DIRECTOR: Climate Storytelling

Be a Leader in sustainability at every stage of the production.

The DGA Sustainable Future Committee works to empower DGA TEAMS with resources to promote on-screen representation of climate in our film and television stories, normalize the conversation, and model climate friendly behaviors and values that can shift culture and systems toward a sustainable future.

Stories can give power, but they can also take it away. A study by USC Research and data show that not talking or mentioning climate on screen is more normal than talking about it or even mentioning it. This is tantamount to a "climate silence" in our film and tv programming, even as we live in a climate-altered reality and the negative impacts of climate change are accelerating at a faster pace than scientists predicted less than a decade ago.

The historian and essayist Rebecca Solnit writes in her essay, If You Win the Popular Imagination, You Change the Game: Why We Need New Stories on Climate, "In order to do what the climate crisis demands of us, we have to find stories of a livable future, stories of popular power, stories that motivate people to do what it takes to make the world we need."

There is an emerging movement across the entertainment industry to normalize talking about climate by encouraging Writers and Directors to consider a spectrum of ways and compelling approaches to incorporate climate into our stories. This can be from adding climate mentions, climate friendly behaviors, character jobs or subplots, or going all the way to content that leads with thematic storylines. All of these ideas can be incorporated into any genre, storyline, feature or tv series.

  • Communicate your interest in sustainability to your Creative and Production executives. Studio Sustainability executives are often not allowed to contact Directors, but they feel valued when Directors contact them. We have seen that this level of filmmaker contact and demonstrated interest can carry a message of significant weight up to higher levels of our industry, even the C-suite, where we are significantly in need of sustainability support.
  • Incorporate sustainability into your vision on screen. Some studios are beginning to offer environmental reviews to their filmmakers. Consider talking to your Studio Sustainability Production Executive about bringing on a consultant (for example, Natural Resources Defense Council’s program Rewrite the Future). Programs like these can provide training, feedback and experts to suggest areas where your team can go deeper in “world-building” and supporting a transition to a sustainable future. They often work with teams of experts, including scientists, to provide specific support and up to date information on different issues across climate science, technology, and solutions.
  • Look for opportunities to promote biodiversity, its protection, recovery, and restoration (the inclusion of a pangolin in The Jungle Book positively increased interest for this endangered animal. See Albert’s Biodiversity Guide below).
  • Even if your story is not directly about climate change, as the Director, you can incorporate and influence choices that reflect positive actions that people can take. Make climate action easy. Inspire.
  • Consider these questions from NRDC's Rewrite the Future for your project:
    • How could your story reflect aspects of our climate-altered world?
    • How does climate impact the place the story is set?
    • Could you incorporate climate change as a context for the story? Or show your characters navigating their changing relationship with nature?
    • Could a climate obstacle provide a narrative twist?
    • Could climate change heighten the stakes for your characters?
    • How does climate impact your characters psychologically, e.g., are they in denial or experiencing anxiety—and how does this influence their actions?
    • How does it impact your characters physically and economically? Does it influence their basic life decisions?
    • Could a climate-centered career or backstory help flesh out a primary or secondary character?
    • Are there opportunities to depict characters working in climate jobs or for climate solutions large or small?
    • Does the story perpetuate harmful archetypes or myths, e.g., that climate change is too big to fix?
    • Does the story appropriately attribute responsibility for climate change?
    • How will your story leave audiences feeling about climate change?
  • Utilize available resources to create world-changing content.
  • ALBERT Editorial Toolkit: The team at BAFTA has put together a comprehensive creative guide on how to incorporate climate and environmental stories into content. Check out the Pocket Guide to telling Climate Stories.
  • Climate Storytelling & Resources can be found on Green Production Guide with current research, tip sheets, and resources.
  • Albert’s Biodiversity Guide for Productions. The film & TV industry impacts biodiversity through its production practices, and through its portrayal of biodiversity on screen.

With your UPM/AD Team and Department heads:

  • Encourage your directorial team and crew to find opportunities for sustainable onscreen behaviors, e.g., in background action, props and set decoration, costumes, and electric picture vehicles. Normalize characters engaging in sustainability fundamentals: “Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle, and the use of clean energy.” Highlight decision-making where characters make sustainable choices.
  • Ask everyone to read existing Sustainability Onscreen Tip sheets with suggestions and sample memos for ways to represent climate and sustainability on screen.

  • Contact Distribution and Marketing Heads early on to express your interest in discussing ways to amplify sustainability in promotion to audiences. If an impact campaign is relevant to your work, start that conversation in prep.