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Our First Tongal Contest: Story Concepts For Ocean Acidification

by February 12, 2011

Although all of the story concepts were not used in the list of final winning videos for our Ocean Acidification video contest, there were seven stories that were interesting enough to be good building blocks for creative video producers.  And, even though the first place video used the first place story, we’d like to believe that the selection was mutually exclusive, depending more on story execution and production quality over which story was used.

When we started the contest, we set out to find five creative stories that had broad appeal in reaching both sides of the aisle that didn’t just preach to the choir.  In the end, we actually felt that seven of the sixty-four­ entries were good enough to be presented to the next stage of the contest; so we exercised our option to pay additional monies for the two extra stories.  In comparison to the amount of money a company can expect to pay a production/ advertising firm for just one storyboard, we felt that we got a great deal on our final seven.

While laying out the details and requirements to the concept creation crowd, we tried to strike the perfect balance between regulating what was permissible and allowing enough breathing room so there would be enough space for people to really get their creative juices flowing.  So, the instructions we gave were fairly basic, yet rigid.  The submissions were limited to a 500-character synopsis of the basic plot points – not a detailed script.  They had to illustrate the scientific points that we provided or arouse interest about ocean acidification to a particular viewer in the hopes that they would pursuit more information.  Another unyielding rule was that the submission could not advocate any action in response to the facts that were laid out.

Following are the winning concepts followed by commentary by our judges:

1st Place Concept:

Once upon a time there was a snail that couldn’t grow a shell. His older brother had a shell, his father had a shell & his grandparents had shells. The snail wanted to figure out why & what he could do about it. He went to Professor Crustacea to find out why. He learned about the role that carbon dioxide & humans had played in ocean acidification. He wanted to make people aware so he started a band Snailly Puffin & the Coral Reefers. He hopes people will “shell” out money to benefit his cause.  Commentary: Really creative story concept! We think this would make for a fun, entertaining, and non-threatening video.  We love the idea of Snailly forming a band at the close. We think they should be singing a bit about the science points, not advocating for action to slow, stop or reverse ocean acidification. Dialogue Earth’s focus is on informing the conversation.

2nd Place Concept:

A little girl walks along the beach with her dad. She runs and soaks her feet. She picks up a shell and listens intently. Her dad asks, “Can you hear the ocean?” She nods and begins to tell how our use of fossil fuels create excessive amounts of CO2, affecting the acidity of the ocean and causing harm to marine life. Insert an animation/live action dramatization of this process. The dad scratches his head, a bit dumbstruck. The girl turns to her dad, but speaks to the camera, “How can we help?”  Commentary: This is a great story pitch! It is a familiar storyline—who hasn’t heard about listening to the ocean through a shell? Yet, with a creative and unexpected twist in that the ocean speaks to the girl about a serious issue it faces. We like that many viewers will identify with the father, who doesn’t know about ocean acidification. Plus, the father’s concern to learn more based on the urging of his daughter will resonate. We definitely like the idea of Dialogue Earth helping to “spread the word” by informing people about issues like this. The only caution is to avoid having a phrase like “how can we help?” make it seem like the video (and Dialogue Earth) is urging action to slow, stop, or reverse ocean acidification. We think that there is an important societal debate that needs to happen and we want to help inform that debate.

3rd Place Concept:

A beautiful mermaid with her tail flopped over the edge is washing her beautiful long hair in a random families pool/hot tub. The dazed and confused family comes out to question her on what she is doing there. She simply tells them she is bathing. The man explains that the shampoo will mess with the PH balance of their pool water. The mermaid proceeds to tell the man that no one seems to care about the acidification of her ocean water, so she didn’t think he would mind if she used his pool.  Commentary: This is a very intriguing storyline! Relying on a mermaid as a spokesperson for the ocean is a great idea. Having her messing up something that a person cares about is very creative. That said, we believe it is going to be tricky to pull this off without making the viewer feel guilty for contributing to ocean acidification—that’s not our goal. We want to inspire people to learn more. A winning video will portray both the mermaid and the human as being unaware that they are affecting each other’s water, not that they are doing anything knowingly or carelessly.  A minor point: we’re unsure that shampoo would alter pH balance of hot tub—it is safe to say that a hot tub owner wouldn’t want a lot of shampoo in their tub. So, it should be sufficient for the man to say that the shampoo will mess up the tub—maybe even saying that he’ll have to change the water…

4th Place Concept:

OAI (play on CSI) We arrive at the beach where our Grissom like parody is expressing concern over a crime scenario that centers around a crab whose shell is degrading. In a very suspenseful way he retells the scene from his perspective, like a flashback. The viewer learns about Ocean Acidification through his retelling, Using the facts as a form of evidence. He then asks open ended questions to his partner that leave the viewers on a funnily exaggerated cliff hanger of an ending.  Commentary: We like the play on the popular crime scene shows.  It could be a tricky story to pull off. While there is mounting evidence that there will be problems with crab shells in the future, we cannot say for certain that there will be crabs dead on the beach because of ocean acidification. We are certain, however, that increased acidification will raise the risk of problems for marine life.  It could be an investigation into a series of crab deaths, set in the present time. The investigators would more-or-less rule out ocean acidification, but through the process, inform the audience about it and the risk it may pose in the future to crabs and other marine life.  Alternatively, the scene could be set in “the future,” and ocean acidification could be identified as a probable cause of death – one in a string of recent deaths for ocean life.

5th Place Concept:

Inside Alien ship. Aliens are human/sea creature hybrids, with outer shells. Alien leader: “Earth has abundant water. Our planet is nearly dry. We will simply take theirs.” Ship lands. Several Aliens stand on an empty beach, marveling at the wondrous ocean. Alien leader tests the water. He’s shocked. “No!” Leader explains the dangers & causes of Ocean Acidification. “This water would damage our shells. It’s no good for us and soon may be no good for them. I hope they are aware.” Aliens fly off.  Commentary: A human/sea creature hybrid evaluating the Earth’s oceans is a solid concept. It effectively allows the audience to consider the impacts of ocean acidification from the perspective of the impacted ocean life.

6th Place Concept:

Students are sitting in a science class. The teacher is talking about ocean acidification, but the sound is quiet. The students are texting each other discretely. The camera zooms up on some of the kids and they are texting the different points about Ocean Acidification to other people they know. The teacher pulls out his cellphone and texts somebody, and the Dialogue Earth Logo Pops up and it says “Ocean Acidification, get the word out.”  Commentary: A focus on students texting is a clever concept that will play well with both kids and adults. The fact that kids aren’t allowed to text in class could make for a very clever twist. Have fun with it!  It’s important that the message, “get the word out,” implies a need to promote the science facts on ocean acidification, but not suggest a call to action around taking action to slow, stop, or reverse ocean acidification.


7th Place Concept:

Narrator talking to kid:

Hey Kid


What are you doing near the ocean?

Nothing, I guess

Well, why not?

Whaddya mean?

I mean, haven’t you heard of ocean acidification?

Ocean what?

It’s the carbon dioxide seeping into the ocean, like corrosive water that attacks the tiniest creatures.

Oh, that’s not good

Nope. It spreads up the food chain too.

Oh, brother.

That’s right kid, it’s serious stuff.

What’s a kid to do, mister?

Commentary: This is solid, straightforward concept. We especially appreciate the focus on promoting the need for awareness on the existence of ocean acidification. The call to action should end there, not lead into taking aggressive action to slow, stop, or reverse ocean acidification.  One small caution is to avoid portraying the ocean as dangerous, which the line “what are you doing near the ocean?” implies.


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