Marshall Herskovitz

 

In this post, we’re broad­en­ing our scope of inter­views to include influ­en­tial fig­ures out­side of New York. Mar­shall Her­skovitz is a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­er, direc­tor and screen­writer who has also served as pres­i­dent of the Pro­duc­ers Guild of Amer­i­ca (2006 — 2010). His cred­its include films such as “Traf­fic,” “The Last Samu­rai,” and “Blood Dia­mond,” and with his cre­ative part­ner, Ed Zwick, he cre­at­ed the ground­break­ing tele­vi­sion series “thir­tysome­thing,” “My So-Called Life,” and “Once And Again.” He and Zwick recent­ly made news for sign­ing a first-look deal for tele­vi­sion with Lion­s­gate Tele­vi­sion.

Alongside his career in the film indus­try, Her­skovitz has devot­ed years to think­ing about our society’s cli­mate change prob­lem. He shared his thoughts on com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Abi­gail Car­ney:


 

What got you think­ing about cli­mate change?

I first got into this more than fif­teen years ago, just by read­ing the sci­ence and get­ting real­ly ter­ri­fied. There was a big divid­ing line before and after “An Incon­ve­nient Truth.” Before “Incon­ve­nient Truth” the issue real­ly was that peo­ple were not aware of cli­mate change. After “Incon­ve­nient Truth,” it became more com­pli­cat­ed because peo­ple were aware of it, but it became much more politi­cized.

So, before “Incon­ve­nient Truth,” I was try­ing myself to put togeth­er a large com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paign to get peo­ple aware of it, and I end­ed up through this weird, flukey thing, tes­ti­fy­ing in front of a com­mit­tee in Con­gress. And basi­cal­ly what I was say­ing then is what I say now, which is that we are not even remote­ly on the right scale of what we need to be doing, and that we are all still in denial…and that, except for a small group of very vocal peo­ple, even among peo­ple who are real­ly on board in terms of mov­ing to com­bat cli­mate change we aren’t real­ly think­ing about what we have to do. The only anal­o­gy for what we have to do is a World War Two-style mobi­liza­tion.

What’s keep­ing us from doing what we need to do?

The whole denier sort of infra­struc­ture has man­aged to con­vince peo­ple that in order to fight cli­mate change, you have to harm the econ­o­my. I think that sin­gle piece, that sense that we have to destroy our way of life in order to save the Earth has been the most destruc­tive thing, and is a com­plete lie, the total oppo­site of the truth. 

And, just like in World War Two – World War Two trans­formed the econ­o­my of the Unit­ed States. The Depres­sion did not real­ly end until 1942. We were still in the tail end of the Depres­sion, and it had already gone on for ten or twelve years. It took World War Two to get us out of it. 

The same kind of eco­nom­ic explo­sion will hap­pen when we start to move at that scale on ener­gy. So, for me, the issue is, how do you com­mu­ni­cate that? That’s been my issue for fif­teen years, it’s a com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem. And, you know, I think I know a way, but it’s very expen­sive and I’ve nev­er been able to con­vince any­body to put up enough mon­ey to do it. 

If you watch CNN, every third com­mer­cial is either from nat­u­ral gas or the Petro­le­um Insti­tute, or the oth­er petro­le­um com­pa­nies extolling the virtues of fos­sil fuel ener­gy. They are all in the aggre­gate spend­ing prob­a­bly a bil­lion dol­lars a year on adver­tis­ing for fos­sil fuels. I always say to peo­ple, “They are not stu­pid. They’re not throw­ing that mon­ey away, they are doing that for a rea­son.” It’s been aston­ish­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to get any­one on the oth­er side to think of spend­ing that kind of mon­ey on com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Even though it’s obvi­ous that that’s what needs to be done. So that’s always been my frame of ref­er­ence, that this is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem. It’s not a tech­no­log­i­cal prob­lem, it’s not an eco­nom­ic prob­lem, it’s just a com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem.

Say we solve the com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem, do we have the tech­nol­o­gy to lim­it our car­bon emis­sions? Do we have the tech­nol­o­gy we need to com­mu­ni­cate?

We have the tech­nol­o­gy. There are a few areas where we don’t have tech­nol­o­gy yet, but we’re very close. The biggest area where we don’t tech­nol­o­gy yet is in in stor­age of elec­tric­i­ty, but we are very close, and we in fact have things we could use in the inter­im, includ­ing Tesla’s new bat­ter­ies, and molten salt [used to store heat in solar ther­mal pow­er plants]. There are ways to store elec­tri­cal ener­gy, but the point is we are on the brink of this twen­ty-year process where we are going to com­plete­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ize elec­tri­cal ener­gy in the world, and what’s stand­ing in the way right now are the pub­lic util­i­ties, pub­lic util­i­ties com­mis­sions, who will lose their eco­nom­ic mod­el if we do that. 

So what are we com­mu­ni­cat­ing? What’s the first step? 

If we were to con­vince 20 mil­lion busi­ness­es and homes to put in solar, that would begin to destroy the infra­struc­ture of the­se util­i­ties. Okay, so then as a nation we’d have to face the fact that util­i­ties have to have a new eco­nom­ic mod­el. To me, that’s the first thing we need to deal with, and it’s already hap­pen­ing. In LA right now, PG&E is try­ing to pass a rule that charges peo­ple with solar an extra amount every mon­th that basi­cal­ly would wipe out all their sav­ings from solar. And they’re say­ing, that’s because peo­ple with solar aren’t pay­ing their fair share of keep­ing up the infra­struc­ture of the elec­tri­cal grid and all that, but that’s actu­al­ly not true, because I think every­one would be hap­py to pay their fair share of keep­ing up the elec­tri­cal grid. What costs the mon­ey is the cre­ation of the elec­tric­i­ty, and that’s where they are not telling the truth. It’s the biggest road­block right now. 

Do you think that the nar­ra­tives to cre­ate that action are there? Do we already have the sto­ries we would tell if we had bil­lions of dol­lars to spend on adver­tis­ing?

Yes, we have the pro­fes­sion­als who could do it. We have the pro­fes­sion­als who could cre­ate the sto­ries. Absolute­ly. Total­ly. In oth­er words, the wrong peo­ple have been doing this. The wrong peo­ple have been han­dling com­mu­ni­ca­tions, that’s the prob­lem. The prob­lem is that the heavy lift­ing of teach­ing peo­ple about cli­mate change, has been with all of the NGOS.…NRDC

Sier­ra Club…

All of them. Okay, they are all amaz­ing orga­ni­za­tions, but their frame of ref­er­ence is polit­i­cal activism and pol­i­cy. Their frame of ref­er­ence is not mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and that’s been the prob­lem.

I live in mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions. I live or die by whether mil­lions of peo­ple come and pay to see my pro­duct, and adver­tis­ers, the big adver­tis­ing agen­cies, live or die by whether they get mil­lions of peo­ple to respond, and that’s where the com­mu­ni­ca­tions have to come from, and that costs a lot of mon­ey! Because you’re talk­ing about tele­vi­sion buys, and you’re talk­ing about the kinds of mar­ket­ing efforts that I’ve seen hap­pen scores of times in my busi­ness. Where, for instance, we make a movie, nobody’s ever heard of that movie, you know? We then take 30, 40 mil­lion dol­lars and four weeks lat­er, 96% of Amer­i­cans know all about it. This is a very well estab­lished dis­ci­pline, adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing, it just hasn’t been applied to this. So, that’s, to me, what still needs to be done. 

Even though we are see­ing, for sure, that the tide is turn­ing in Amer­i­ca, there’s no ques­tion about it. There’s no ques­tion that a major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans believe that one, cli­mate change is real, two, it’s caused by humans, and three, that we need to do some­thing about it.

I sort of keep track of the­se num­bers, and basi­cal­ly, about 20–25% of Amer­i­cans think it’s an emer­gen­cy. And then there’s anoth­er 40% who think that we have to do some­thing, but they don’t know what to do and they feel over­whelmed and so they don’t real­ly deal with it in their lives. And then, on the oth­er side, there’s anoth­er 35% who either don’t believe, don’t care, and a small­er per­cent­age of them are active­ly opposed. But about 65% of Amer­i­cans think we got­ta do some­thing, it’s just that we need a much big­ger per­cent­age of those peo­ple to become active. We have to make it pos­si­ble for them to do some­thing about it. Right now, they go, “It doesn’t mat­ter what I do, you know? Even if Amer­i­ca acts, what’s Chi­na gonna do? What’s India gonna do?” It’s chang­ing that per­cep­tion, and there are ways to do that. 

The biggest thing we are not exploit­ing is self-inter­est. Right now, there’s some­thing like 120 mil­lion build­ings in Amer­i­ca. And every one of those build­ings could be cheap­er if it either was more ener­gy effi­cient, or cre­at­ed its own ener­gy. That’s a huge con­stituen­cy. That’s a huge mar­ket. And most busi­ness own­ers don’t have any con­cept that they could be sav­ing mon­ey, most home­own­ers think it’s expen­sive still. Peo­ple are not aware of what’s avail­able to them right now. It would be very sim­ple, in a mar­ket­ing cam­paign, just to show peo­ple how they can be sav­ing mon­ey right now. 

The inter­est­ing thing is that when you own a busi­ness, you under­stand that sav­ing mon­ey is the same thing as mak­ing mon­ey. It’s fun­ny because in our homes we don’t think of it that way. As pri­vate cit­i­zens, we think sav­ing mon­ey is nice, but mak­ing mon­ey is bet­ter. In a busi­ness, you under­stand that it’s all the same thing, You have a bal­ance sheet and you know if you can make your expens­es low­er, that means you made more mon­ey! So, the point is, there are ways to start sav­ing mon­ey today, by mov­ing to renew­able ener­gy and that’s an easy mes­sage to get across and it’s not hap­pen­ing.

Where would you be push­ing peo­ple to act with this mar­ket­ing cam­paign? Would it be a move into polit­i­cal action? Once peo­ple have made their homes and busi­ness­es more effi­cient, what is the next step? 

What you are ask­ing is a real­ly good ques­tion. We now under­stand that the Tea Par­ty move­ment was orga­nized and fund­ed by the Koch Broth­ers and oth­ers, and was not a grass­roots move­ment, but was in fact a high­ly orga­nized and focused move­ment. And what they did was study suc­cess­ful social move­ments in the past, includ­ing the civil rights move­ment, and they dis­cov­ered that the­se move­ments work by being incred­i­bly dis­ci­plined, and by stay­ing on mes­sage. The civil rights move­ment was very orga­nized, and there was a very clear com­mand struc­ture. They were able to use church­es because the black com­mu­ni­ty revolved around local church­es, so that was a nat­u­ral sort of orga­niz­ing spot. There was noth­ing ran­dom about it. 

They knew exact­ly what they were doing, they knew exact­ly how they were orga­niz­ing peo­ple, and the Tea Par­ty move­ment bor­rowed a lot of those tech­niques in terms of cre­at­ing the­se chap­ters around the coun­try, but it took a lot mon­ey, it took three, four hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars to do that. So again, yes, we need grass­roots orga­niz­ing about cli­mate change, but that can’t hap­pen with­out that kind of cen­tral orga­ni­za­tion. Peo­ple don’t want to admit that. 

You know, it’s so inter­est­ing in Amer­i­ca that the left is always dis­or­ga­nized and the right is always over-orga­nized. It’s like a per­son­al­i­ty dif­fer­ence. Here you have this amaz­ing thing, Occu­py Wall Street, which was this remark­able sort of expres­sion, and not only were they dis­or­ga­nized, but they in fact fetishized dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion. It was exceed­ing­ly impor­tant to them that they didn’t become orga­nized, and so it frit­tered away. Because you can’t ulti­mate­ly get any­where unless you are orga­nized. There has to be some com­bi­na­tion. So yes, I think we need peo­ple in the streets, peace­ful­ly. We need peo­ple in the streets, in the hun­dreds of thou­sands, around the coun­try, day after day, get­ting this mes­sage across that this is an emer­gen­cy. At the same time we need this eco­nom­ic mes­sage, and we need peo­ple to move. 

My feel­ing is that the min­ute you do any­thing, the min­ute you spend mon­ey mak­ing your house more effi­cient, or putting solar on your roof, you are then a con­stituent. You are a part of the move­ment then and your con­scious­ness has been changed by doing that. I remem­ber the first time I bought a hybrid car. It blew my mind. I was think­ing, “My God, all the­se cars around me are just wast­ing ener­gy when they are at a stop­light.” I nev­er thought about that before. When you see it a dif­fer­ent way, that then extends itself to every aspect of your life. 

So, a lot of this is polit­i­cal, we’re gonna need polit­i­cal change, we’re gonna need changes in pol­i­cy, in rules, in reg­u­la­tions, all that sort of thing. You need a con­stituen­cy for that you, you need peo­ple who will vote for it. It’s a chick­en and egg prob­lem. This is a prob­lem that has six chick­ens and sev­en eggs, it’s like, ‘this has to hap­pen before that, which has to hap­pen before that,’ and it’s very com­plex and dif­fi­cult. How do you get peo­ple on board when there’s not many [things] they can do tomor­row, you know? And for me, one of the answers is: get them to do any­thing. Get them to spend their mon­ey on some­thing that will make a change in their own life. If it’s buy­ing a car, that’s great. If it’s chang­ing their light­bulbs, that’s great. If it’s putting in solar, that’s great. 

We have to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to have com­mu­ni­ty solar, that’s a huge thing that we are going to have in this coun­try, where, every church, every school every fac­to­ry, every huge roof, has capac­i­ty for solar way beyond the needs of that orga­ni­za­tion. And the neigh­bors, they can invest in that, and get a check every mon­th. That’s easy to do, but we don’t have rules that allow it right now. There are a hun­dred things like that that will change people’s per­cep­tions of their com­mu­ni­ties, or their own pow­er to make change in this area, so, there isn’t a sim­ple answer, there are a lot of answers, and they are all around engage­ment.

When you use the exam­ple of the Tea Par­ty move­ment, and say how some cen­tral struc­ture and fund­ing was so cru­cial to that, do you have any idea of where that will come from?

No, because no one’s doing it. Okay, we have Tom Stey­er. Tom Stey­er, whom I met once, I had a very inter­est­ing meet­ing with him, he’s clear­ly a very bright man. 

I argued with him about nat­u­ral gas. He was say­ing, we need nat­u­ral gas as a bridge to true sus­tain­abil­i­ty. And I was say­ing, I’m not going to argue again­st that, but my point is that, from the stand­point of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, nat­u­ral gas is a bad idea, and here’s why: The rev­o­lu­tion in ener­gy is going to come when mil­lions of peo­ple spend their mon­ey to change their rela­tion­ship with ener­gy. It’s mil­lions of trans­ac­tions, that’s what’s going to cre­ate mil­lions of jobs. In oth­er words, when I hire a guy to come to my house and retro­fit my house, or put solar in, those trans­ac­tions, if fif­teen mil­lion peo­ple do that, that’s a rev­o­lu­tion, okay? And with nat­u­ral gas you don’t have to  do any of that, it’s the same big com­pa­nies. So, it’s a mat­ter of per­cep­tion. In oth­er words, you are not engag­ing the pub­lic when you are using nat­u­ral gas. 

What do you think about nuclear?

I think nuclear is a dis­as­ter. Here’s what I say to nuclear: you’re look­ing for a house to buy. Some­one shows you a house, it’s the most beau­ti­ful house you have ever seen. Every­thing in it is gor­geous. You are look­ing through the house and you go down to the base­ment, and you dis­cov­er that every toi­let in the house flush­es into the base­ment and all the shit just stays in the base­ment, and they say, “We don’t know how to fix that. It’s just gonna be like that, forever.” That’s nuclear pow­er.

It’s been 70 years and we don’t have a solu­tion to nuclear waste, aside from all the oth­er prob­lems with it. And the main issue is we don’t need it and a lot of peo­ple think we do, but we don’t. We have tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions now that are safer and cheap­er than nuclear pow­er. We just don’t have the will to imple­ment them. 

I think Stey­er is mak­ing head­way, and I think he’s real­ly smart, so he’ll do what he does, but I’d like to see some­body like Stey­er, who has the mon­ey, take the peo­ple that McK­ibben has orga­nized. But McK­ibben – whom I’ve spo­ken to many times on the phone – he’s an inter­est­ing guy and he does not want to be the guru, and he does not want to be the pow­er play­er and he doesn’t want to become the estab­lish­ment in some way. And that lim­its the pow­er of 350​.org. Yet 350​.org has the most peo­ple and has the most fire­pow­er, and in some ways, because of its own ethics, won’t use them, do you know what I mean? And I think we need an orga­ni­za­tion five times big­ger than 350​.org and four times more will­ing to use its pow­er. That’s what we need. And that can be done, it just takes a lot of mon­ey. That would be very influ­en­tial.

Could some relat­ed influ­ence come from Hol­ly­wood?

My busi­ness is a dis­as­ter in this area. There’s no inter­est at all. I tried to sell  a pilot that dealt with cli­mate change this year. Not one net­work would go near it. 

Real­ly?

Wouldn’t go near it. 

And was cli­mate change very cen­tral to it?

It took place in 2085. It exist­ed in a world that had been utter­ly trans­formed by cli­mate change; cli­mate change was every­where. It was called “Storm World.” In the open­ing scene, you have a guy in his kitchen in New York City, and he’s look­ing out the win­dow and you are see­ing the beau­ti­ful trees and a nice vis­ta; he does a lit­tle ges­ture and all of a sud­den the win­dow changes to what’s actu­al­ly out­side – a Cat­e­go­ry Four hur­ri­cane. A giant branch hits the win­dow and bounces off because every­thing is rein­forced.

Basi­cal­ly, they just live in storms all the time. And it just goes on from there. In the show, by 2085, 25 mil­lion Amer­i­cans had to be removed from where they lived because where they lived had been inun­dat­ed, and so they set up what they called “The Ter­ri­to­ries” in the West. Most of the Dako­tas and Utah had been turned into, essen­tial­ly, refugee camps for 25 mil­lion peo­ple to live because there was no oth­er place for them. And the­se were Amer­i­cans. This dis­place­ment had com­plete­ly messed up the econ­o­my and the pol­i­tics of Amer­i­ca.

So the show was essen­tial­ly try­ing to say: this is what is going to hap­pen if we don’t change, that’s the world we are going to live in. The sto­ry itself was some­what of a melo­dra­ma. It was using cli­mate change as the back­ground.

And why do you think none of the net­works would go near it?

Because they are not in the busi­ness of mak­ing peo­ple mad. In oth­er words, they are try­ing to max­i­mize their audi­ence, and this is still very polar­iz­ing in the coun­try. I think they feel that for a lot of peo­ple, it’s a turn off.

The TV show "My So-Called Life" (Claire Danes) and the film "Blood Diamond" (Leonardo DiCaprio) are two projects Herskovitz has produced.

The TV show “My So-Called Life” (Claire Danes) and the film “Blood Dia­mond” (Leonar­do DiCaprio) are among Herskovitz’s twen­ty-sev­en pro­duc­er cred­its.

Among the peo­ple you work with, is there a gen­er­al aware­ness and a sense of urgen­cy? Is it just that they don’t want to offend the parts of the coun­try that are still anti cli­mate action? Or, is it an issue that is not on the minds of most peo­ple who are work­ing in the indus­try?

It’s very much on people’s minds. I just think they feel pow­er­less, they don’t know what to do about it. I feel like I’ve been more active than any of my friends, and I feel pow­er­less at this point. I’ve spent years, lit­er­al­ly, and many thou­sands of dol­lars try­ing to jump start a cam­paign, going to Stey­er, going to oth­er peo­ple, and pitch­ing a case for it. I had an ad agen­cy in New York that was will­ing to do it for less mon­ey and I had a whole plan of what we should do. I went all over. I must have met three hun­dred peo­ple, in this space, went all over the coun­try, and couldn’t get any­body to [join in]. I prob­a­bly raised forty thou­sand dol­lars in total. It wasn’t any­where near what I would have to raise to get some­where, and so I final­ly, I had to get back to work. I couldn’t do this full time because I couldn’t afford to, I still have to earn a liv­ing. So, I’m real­ly frus­trat­ed, and most peo­ple I know have not spent, have not been that com­mit­ted, have not done that much, and they feel pow­er­less.

It seems that you are a pro­po­nent of peo­ple becom­ing active, and mak­ing smart ener­gy choic­es, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly chang­ing their fun­da­men­tal lifestyles. 

When I say they don’t need to change their lifestyle, what I mean is, we can still live in nice hous­es and dri­ve nice cars. It’s just that the house have to be real­ly effi­cient and the cars have to be real­ly effi­cient, that’s all.

Kev­in Ander­son, deputy direc­tor of the Tyn­dall Cen­tre, a UK cli­mate change research cen­ter, gave up fly­ing about a decade ago. It’s a state­ment, because he’s some­one who’s always trav­el­ing to cli­mate con­fer­ences where every­one else has flown in. Instead he’s tak­en the train, or gone by ship, every time. In LA, in a city where the infra­struc­ture requires every­one to dri­ve all the time, how do you fac­tor in lifestyle choic­es? Can you just get an elec­tric car, or do we need to dri­ve less?

It’s a real­ly good ques­tion. Los Ange­les is a real­ly dif­fi­cult place to, I mean, as Los Ange­les exists now, you gen­er­al­ly have to have a car. On the oth­er hand, tech­nol­o­gy and cars, you know, if we are talk­ing about an 80% cut in car­bon by 2050, cars are already there. I dri­ve a Volt, you know, a Volt is an amaz­ing inven­tion. And the elec­tric cars are amaz­ing too, it’s just hard­er to get the range from them and not every­body can afford a Tes­la, and the oth­er ones don’t have enough range. 

But with my Volt, the elec­tric­i­ty that I use – because Cal­i­for­nia is bet­ter with how it cre­ates the ener­gy – that’s the equiv­a­lent of one-hun­dred miles per gal­lon, when I am using elec­tric­i­ty. When I’m using gas, I’m get­ting forty miles per gal­lon. And I dri­ve forty miles a day, to and from work. That’s a very long com­mute. I know it’s ridicu­lous. Still, most days I use no gaso­line at all. 

Basi­cal­ly, I had a Volt for three years, I aver­aged a gal­lon of gaso­line per week. One gal­lon per week. If every­body used one gal­lon of gaso­line per week, we’d solve the prob­lem. So, even if  every­body has cars in Los Ange­les, we already have the tech­nol­o­gy for cars that are effi­cient enough, and we have the tech­nol­o­gy for their hous­es to be effi­cient enough. Most of it is already solved, it just has to be pro­mul­gat­ed on a mass scale. 

Even­tu­al­ly there are big­ger issues we have to deal with. In the next gen­er­a­tion we have to deal with the whole issue of growth, you know? But I like to sep­a­rate those things right now. I actu­al­ly think it’s dan­ger­ous to talk about that stuff right now. By the way, in the same way I think it’s impor­tant to sep­a­rate cli­mate change from pol­lu­tion and tox­i­c­i­ty, because there are dif­fer­ent lev­els of emer­gen­cy, and if you are try­ing to cre­ate a con­stituen­cy, the con­stituen­cy for cli­mate change can be a much big­ger con­stituen­cy. We have to sep­a­rate all the­se issues. As impor­tant as all of them are, we have to sep­a­rate them. I believe that strong­ly.

Get­ting back to what we opened with, I know you don’t work in adver­tis­ing, but if you had fifty mil­lion dol­lars to launch an ad cam­paign, what direc­tion would you go?

Well I think, first of all, the only answer to that can come from test­ing. In oth­er words, I can tell you my instinct, but test­ing might show me that I am wrong, and that I have to use a dif­fer­ent approach. 

My instinct is that we need a com­bi­na­tion of mes­sages, because not every­body is the same, but what’s miss­ing is…first of all, his­tor­i­cal­ly, Amer­i­ca, as peo­ple have envi­sioned it, is a very mas­cu­line coun­try, very aggres­sive, mas­ter­ful, con­fi­dent. And there’s been a dearth of “mas­culin­i­ty” in the mes­sages about cli­mate change. 

The idea of Amer­i­can as a hero, Amer­i­ca sav­ing the day, Amer­i­ca sav­ing the world, being the strongest, being the biggest, the­se are very Amer­i­can mes­sages. I want to reach the peo­ple who dri­ve pick­up trucks, big, f—ing F150 pick­up trucks, and who don’t want to give up that sense of empow­er­ment that makes you an Amer­i­can.

That’s what’s been miss­ing in the mes­sag­ing: that we could be great, we could be heroes, [and] we can solve this prob­lem.

If you com­bine that with sto­ries of peo­ple who are already doing it, already sav­ing mon­ey, mak­ing money…I saw one thing some­body did about an entre­pre­neur in Tex­as, this guy was basi­cal­ly a rancher, who was mak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars from wind because he’s got all this land. He just does it! The entre­pre­neuri­al spir­it, it’s appeal­ing to the things that are Amer­i­can in the broad­est sense. 

The idea of ener­gy inde­pen­dence is not just a nation­al idea, it’s a per­son­al idea. Wouldn’t you like to be inde­pen­dent of the­se big a——-s who are tak­ing your mon­ey? That’s an Amer­i­can idea. It’s the idea of mak­ing this excit­ing. It’s Rea­gan. Rea­gan had this great image of the shin­ing city on the hill, and that’s what this can be. 

George Mar­shall has a book about com­mu­ni­cat­ing cli­mate change, and his big idea is that you need to seg­ment the mes­sag­ing and meet peo­ple where they already are. Cre­ate nar­ra­tives that fit into their val­ues – the val­ues of moth­ers, or the guys who are dri­ving pick­up trucks.

Total­ly true, but, this is a prob­lem we face in the movies all the time. The thing is that, the land­scape of mar­ket­ing has changed so much with the inter­net, and tele­vi­sion has changed, every­thing is more niched than it used to be, but nev­er­the­less, there have to be a few over­ar­ch­ing mes­sages that go out to fifty, six­ty, sev­en­ty mil­lion peo­ple. And then, there can be the­se sub­groups that you are appeal­ing to for some rea­son or anoth­er. Moth­ers, wor­ry­ing about the health of their chil­dren, young fam­i­lies, all kinds of groups, or demo­graph­ic divi­sions that you have to appeal to. Of course you have to seg­ment the mes­sage. And of course a lot of this has to be online, it can’t all be tele­vi­sion. But, what they have found is, tele­vi­sion is still the most effec­tive thing. Online hasn’t beat­en it because online is so dif­fuse that you can’t reach peo­ple in the same way. So, I’m  sure he’s right, and I would, if some­one gave me all the mon­ey I would appor­tion it to var­i­ous amounts. By the way, now, in tele­vi­sion buys, you can be incred­i­bly speci­fic about who you are tar­get­ing. So, you know, not every­thing has to be the Super Bowl. But I still think there are some over­ar­ch­ing mes­sages that will become a sig­na­ture of this thing, and then you have oth­er mes­sages for small­er groups. 

Is that typ­i­cal­ly true when you are mar­ket­ing a big film? That there is sort of the one mass adver­tis­ing cam­paign that you hope will get the fifty mil­lion peo­ple, and then online there’s more?

Yes, [the mar­ket­ing team] decides what are the like­ly audi­ences for this film. So then, you got your TV mar­ket­ing cam­paign, and then basi­cal­ly you are going to cre­ate two or three TV spots, and some of them will be dif­fer­ent. There will be a TV spot meant for men, a TV spot meant for wom­en, they’ll do that sort of thing. But, and then, there’s a whole thing about what are the mag­a­zi­nes gonna want, what are the TV and the crit­ics going to want? Is there a uni­ver­si­ty con­stituen­cy here and that sort of thing. 

Those meet­ings are actu­al­ly quite remark­able. You sit in a room, and there’s forty peo­ple around this huge table, and they all have dif­fer­ent areas that they deal with, and they all have ideas about how they are going to reach peo­ple that they have to reach, and it’s quite an extra­or­di­nary dis­ci­pline. It’s a very com­plex, yet high­ly devel­oped art form, mar­ket­ing. I’ve always been incred­i­bly impressed when I go to those meet­ings. I go, “Wow, the­se peo­ple know their s–t.” And it works. 

What do you think that young peo­ple who care about cli­mate change should be doing?

Oh my God.

That is a big ques­tion.

Well I think the answer is they have to be in the streets, you know? But there’s no way for them to do that right now. That’s the prob­lem, that’s the sev­en chick­ens and eight eggs thing, you know? 

There’s a sense of fatal­ism that I see in this gen­er­a­tion that wasn’t true of mine. That they were raised to feel that they were pow­er­less in a way that upsets me. And yet they are pas­sion­ate. And I see a change hap­pen­ing, but it may not be the right change. I have two chil­dren who are mil­len­ni­als. I know all their friends, and I see sev­er­al things at work. I think the knock on my gen­er­a­tion was that we hov­ered over them too much, we pro­tect­ed them too much, we gave them too much praise, all that stuff, all true, but what’s clear is that the gen­er­a­tion was not ruined by that. What I see is a whole bunch of the­se peo­ple with that ini­tial shock of, “Oh f–k, this is what the world is like? This is ter­ri­ble!” And then they go, okay, and they fig­ure out how to impose their will on it. Because they do have a very good sense of them­selves, and they are strong-willed, and I just see a lot of peo­ple say­ing, “All right I’m gonna make my way.” I think that’s great. 

What I fear is that the same thing’s going to hap­pen that hap­pened with my gen­er­a­tion. My gen­er­a­tion was incred­i­bly activist in the 1960s, and then, every­one got scared when they got into their twen­ties, and said, “My God, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna starve,” and they just left it all behind and became mate­ri­al­is­tic. And I fear the same thing hap­pen­ing to the mil­len­ni­als. We thought we were omnipo­tent, we thought we could do any­thing, and then we went, “Oh, Holy S–t, no we can’t.”

Most mil­len­ni­als grew up, I think, feel­ing like there were a lot of things in the world that were real­ly awful that they couldn’t do any­thing about, and so many kids have said to me it’s so hard to see what the future’s going to be like, and there real­ly wasn’t a belief that there was going to be a great future. And that’s upset­ting. So, I wish I saw that zeal, that sense of omnipo­tence, that we are going to change the world, we are going to make the world do what we want it to do. I wish I saw that, because, boy that’s what we need. That’s why we need a mil­lion peo­ple out on the streets, that’s what we need. But they can’t do that unless there is a whole com­mand struc­ture for how to do it, [and] what the mes­sage is, and all that stuff. Tell your friends, and tell Tom Stey­er, that he’s got­ta learn from the Koch Broth­ers. I wish there was some­body out there, who was will­ing to pay for a move­ment, because that’s what it’s going to take.

Por­trait of Mar­shall Her­skovitz by Columbine Gold­smith