Lessons Learned On a Project Gone Wrong

VBS.org made a video blog called “Toxic Garbage Island.” It’s about a Texas-sized island of trash in the North Pacific Ocean, in the “gyre”- a confluence of currents swirling above Hawaii. Super important, tragic issue dealt with by well-intentioned if inept set of video bloggers. Some lessons learned:

1. Presentation is Important
They say “fucking,” a lot. They say it about lots of things, truly bad and not-so-bad, and so frequently, you know they don’t think about it at all. It’s slipped innocuously into their mouths- showing perhaps that they don’t have a professional job, or present ideas for a living (teacher, host, etc.). Mostly, it shows to me that they hang out with a small group of people all the time, that all talk the same. That’s not a very good recommendation for a journalist, but what really gets me about it, is that I can’t forward it willy-nilly. So it’s not going to reach its total potential audience.

2. Do Your Research
These kids did none. They get on a boat, for 7 days of sailing to the center of the ocean and what kind of research did he do– knots– and that’s about it. So you get the opinion of a slightly crazy-sunburned captain with a God Complex, that can’t stick to a single line of argument, and a doctor from Fresno who has pretty much no empirical knowledge about the topic at hand. Enter, a scientist, but either she doesn’t like to be on camera or she doesn’t fit the colorful cast, as she’s rarely on film. Once our narrator checks out her sampling gear, goes “nerd heaven,” and that’s about it. It’s cute, discursive, and totally irrelevant. In response to “can we clean it up?” to the Captain, he says, “No” and then goes onto a discussion of how the worldview has to change, change in the direction of anarchy. This leads the viewer to do their own research, but it is such a great opportunity to educate, an opportunity passed up (or scary thought: misinformed?).

3. Title Things Correctly
They get close to the destination, and then the captain says, “we’re here,” though there is no island of trash. What he was referring to was a very high level of saturation of tiny plastics in the water, far higher than anywhere in the world. When the 3 Vice-Films kids figure out they aren’t going to see a large island of trash, they confront the captain, kinda, in really passive mellow ways that made me squint at the computer (and my respect for confrontational 60-Minutes style interviewing went way up). Off-camera they resolve it by getting “dad to give us the keys” to a dingy where they do crazy circles in the ocean, and try on a helmet. Wait, what was this movie about?

Romance! The final movie shows a 5:30AM booty call between two of the kids, the cameraman and producer (Did she need to go, besides eye candy? Seemed irrelevant since this shows zero production value).

4. The Ending Is Important
Don’t talk too much, be concise (12 episodes?) And if it’s something like this, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan near the end. Give people something to do: be it, passing on the video, starting a local recycling group, or contribute funds to study ways to de-polymer the ocean.

On that note, links of interest: