Lights, Camera, Action!
In October 2013, CNN shared with us the story of SeaWorld’s Tilikum, a 12,000- pound male Orca whale, in the eye-opening documentary Blackfish. Tilikum was responsible for the deaths of three people, including his latest trainer Dawn Brancheau. The controversial documentary posed the question of whether Orcas should be held in captivity.
Blackfish had already created a stir earlier that year when it played in theaters around the country, including a run at the Hippodrome in downtown Gainesville, and SeaWorld is facign a 13 percent dropoff in park attendence
Blackfish is just one of many documentaries that have inspired both online and offline activism across the globe. Thefilm’s message inspired an onslaught of Change.org petitions, celebrity Twitter endorsements, organized protests and a PETA campaign.
As communicators, we know the power of a compelling story. At frank, Frank Edwards shared with us how digital activism and nonviolent conflict are related and what makes digital activists’ campaigns successful in reaching their goals and mobilizing support for protests.
Outside of digital and print campaigns, it is still unclear as to which elements of an issue-driven motion picture or storyline will spur a viewer to take action. What is the magic formula that transforms a documentary like Blackfish into “effective motivational weaponry?”
To answer this question, Participant Media, with the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is creating a standardized tool to measure the likelihood of action inspired by activist documentaries, films or clips, regardless of the ideological stance presented in the project.
“We’re developing a set of tools and measures that will be available for any researcher, no matter what their viewpoint,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Dubbed the Participant Index, the overall rating is the combination of the emotional and behavioral numbers, which is rated on a scale from 1 to 100.
The index uses “raw audience numbers” for narrative films, documentaries and programming, as well as Facebook and Twitter activity. These two measurements are then compared to the results of a viewer survey, which captures information ranging from a participant’s emotional response to his or her level of engagement in the issue presented in the project.
During this stage of indexing several projects, the Participant Index will most likely confirm what is becoming clear to executives and producers in conventional film studios, according to RelishMIX CEO Marc Karzen.
A project’s impact can focus more on “nudging an audience to go where it is already pointed” than persuading neutral or opposing views.
There are still some exceptions to the methodologies used to measure the Participant Index. For example, The Cove. The 2009 documentary focuses on the slaughter of Japanese dolphins and shows the gruesome reality in horrific detail. Individuals, who were unable to handle the gory content, opted to not watch the film. However, many still engaged in efforts to save the Japanese dolphins.
Once the Index is finished, Participant Media will index projects for its partners, as well as companies that are willing to pay a still undecided fee. Participant’s Chief Executive James Berk anticipates that the company will assist indexing nonprofit projects at cost.