Hollywood lessons for marine conservation

by Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist, June 11, 2012, Redmond WA USA
I love watching what I consider to be really good movies.  Indeed, in the future, on occasion, I’d love to share reflections on particular movies in this column.  But at this moment I’m thinking not about a particular movie, but about the well-documented process of making movies and the much less-known process of conserving living oceans.  As it turns out, there are really interesting similarities.

To make a movie that works, a lot of elements must come together.  The substantive basis has to be there (how can you string images together to make a film that’s compelling and affordable?).  The artistic basis has to be there (same question as with substance) too.  And you have to have players who do key things.  In Hollywood they call two kinds of key players the Money and the Talent.

In Hollywood the Talent includes the people who include professional screenwriters, editors, actors, directors, costumers, location managers, sound people, cameramen, etc.  At the Marine Conservation Institute, it includes the scientists who ask the right questions, generate useful answers, and then get them to people who can use them to conserve marine life more effectively. 

For our first decade, we held the first and second marine conservation biology symposia and generated the first textbook in marine conservation biology as ways to increase the Talent pool in marine conservation.  It worked: Now there are thousands of people who think of themselves as marine conservation biologists.  Moreover, the young generation of marine conservation researchers, advocates and managers is much smarter than my generation, much better trained and better-rounded.  The best ones can seamlessly integrate what used to be called marine science (e.g., marine biology, fisheries biology, oceanography) with the human dimensions (including sociology, economics and psychology and marketing).  When we started, the world needed this kind of Talent to save the oceans.  Now we’ve got it.

Hollywood and the marine conservation movement also need the Money.  Money comes in the form of people and institutions with capital to invest in other people and institutions that can make a difference.  Sometimes the Money is in-and-out fast.  But the best Money (we know who they are) pick winners again and again because they’re willing to take risks when the evidence tells them the risk is worthwhile.

In Hollywood, it’s no secret that the Money knows they need the Talent, but don’t respect Talent (the thinking is that there’s always a replacement for a talent; they’re like buses: miss one and another will replace it).

And it’s no secret that the Talent doesn’t respect the Money (what do they know about movies when they made their fortune selling cakes or cars?).

But the truth is that you can’t have a movie without both the Talent and the Money.  Talent needs to get paid.  And Money needs Talent to do the work.

And in our business, Money alone won’t save the oceans.  The Talent gets you absolutely nowhere without the Money.

For a long time, the Money knew that there wasn’t enough Talent, and invested in generating it.  Now the Talent’s ready to rock.  But for lot of us, especially since the Great Recession began, the Money hasn’t been showing up.  They’re trying to promote solar power or stop malaria, important stuff, no doubt.  But that won’t save the oceans.  Lack of Money has become the factor limiting marine conservation, not lack of Talent.  And time is very short.

If we want to save the oceans, the Money has to show up.  And now is a really good time.

Or, as Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston sang in 1965, “It takes two, baby!”

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