The world of documentary film is a particularly powerful avenue for social impact. Today’s guest, Louie Psihoyos, is an example of someone that has figured out how to make a massive impact through storytelling and cinema. Louie made waves with his first film, The Cove. Sweeping awards and informing a worldwide audience on terrible dolphin hunting practices in Japan — his film helped to reduce dolphin hunting by 90%. Since then, Louie has continued to create numerous award-winning documentaries around the conservation movement that have reached millions, if not billions.
Louie was a National Geographic photographer for 18 years and was involved in helping to kickstart the recycling movement with his photography. In 2005, he started the Oceanic Preservation Society and since then has used film as his main weapon for conservation. Louie exemplifies the dream of so many filmmakers: moving hearts and changing minds. In our conversation, we do a deep dive into his philosophy towards film and activism and his rules for making an impactful piece of art. He shares the important ingredients that go into his projects and what it takes to ignite social movements — and ultimately — positive change. We cover the practical side of this and get into the pros and cons of defining oneself as an environmental activist. For this inspiring conversation with a true legend, listen at one of the below links:
Key Points From This Episode
Finding the Achilles Heal for Change
In The Cove, Louie is careful to not focus on the cruelty of dolphin-hunting which is culturally ambiguous — but stayed focused on non-ambiguous scientifically-backed topics that would resonate with a local audience Japanese audience. By highlighting the toxicity of dolphin meat and how it was being culturally force-fed to children in Taiji — he was able to create an unshakable foundation for change to happen.
The magic percentile for social change is 10%
Louie discovered that the boiling point for social movements happen when you hit 10% of the population. His entire marketing and distribution strategy focuses on how he’s going to touch those millions of people and inspired him to technologically ground-breaking feats like projecting videos of endangered species on the side of the United Nations, the Empire State building and finally the Vatican.
The importance of testing audience reactions to film
“When you’re making a film, you’re not making it for yourself.” Screening ahead of time and observing audience reactions allows the film to be reshaped to better hold audience attention. This gives a better insight as to whether the film is effective in conveying its message and changing something within the audience.
Fighting what people think is Normal, Necessary and Natural
When making The Game Changers — Louie chose to inspire the world to go plant-based by focusing on the historical and current performance of elite athletes. He focused on sharing the potential that a simple switch in diet had to lower the risk for heart disease and erectile dysfunction while simultaneously improving peak performance. Rather than focus on the ethical component, he chose to attack the problem through performance.
Louie’s ask, offer, and question to the world
Ask: Have the wisdom to give yourself the space you need to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
Offer: If you give me the chance, I’ll deliver
Question: What kind of world do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered?
“You only need 10% of the population to be 100% committed to an idea to drive social change.” — Louie Psihoyos[0:03:50]
“You can make a film to make yourself feel good, you can make a film to be right or you can make a film to be effective. Big difference.” — Louie Psihoyos[0:11:42]
“When you are making a film, you are not making it for yourself.” — Louie Psihoyos[0:12:53]
“The first rule of filmmaking is you have to be entertaining.” — Louie Psihoyos[0:24:40]
Links Mentioned in this Episode
Benjamin Von Wong
Oceanic Preservation Society
The Game Changers