“Age of Stupid” Revolutionizes Film Finance, But Not Film


This isn’t a film review website, but since we often discuss environmental messaging, I’ve got a bone to pick with “Age of Stupid,” the new, highly promoted eco-apocalypse film by Franny Armstrong.

But first, the interesting news on film finance: Age of Stupid was almost entirely financed by a crowd-sourced model via individuals and small groups of people including a hockey team and a women’s health center to the tune of £860,000. Additionally, and perhaps because of this, the film’s producers were able to create an astonishingly successful word of mouth campaign surrounding the US premiere – a live event shown in (many sold out) cinemas around the world featuring celebrities and a audience Q&A. Topped off with a clever website, alliances with various activist groups, and a strong presence on social networking sites, the film created a hyped up following way out of proportion to its relatively low budget.

The importance of this is multifaceted – first, it demonstrates a potentially more democratic method of film financing – one that could produce not only better films that people pre-select for viewing, but also an interesting investment opportunity. It’s also got obvious potential for films that might not have big commercial appeal, which concerned individuals and organizations are more likely to want to fund than traditional Hollywood producers – i.e., a lot of people losing a small amount of money each works better than one guy losing millions.

Unfortunately, the film was a depressing mess.

If you thought “An Inconvenient Truth” was depressing, this one will kill you. It’s a full on assault from a hypothetical future where all is lost, famine and war dominate the earth and a survivor recounts recent history from a tower where the last relics of humanity have been locked away for safe keeping to warn a future race of our stupidity.

I don’t have a problem with grim sci-fi, especially when it’s got a message, and I am also very much a supporter of the film’s intentions – that we inspire each other to pressure governments to do something swift and significant at the COP15 conference this December in Copenhagen – a worthy and needed goal. The problem is that, once again, environmental film makers have fallen into the doom and gloom trap which will preach to the choir and find deaf ears among the audience that really needs to hear it.

The film was disjointed, profoundly overly dramatic, and lacking in much of a cohesive message. That’s something that won’t bother you if you’re already very educated on the subject of climate change and the geo-political complexities that surround it, but it could really backfire in the many minds who are not so well informed. Don’t take your mom to see this film.

It was made worse by the painfully hokey “live from New York” debut, featuring Moby on a bicycle powered stage, celebrities arriving by rowboat (no kidding) and a lot of empty interviews and people patting each other on the back.

The smartest thing said during the Q&A was by Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who was asked to verify the scientific credibility of the film. He said, to paraphrase – rest assured this is not a documentary and the scenes in the film are not based on science, but it is a scientific fact that if we do not begin dramatic reductions in emissions by 2015 then we will see runaway temperature increases and instability.

In other words, rest assured, I’m not downplaying the importance of getting off our butts, getting business and government to pay attention, and begin taking this challenge very seriously. But this maddening drama does not seem like an effective way to get the message across.

Hopefully I’m wrong and people will see through it, take it as a deliberately exaggerated attention getter, but as a marketing endeavor, this one really rubbed me the wrong way.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

7 responses

  1. Ah yes, because we all know that carrots are doing a better job at changing the world …

    Perhaps you might consider this as half of the “good cop – bad cop” scheme – those who are “rubbed the wrong way” may well be more easily persuaded by the carrot sellers.

    1. I’m not sure I even know what you’re talking about. Carrot mobs maybe? I don’t see anywhere in Nick’s article where he’s advocating a carrot mob approach over a movie.

      1. He’s talking about the “carrot method” as opposed to the “stick method”, and I think that’s a valid point. There are a lot of people who may respond better when they are beaten over the head with a message.

  2. Hi,

    I’m a member of Global Observatory Project (www.globalobservatory.net), an initiative to make the climate agreements reached at COP15 count.

    We are also covering events at NYC Climate Week and got the change to watch The Age of Stupid. Valuable as a film, but mostly as a compelling science document.

  3. Lets’s prevent the Age of Stupid with Desert Ice Project. Both, the movie and the DIP initiative conclude that the Environment/Climate Change is a little concern in many people’s minds, overtaken by their jobs, income, house, plasma tv, car, etc., even the view from the window.
    We have no time to fight every single global problem before mankind with single solution, step by step. We have to fight them simultaneously, at all fronts. This is what Desert Ice Project is all about.

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