Sea7 speaker James Honeyborne is a biologist by degree and a storyteller by heart. In his workshop How to Tell Stories that Create Change, James talked through his learnings from making the hit BBC series Blue Planet II and gave insights on how he thinks storytelling can deliver much needed change for our oceans.
Looking forwards, James is excited to be launching a new ocean focused initiative, #SeaOurFuture - a project that will combine communications research with digital storytelling to reach new audiences and help create positive change. Are you a storyteller with ideas in this space? Read on...
“Blue Planet II showed that people care deeply about the health of the ocean. When people are invited in, they feel a real sense of responsibility to look after our world.”
As a filmmaker, writer and storyteller, I see a big part of my job being to work with scientists and institutions to help communicate the issues surrounding science, nature and the health of the environment. I aim to do this in ways that will connect with as many people as possible - on that emotional level - to engage us, to make us laugh and even help us cry. Because there’s little more powerful than a good story, well told.
I believe that stories have the power to move people at the deepest levels. Stories can propel ideas into this world, they can catalyse the conversations we all need to have, they can get things started. Stories can help us get things done. And, if we can just reach enough people, we might just be able to ‘tweak that dial’ and help more people connect more passionately with the ocean.
And if we do our job well enough then the real heroes become our audiences, everyday people – all around the world - who become moved enough, emotionally, to respond to our stories and to take meaningful actions themselves.
Around Blue Planet II we saw what the press called ‘The Blue Planet effect’ and it was incredible to see so much conversation and activity around single use plastics. Especially since only 14 minutes of airtime was given over to plastic and chemical pollution in seven hours of television. But there was something about the tangibility of plastic pollution that viewers seized onto.
Our approach to storytelling in the series was ‘entertainment first’: to seek to create a level of emotional engagement beyond the mainstay documentary response of ‘awe and wonder’ - and rather, create an experience that would resonate and be as captivating to watch as any TV drama. We wanted our audiences to fall in love with this remote world, so that they could come to have empathy – to really connect and care for it.
“The real heroes are not the storytellers but the viewers. Those who react to what they’ve seen and heard and decide to write themselves a better ending.”
Early on we decided not to shy away from major issues - like warming seas and coral bleaching. “Tell it how it is” was the direction we gave our camera crews. So, we deliberately chose not to frame out the plastic pollution and discarded fishing gear that we encountered. Instead we would film it beautifully, helping us tell a story that would move viewers with a different range of emotions.
But this is only one part of the Blue Planet II story, through our companion impact campaign #OurBluePlanet, we were also able to tell ocean stories across social media. Responding - in real time - to audiences, we were able to tell more stories about plastics and other marine issues; to encourage important conversations; to give people the tools to find out more information and to give them solutions about changes they could make in their own lives.
The stories we tell and how people hear them matter. Blue Planet II showed what’s possible. Now we’ve got much more to do. Which is why I’m excited my company Freeborne are about to launch a new project, #SeaOurFuture.
“People care and we can change. We need to show the possibilities as well as the problems.”
As Sir David Attenborough says, saving the planet is now a communications challenge, not a scientific one. We know the science. #SeaOurFuture is about taking our learnings from Blue Planet II in encouraging positive change via social media and combining them with effective communications research via our partners at On Road Media. We hope to move people away from the ocean is “over there” - it’s “cold”, can be “scary” and is “full of slimy creatures” to - the ocean is “part of us”, “we need a healthy ocean to be healthy ourselves”. The ocean is struggling BUT “it’s not beyond repair”. Storytelling in this space often focuses on the problems us humans are creating but what about the solutions? We want to collaborate with storytellers and influencers, to give them the tools to innovate in this space.
Our ambition for this project is to reach and entertain new audiences, in order to spark important conversations around the health of the world's ocean. Are you with us? We invite you to post on your social channels about what the future of the ocean looks like for you using #SeaOurFuture. We all have a role to play, what will yours be?