how climate themes are responsibly and successfully explored. The case studies are grouped by genre, with examples from continuing dramas to children’s shows, sports programs, comedy and reality shows.
“Planet Placement” also groups industry professionals into five different roles to help them better understand how to use scenes and language to boost awareness about both climate challenges and solutions.
“Maybe it’s your character borrowing an outfit from a friend rather than buying a new one,” the guide for writers explains. “… It doesn’t have to take center stage or be an entire story about climate change. The important thing is just to reference the environment in a way that doesn’t disrupt your story.”
On the other hand, it can also be a main theme for plot and character development, as it has been on shows as different as “Misfits” and “Occupied.” What’s important is to have characters talking about electric vehicles (419 times) more often – and perhaps a little less about beer (21,648) or cats (14,454) or Shakespeare (5,444).