Jane Fonda, Quinta Brunson and Daniels, aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, were among the stars who attended the 2023 Hollywood Climate Summit on Thursday, leading conversations about environmental awareness in their projects and the culture at large.
The two-day conference, held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, began with a keynote talk with Brunson, Kwan and Scheinert: “We’re All In: Why You Should Be Excited About the Hollywood Climate Movement.” Everything Everywhere Everything at once producer Jonathan Wang opened with an opening statement, noting that in their Oscar-winning film, the team “did something good, we took some small steps. We hired an eco-coordinator, we made sure our food goes to farms or homeless shelters went we made sure we could do our best but these were all very, very small, teeny tiny steps once we finished the movie and we started thinking about the next movie we want to think about our industry in general , and thinking about how we can scale, I was rather naively optimistic.
“As we go through the top I challenge us to recognize these red flags that we have, that we see that we can’t just trade bad fuels for good fuels because right now we are insatiable,” he continued . “Once we get a little more hungry, we just fill it up with more energy and energy and energy. And that’s the problem. What’s that problem? It’s our egos. It is this belief that we can consume endlessly at an infinite rate on a finite planet.”
Brunson and Daniels then sat down for the talk, moderated by Earth Angel CEO Emellie O’Brien, as Kwan reflected on how he and Scheinert started their careers in the digital space and chased viral moments before realizing they really wanted to do meaningful work. Brunson had a similar start in the industry, noting, “I also wanted to implement messaging without trying, and when I was making shorter content, you couldn’t put medicine in applesauce. That was what it had to be about. I wanted to make television where I could introduce the message slowly over time.”
“A lot of people have been super-fucking the race at the moment and that’s tight. Something I don’t think anyone is focusing on, especially when it comes to minorities, is the climate crisis in tandem with race,” she said, pointing to Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” as a source of inspiration, as well as Pixar’s Wall-E, which she joked was “not my favorite Pixar movie by miles — it just isn’t, I just don’t think it’s that good. But I was like, ‘This kids movie has changed the way I think about what we do.’ At the end of the day, that was a movie about a robot and another robot falling in love, but the whole background was this message of what are we going to do with the planet. That changed how I thought about how we could talk about trying to do something about the climate crisis.”
Scheinert commented on how he and Kwan are on their sets looking for environmental measures that are going to make the movie better and make people’s jobs easier, but also good for the planet, saying, “There’s always a bit of a conversation with our department heads about something like, “Please tell us if what we’re asking is going to be worthless.” I’m so happy when we find these ways to just make everyone happier to be there and more proud of what we do.
Brunson said she had the same conversations Abbot Elementary School when they want to cut plastic water bottles off the set, but acknowledging, “I know who probably uses plastic bottles the most and that’s our crew members below the line. These are the people who carry things, do the heavy lifting. And I was like, ‘How do you guys feel when we switch to these really damn nice water bottles, you can refill them, I’ll buy them’, and then that was a change that had to happen from our under-the-line to stand. And I think that just really makes a huge difference.
Brunson also explained her approach to integrating environmental storylines in Abbot Elementary Schooland notes that she investigates her own family to see that “they turn off the TV when they get hit over the head with the message.”
“The second episode of the final season of Abbott starts with ‘Look how hot it is. We don’t even have the infrastructure in the school to support how hot it is outside.’ In the pilot of Abbott, it’s Ava saying, ‘Why is it January and hotter than a devil’s ass?’” she continued. “That’s the fun part though, Ava pointing it out so my mom gives it a good chuckle, but then says, ‘Why is it February, January and hotter than the devil’s asshole? Let me look that up.’ I know it seems so stupid, but I think it’s really necessary for people who wouldn’t otherwise be really interested in the climate.”
Kwan added: “We’re not here to make what I call fast entertainment – there’s fast fashion, there’s fast food, fast entertainment. How much stuff can we pump out? How much attention can we suck and extract from our audience? We have to be very precise in what we do.”
Later in the day, Fonda led a “Hollywood’s Time to Take on Big Oil and Gas” talk with climate activists Nalleli Cobo, YoNasDa Lonewolf and Sylvia Arredondo, as well as environmental reporter Emily Atkin. The discussion focused on the fight to end fossil fuel use, as Fonda told the crowd, “I think it’s helpful for all of us to realize that there wouldn’t be a climate crisis if there wasn’t racism.”
Referring to the oil companies, she noted, “They choose communities of color, they choose Indigenous communities, they choose communities of poor people who don’t have the political power to fight back. You don’t see this one in Bel Air – maybe one existed in high school, and now it’s gone – because white people run Bel Air, so they don’t put their wells here.
“All of LA is built on what used to be huge oil reserves, but they call it drilling and fracking in poor communities. They’re called sacrificial zones, that’s how they’re publicly proclaimed by Big Oil and Big Gas, sacrificial zones,” she continued. “’Who cares about those people,’ as far as they are concerned. It kind of helps that one percent to have a climate crisis because the people they want to get rid of are getting sick and dying all over the world. I mean, honestly, I think that’s how their mind works.”
The discussion also touched on Senate Bill 1137, a California law passed in 2022 banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and other community locations, which is currently on hold and will be voted on in a referendum in 2024.
“If this attempt by Big Oil to topple 1137 succeeds, in a state like California, a blue state, a so-called environmental state; if it passes here, it will set a precedent for undermining democracy in the rest of the country,” Fonda said. “It’s another reason why it’s so important that we don’t let this happen.”