Here’s a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of how one idea went from inception to implementation here at the Greenpeace secret mountain laboratory.This one began as a link that Gillo Cutrupi sent me a few months back to the vid above, something Google did to promote Gmail, passing their M-velope logo around the world in a collaborative video. It was a commercial viral, but Gillo saw the activist potential in it — inspiring, creativity-challenging, participatory stuff — and figured Greenpeace could do something with it.
I loved it, and tucked it into my “pending bright idea” folder.
At our Climate issue planning pow-wow, we were talking about the next big Kyoto protocol meeting in Bali and how hard it is to get a political meeting into the crosshairs of our supporters’ attention. We were talking potential action scenarios, and I was making one of my standard pitches about coming up with actions that our supporters could join in on — getting them INTO the inflatable boat instead of WATCHING the inflatable boat on TV. I suddenly flashed on the video Gillo had sent, and wondered what it would like as a Greenpeace action that our supporters carry forward, delivering a message en masse to the Bali conference.
During a break, I fired up my laptop and showed the Gmail viral to Agnes de Rooij and Nicky Davies. We started kicking ideas around for what kind of Greenpeace action might top and tail it, what object we might pass around the world, what we might message — we went right past “Is this a good idea” and into the “how can we make this even better” fastlane. We talked about globes or balls repsresenting the world (putting the planet in their hands), banners with “Just do it” on them, envelopes, documents, small dogs… Nicky gave me a 2 minute slot in the agenda to throw the concept up on a screen to see if it would stick. It stuck. Somehow in the midst of this meeting that was all about three year planning, highly general, helicopter-view stuff, the immediacy of something FUN we could get out the door and get people involved in was like a blast of fresh air.
And here’s the irony: so little of what this organisation does really really well is planned in those helicopter-view meetings. Much is, of course, but what astounds me is that we fail, year after year, to leave breathing room and capacity for sideways thinking, for putting creative people together to think outside the box, when we see the quality again and again of what happens without a mile long paper trail of documentation and consultation and compromise.
But throwing an idea out is easy. Implementing it is the hard bit. That’s where Tom Dowdall and Giona Barbera come in. Tom shepherded the project through brainstorm sessions and signoff procedures, shaping it and making sure that everybody that needed to have a some say over it had some say, and keeping those who didn’t need to at bay. (Too many cooks…)
Stephanie Tunmore, our lead lobby dog for the Kyoto work, came up with the excellent idea of making the object that got passed a message in a bottle (you can’t even say the words without hearing “Sending out and SOS, Sending out an SOS”).
Not to cast nasturtiums, but it must also be said that Steph came up with the hopelessly policy-wonky idea of kicking the video off with IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri passing the bottle. My response was, unless he looks like a rock star, forget it.
Steph had actually worked out a really solid narrative: climate scientists passing a message to the politicians via the vox populi. But it was too thinky, and we’d use up the entire 1.7 seconds one gets to hook a YouTube audience’s attention just explaining who Pachauri was. We needed something that was visually exciting, rather than intellectually logical. Enter Giona. He tried to get some footage from the Rainbow Warrior, and when that didn’t work out he went down to the Dutch Action Warehouse and shot the sequences you see in the final cut.
Giona and Tom got the staff at headquarters doing test videos (that cute-as-all-get-out kid in the vid is my 3 year old, Dylan), Giona got Garage Band aficionado Michael Nagasaka to lay down the guitar and drum tracks, and then he hauled the whole shebang into Final Cut on his iBook and spent the weekend editing.
On Monday the link to the final product went out internally for review. I heard the sound track open on the desk behind me, where our acting Chief Editor, Andrew Kerr, sits. Andrew is a stickler, one of those editors who will spot an error that six other people have skimmed past, or take a sentence that looks perfectly fine and find a way to cut out half the words and make it clearer. He’s also one who likes to ensure that no product goes out without his blessing.
After he saw the video, he stood up and walked briskly over to the webbie corner. “Who’s responsible for that video?” he demanded. Giona stood up. Andrew cracked a smile, gave him a bear hug, and said “Well fucking done.” And so it was.
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