Narrative features, documentary, and television projects focusing on environmental issues have included An Inconvenient Truth, Promised Land, Years of Living Dangerously, Fast Food Nation, The Day After Tomorrow, A Civil Action, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Gasland, King Corn, Arctic Tale, Earth Day Special...
In Promised Land (2013), Matt Damon stars as Steve Butler, a corporate salesman for the fracking industry whose journey from farm boy to big-time player takes an unexpected detour when he lands in a small town, where he grapples with a surprising array of both open hearts and closed doors. Gus Van Sant helms the film from an original screenplay written by John Krasinski & Matt Damon.
Josh was hired to manage controversies and attacks that might arise over the contentious issue of natural gas drilling. He reached out to environmental organizations and leaders for their feedback. He also monitored closely the gas industry to determine how active they would be in go after the film. After the final script was leaked and posted on line, the gas industry itself pulled back on their plans to attack determining that the film was not as potentially damaging as Gasland and that Matt Damon was just likable. However, some pro-fracking activists did attack the film including a "video ambush" of Matt Damon. Josh was aware in advance of this potential and Matt was prepared for this to happen. The video below captures that moment when it occurred at the Q&A at the Apple store in Soho, New York City. Josh worked closely with Matt Damon.
Years of Living Dangerously: Climate Change Fully Explored
Climate change is one of today's most hotly debated topics, not only in America but around the world. This 2014 Showtime series, Years of Living Dangerously, features firsthand accounts from people who have been affected by the occurrence, with a team of correspondents from the entertainment and news industries traveling around the world to report on effects of global warming and what people are doing to find solutions for it. Among the stories told are Matt Damon's reporting on the health impact of heat waves around the globe, Michael C. Hall's traveling to Bangladesh to get a vision of the future, and journalist Lesley Stahl's heading to Greenland to examine the fate of the Arctic. Actors Don Cheadle, Harrison Ford and Jessica Alba are among the other entertainment icons who contribute reports to the hour-long episodes. Executive producers includes James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The series won an Emmy.
Josh was part of an extensive team that focused on grassroots outreach and non-entertainment press as well as social media.
Island President: Climate Change Here and Now
Jon Shenk’s The Island President is the story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced — the literal survival of his country and everyone in it. After bringing democracy to the Maldives following thirty years of despotic rule, Nasheed is faced with an even greater challenge: As one of the most low-lying countries in the world, a rise of three feet in sea level due to climate change would submerge the 1200 islands of the Maldives enough to make them uninhabitable. The Island President captures Nasheed’s first year of office, culminating in his trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, where the film provides a rare glimpse of the political horse-trading that goes on at such a top-level global assembly.
Josh was engaged to manage the outreach to environmental organizations and activists as well as approach non-entertainment media. Below is a video of Nasheed's visit to the NRDC in New York City.
In The East (Fox Searchlight, 2013), Sarah (Brit Marling) is an undercover agent at a private intelligence firm, hired to infiltrate the East, an ecoterrorism cell targeting companies that pollute the environment. Though one of the group's hardcore members (Ellen Page) is suspicious of her, Sarah manages to win over Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), the East's leader. However — even as Sarah tries to maintain her cover — she gains more sympathy for the group's cause while, increasingly, becoming drawn to Benji.
In 2013, Josh was hired to manage the environmental issues and complexities in the film including reaching out to environmental groups and leaders.
Fast Food Nation
In 2006, Josh was hired by Fox Searchlight to create and implement a special outreach campaign around this fictional film inspired by the very popular book Fast Food Nation. The film was produced by Participant Media. Josh reached out to key media that covers health, the environment, and the food industry, as well as many sympathetic organizations. (This film is not be confused with Food, Inc., a documentary that came out in 2009.)
The Day after Tomorrow: Reaching wider audiences
For many years, Josh had been involved with projects for different clients focused on climate change. Too often, it had been difficult to communicate the complexities of this issue to the general public. In addition, the big oil and automobile companies had been systematically creating doubt about the science.
In the spring of 2002, Josh heard rumors that a screenplay with global warming as its central story was about to be sold to a Hollywood studio to be made into a major action film. Through his contacts, Josh secured a copy of the script just as its sale to 20th Century Fox was announced.
The Day After Tomorrow depicted a massive climate crisis that triggers a rapid cooling in the United States — one of the possible strange effects of global warming. Set to be directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, this movie had all the markings of a disaster blockbuster.
From Josh’s point of view, The Day After Tomorrow was an excellent centerpiece for a larger discussion about climate change. It was especially exciting that this film would appeal to younger audiences, millions of kids and teens who knew little about environmental issues. Josh partnered with Fenton Communications. They were willing to work directly with the studio or independently. However, it was clear through some early contacts that Fox decided to position the film strictly as a big action thriller, avoiding any mention of climate change. They did not want to work with any environmental groups for fear of making the film seem overly educational.
Josh saw things differently. A well-conceived campaign would generate even more excitement around the film, greatly increase media attention, and serve as an environmental wake-up call. Given the studio’s position, Josh and Fenton created an entirely independent plan, approached funders, and secured the active involvement of MoveOn.org and Energy Futures Coalition. The Natural Resources Defense Council also became actively involved around the film.
Baran / Fenton created a speakers / experts bureau, actively placing climate scientists in the media. They organized a town hall meeting to coincide with the film’s premier in New York, which was widely covered by international media, featuring Al Gore, Robert Kennedy, Jr. Laurie David and scientists from Harvard and Princeton. (Note: At this town meeting, Al Gore presented an early and shorter version of his slide presentation. Laurie David saw it for the first time and thought it would make a good film — which, of course, became An Inconvenient Truth.)
MoveOn organized leafleting efforts in front of thousands of theaters the opening weekend of the film. Through these unique independent efforts, wave after wave of additional articles and television news stories ran, less about the film and much more about the real concern about climate change.
The Day After Tomorrow went on to make $186 million at the box office in the US, and over $350 million overseas, for a worldwide total of nearly $550 million. This figure does not included DVD sales. Based on internal studio estimates, this special campaign insulated the film from some poor reviews and increased the box office revenues by as much as one-third.
But the goal here was not to make more money for Rupert Murdoch. That was an unfortunate side effect. The indie effort provided some solid information about climate change to millions of people through media and grassroots activities. Academic studies from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan demonstrated that the film, and specifically this campaign, markedly increased public awareness about climate change as well as subsequent media attention on this issue.
An Inconvenient Truth: Time to Pay Attention
Josh was an integral part of the media and outreach team that promoted this historic documentary on climate change featuring former Vice President Al Gore and produced by Participant Media. (As noted above, the genesis of this documentary came out of the town hall meeting the previous year that Josh organized around the The Day After Tomorrow).
Even before Paramount Vantage bought the film out of Sundance, Josh provided counsel on how to harness grassroots support and the commitment of environmental leaders and organizations. At the beginning, along with everyone’s enthusiasm and deep respect for the Vice President, there was concern that when people heard about the film they would be turned off. Would audiences pay $10 to see Al Gore give a slide presentation? Many people predicted this film would fail to attract an audience. Even environmental leaders rolled their eyes. There were a few million American environmental activists, but would this film pull them into theaters?
Josh developed an aggressive and comprehensive outreach strategy to actively involve all the top national and local environmental organizations throughout the country. He implemented a multi-city screening program with Gore where environmental and religious leaders in each city came together and promised to actively promote the film to their members.
Josh also worked with science and environmental media including the New York Times and Time Magazine. (In the end, there were many consultants on the outreach team working closely with Paramount and Participant). Josh was also hired by Rodale Press to publicize the companion book, which became a national bestseller.
An Inconvenient Truth became the centerpiece for a major public, worldwide shift on the importance of climate change. Films rarely change the world, but this one did... at least for a few years. And led to Gore receiving a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest
Ferngully was a full-length animated feature film with strong environmental themes featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Tim Curry and other celebrities. Even before production began, 20th Century Fox hired Josh to design and implement a campaign promoting the film widely to environmental organizations. A special study guide was developed for schools, screenings were held for both environmental organizations and schools, and there was an enhanced publicity effort. After the theatrical release of the film, Fox Home Entertainment hired Josh and his team to promote the DVD release — which ended up so profitable for the studio that they produced a follow-up feature that went straight to video.
A Civil Action: More Than a Film
Jonathan Harr's nonfiction bestseller, A Civil Action, chronicled a labyrinthine legal case involving industrial pollution by two mega-corporations, contaminated drinking water, and the deaths of children in New England in the early 1980s. At the center of this true story was attorney Jan Schlichtmann, a pioneering, wild maverick who gradually transforms into an environmental hero. For the film version, Jan was played by John Travolta.
The Walt Disney marketing department decided to promote the film as a courtroom thriller (like a John Grisham project), downplaying the environmental content of the story (there was no other content in this story, by the way) as much as possible. In addition, they were determined to exclude Jan from all publicity for the film, going as far as to tell any interested journalists that Jan was unavailable and unreachable. They were afraid that Jan, as the real-life hero, would over-shadow Travolta — and they were probably right. Jan was a major dynamic character.
Fenton (Josh was heading up Fenton’s New York office at this time) had worked with Jan in the past and both David Fenton and Josh Baran felt that the film was an important opportunity to educate the public on the real dangers of environmental pollution. Josh believed that an independent campaign would not hurt the film’s potential ticket sales, but perhaps even increase public interest.
Working closely with Jan, Josh partnered with both funders and environmental organizations, putting together a multi-track education campaign. This effort included galvanizing local chapters of environmental organizations, distributing kits to local groups on event organizing and publicity, producing and promoting a town hall meeting in Boston around the time of the film’s premier, and implementing a national media campaign about the real issues addressed in the book and the film.
As the film neared release, Disney agreed to be minimally cooperative, setting up screenings for environmental organizations. This independent campaign generated a great deal of media coverage for both the film and the deeper issue of the health effects of industrial pollution.
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Hired by Sony Classics, Josh’s job was to reach out to both environmental media and organizations to promote, Who Killed the Electric Car?, this unique look at the auto industry. He set up many special screenings, pitched the story to key media concerned about both the environment and transportation. as well as working with leading environmental organizations. There were challenges, not the least of which was that this electric car, the EV-1, had only ever been sold in California and a few counties in Arizona. Most Americans had no idea there was an electric car that had been “killed.” Although the film only did moderately well at the box office, it established itself as an important centerpiece of discussion for years afterwards, primarily because of the brilliant title.
Gasland: What’s Going On?
Directed by Josh Fox, Gasland is a powerful documentary film that exposes the environmental hazards of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing, a type of drilling for natural gas. It premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was immediately picked up by HBO for broadcast that summer. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in early 2011.
Josh was hired by HBO specifically to conduct a media campaign in support of the Oscar nomination. The effort included a news conference in Washington, D.C., with leading environmental groups that included lobbying on Capitol Hill, media coverage in Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and communications support in continuing the film’s call for environmental action. The gas industry also ran a media campaign attacking the film during the Oscar voting. Time did a cover story on fracking later that year. Gasland has had a huge impact on the public discussion.
King Corn: Digestive Tract of our Fast Food Nation
King Corn is a feature documentary about the huge subsidized corn industry in the U.S. The 2007 film was released in a limited run around the same time that the Farm Bill was being considered for renewal in the U.S. Congress.
Josh and his Washington, D.C. team were hired by the producers to create and implement a specialized campaign, reaching out to the media that cover agriculture, food, and environmental issues. The film was also widely screened at community centers in the farm belt.
Arctic Tale: Saving the Polar Bears
Presented by National Geographic Films and Paramount Pictures, Arctic Tale is an epic wild-life adventure film that explores the world of the Great North and the threat it now faces from climate change. In 2007, Paramount hired Josh to reach out to both environmental media and to major and local environmental groups.
Earth Day Special
Earth Day 1990 was a huge worldwide event. As part of the 20th anniversary celebration, ABC Television produced a one-hour special featuring eco-heroes as well as celebrities such as Bette Midler, Meryl Streep, Kevin Costner and Barbra Streisand. Josh’s team was the principal communications firm for Earth Day itself, so ABC also hired Josh to promote the television special. The show became part of the publicity surrounding Earth Day and also a focus for the growing environmental movement. Below is photo of Bette Midler, - taken to promote the special - where she is entirely dressed in trash to be recycled, Meryl Streep and Kevin Costner posing with a plant, Kevin and Josh holding a globe, and a video of Barbra Streisand singing the closing song.