Taking Action in Your Community: Movie is Major Tool
“People were so enthralled, you could hear a pin drop . . . “
“Seeing the film galvanized the people in the town to take action . . . “
“If Canada can ban lawn chemicals, we should, and can, do it here, too . . . “
THOSE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE THOUSANDS OF COMMENTS we have heard in the past 16 months since the film, A Chemical Reaction, premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival in Montreal. Director Brett Plymale’s film about Hudson, Quebec, the first town in North America to ban lawn and garden pesticides, has motivated tens of thousands of filmgoers to take action in their own communities.
Some folks are simply making changes in their own yards after seeing the film. Others are talking to neighbors. The most motivated activists are talking to mayors, town counselors and even state legislators. The film has been screened at least 100 times inside council chambers.
With several screenings in the coming week, the film is going strong from Maine to Manitoba. Some folks have screened the film in their communities five times or more and not a day goes by without someone asking, by phone or email: “How do we get the movie to play in our town?”
That answer is simple, really: Make it happen!
SafeLawns.org is a small organization and we don’t have the staff to organize screenings by ourselves, so we rely on individuals and groups from cities and towns and across North America to help us get the movie out there. We never signed a so-called “distribution deal” with a studio, so that we retain total control.
So if you want to bring the film, A Chemical Reaction, to your town, here’s a checklist:
1) Pick a date. Try to avoid major competing events in the same town. Perhaps, however, you can find a compatible event such as a flower show where people are already congregating for a similar reason.
2) Pick a day and time. There’s lots of debate on this one about what’s better: weeknights, weekends, or weekend afternoons. The general consensus is that Wednesday and Thursday evenings around 7 are great — except for people with very young children. Weekend nights can run into social conflicts. Sunday afternoons have been really popular. One note: children really seem to like the movie and come away full of questions about how their own lawns and parks are treated, or not, with chemicals.
3) Who are the other potential stakeholders? In other words, who is interested in helping promote the movie? Look for: garden clubs, church groups, watershed associations, conservation groups, universities, Cooperative Extensions, organic food stories and co-ops etc. Parent-teacher associations are excellent. These are the people who are really motivated to make the world a better place for kids. It’s a good idea to find at least a couple of collaborators right from the start; others will join in later.
4) Pick a venue. So far we’ve shown the film everywhere from the massive Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, to a church basement in Concord, N.H., and everywhere in between. Basically anywhere a DVD can be played, the movie can be screened. As filmmakers, we love theaters. Nothing beats it. But college auditoriums work great and are often less expensive. Community halls are fine, though the PA and lighting can sometimes be challenging.
5) Assess your equipment. We’ve had a few horror stories about DVD players that didn’t work, or PA systems that sounded muffled, or even lights that couldn’t be shut off due to timers. Try to test all this in advance of the big night.
6) Decide which version of the film to show. Two versions now exist, including the full-length 75-minute feature film that includes all the great background information, as well as the 55-minute classroom version. The longer film has more emotional impact; the shorter version can be watched over lunch to get the point across.
This is always tougher than people think. Almost universally, excited local folks think that drawing hundreds of people to a movie is going to be a piece of cake. It’s not, ever. Here are a few keys:
1) The Initial Notice. Get the notice of the film screening to the local magazines and newspapers absolutely as soon as possible for their calendars of events. Many of these folks have long lead times.
2) Who Knows Who? Many communities have local gardening writers or radio hosts who are accessible. Are there other television hosts or newspaper reporters who might cover the arrival of the movie in advance? Prior coverage is more essential than post coverage and a well-timed article or TV piece can literally put dozens if not hundreds of extra eyeballs on the screen.
3) Social Networking. These days Facebook, Twitter and all the on-line stuff really does work. Old-fashioned networking is critical, too. Plan a girls’ night out prior to the movie with a group of a half dozen friends. Post a notice wherever people congregate in your town.
4) Posters and Postcards. We will provide electronic support with images that can be customized for your use. Larger posters in key areas are great, but creating something that can hang on the refrigerator is essential, too.
5) An Email Campaign and Web Sites. All of your stakeholders know people and probably have lists. Leverage all these. Ask people to post the event on their web sites and blogs. A good rule of thumb is to email people three times: one month out, one week out and two days out.
6) Mailing Lists. A direct-mail campaign for a one-time movie event can be cost prohibitive, but take a look at any mailing lists that exist within your circle of stakeholders. You’ll probably find a few people worth buying a stamp for.
7) Door Hangers. If there is a neighborhood where you suspect chemicals are being used and abused, consider a door hanger compaign asking: “Is Your Lawn Safe for Your Children?” with a notice of the movie. They may not come to the film, but they’ll see the message. Note: Check with your town hall to see if door hangers are legal; some municipalities have ordinances against these.
8) Send the notice to us for our calendar. We maintain an ongoing list of events, but too many times we only hear about the details of a screening after the fact. SafeLawns.org is a place where thousands of the most motivated people congregate daily.
MAKING IT UNIQUE
It’s fine to have a screening for 20 people and call it good. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that at all. To create a buzz in your town that could lead to real change — a bylaw, an ordinance or just a change in your neighbors’ behavior with regard to pesticides — then it’s a good idea to turn the movie screening into a must-see event. Here’s how:
1) Find Local Sponsors. In Burlington, Vt., the local organizers signed on Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Gardeners Supply and Green Mountain Coffee as sponsors — which gave them a budget and access to mailing lists instantly. While not every town has iconic sponsor potential like Burlington, most towns do have businesses who are socially and environmentally conscious.
2) Hold a Networking Reception. For an hour prior to the film, invite your sponsors and stakeholders to set up tables. Invite local restaurants and food stores to set up booths. INVITE THE MAYOR, the town manager, the local elected officials. This is essential. Get a few key folks to commit early so you can use their names to draw others.
3) Plan a Panel Discussion. After the film, when the audience is still captive, pick three or four articulate members of the stakeholder community to talk about the issues just presented in the film. Remember, this isn’t just about lawn pesticides. The film covers community action, the Precautionary Principle, state pre-emption laws, homeowners’ rights, health and the environment. Ideal panelists include: doctors, elected officials, lawn care professionals, local activists. The panel can be as big a draw, if not more, than the movie.
A “home” screening for up to 20 people costs $30. Other fee structures depending on audience size can be found at http://www.safelawns.org/chemical-reaction/. If you would like to have activist/film producer Paul Tukey or the film’s director, Brett Plymale, in attendance, we do charge an honorarium plus expenses to cover our travel, lodging and meals. When I come to town, I’ll often be involved with several speeches and/or training sessions in the same day prior to an evening film screening. I always tell organizers to keep me busy to maximize the potential of the visit.
At one recent event, I appeared at a elementary school assembly at 10 a.m., met with the city council at lunch, trained a group of lawn care professionals about organic techniques in the afternoon. Then, after dinner with local organizers, we screened the film followed by a panel discussion that I moderated.
In the process, we touched hundreds of people and, even if they didn’t make a change instantly, I know we got them thinking about pesticide reduction, water quality and children’s safety.
Showing the film is an amazing tool. So, as I said already . . . if you’re motivated, make it happen!