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How To Do Environmental Film Stories

MyFlik believes that great films can change the world by changing how people think. Green films are needed now and MyFlik has it covered. The environmental topic list below was put together by a dedicated story team at SMUD, a publicly run utility company in Sacramento California.

"Good stories make you feel you've been through a satisfying, complete experience. You've cried or laughed or both. You finish the story feeling you've learned something about life or about yourself. Perhaps you've picked up a new awareness, a new character, or attitude to model your life on."

– Christopher Vogler

MyFlik took these environmental topics below, created a web link list, helped organize a story information event at SMUD, provided individual story feedback for students and came up with 1000's of green story ideas to help students create better films fast. Over 40 high schools developed environmental stories as part of the TOY Film Festivals (Tower Of Youth), put on by a group called DASP, during the 2008-2009 school year. This section is a resource to support green student films all over the world and to assist them in developing brilliant stories.

SMUD Film Winner Video: Click here to see a short video about the project featuring the winner of the SMUD TOY Film Festival for 2009.

Topic Theme Main Points To Communicate
Story Idea Links
1. Wind Energy How does it work?

1. Blades convert wind into rotational energy
2. Generator creates electricity
3. Sent via transmission system to our homes
4. Wind is kinetic energy, and a wind turbine captures the kinetic energy from the wind and converts it to electricity.
5. Blades are attached to an axle that runs into a gearbox, causing a shaft to spin. The generator converts the spinning energy to electricity.

Detractor: while wind models are available and continue to be refined to better predict resource availability, wind is an intermittent resource: see articles from Feb/Mar 2008 when the wind resource drop caused a major power outage in TX.

Links: District Solano Wind Project:


2. Wind Energy How are Wind Turbines assembled?

1. Foundations built into the earth.
2. Tower sections added.
3. Nacelle and blades attached.
4. VERY large crane to assemble.

Detractor: Concerns regarding wind turbines killing birds has been addressed by building larger blades that turn more slowly. Older designs of smaller turbines turning faster showed birds killed, but improved design had addressed the problem.

Links: Blades being manufactured


3. Wind Energy Industry goal of 20% Wind Energy by 2030

1. DOE wind map
2. Growth of wind energy over last 10 years
3. Challenge of wind variability

Detractor: Areas in which the wind resource is plentiful often is a far distance from developed areas, or established transmission lines. Investment is needed to bring the wind energy to the sources of load, and some windy areas are still to costly to access with new transmission lines.

Links: Turbines unloading from port.


4. Wind Energy Small Wind

1. Customers self generate to meet their own energy needs
2. Distributed generation harvests a local resource
3. Small wind can combine with solar to balance resource availability, given wind blows more in the evening whereas sun shines in the day.

Detractor: Some may say wind turbines in neighborhoods are ugly, similar to issues the solar industry faces re: solar on rooftops, homeowner association rules banning such things (not allowed in CA)

Links: New Kirkwood project.


5. Photovoltaic Energy Utility Solar / Solar Shares

1. Not all homes are good candidates for solar
2. Not everyone can afford to install solar
3. SolarShares is truly solar for all
4. Economies of scale allow it be cheaper
5. Building large solar farms is often more cost effective due to economies of scale, but require large pieces of land.
6. Innovations in both business models and technology are working together to help bring down the installed cost of solar power – market transformation.
7. Given the global market for solar power, with significant government incentives in countries such as Germany, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, etc., the clean energy industry is booming with or without the United States.
Detractor: The expiration of the Federal tax credits for renewable energy at the end of 2008 is threatening to derail the continued growth of renewable energy industries in the United States, and forcing businesses to look outside of the US for installations beginning now.

Links: District’s Solar Farm


6. Photovoltaic Energy Commercial Solar / Large Rooftop System

1. Customers self generate to meet their own needs
2. California Solar Initiative – 125 MW for SMUD
3. Takes advantage of existing space (and sunshine!) that otherwise goes to waste
4. This is pretty much the same as utility-scale solar or residential solar – the only difference is the size of the system, which is often in between that of a residential (avg ~ 4kW) and a utility scale (avg 1-10MW)
5. Solar can be used to help promote the “greenness” of a business, but C&I customers are very conscious about the financial aspects of the project – how quickly does the project pay off, etc.
6. Large flat commercial rooftops are a good location for solar given you don’t need to take up additional land for the installation.

Detractor: How much are businesses doing this to be green versus hedging against increasing energy prices?

Links: General Truss


7. Photovoltaic Energy Residential / Small Roof Peak Power system

1. Reduce energy use (and lower utility bill)
2. Reduce carbon footprint
3. Increase value of homes
4. Be energy independent – you can install a solar system on your roof, and reduce/eliminate your energy bill and replace “regular grid power” with clean solar power!
5. Solar panels convert light energy into electricity, where photons from the sun knock free electrons in a semiconductor material (e.g., silicone), and the free electrons are captured.
6. The sun currently can’t produce energy when the sun isn’t shining, so customers can either use batteries to store the power, or be connected to the grid to draw power when the solar system is not generating.
7. The solar resource in Northern California is some of the best in the nation – see resource maps on NREL’s website.

Detractor: Some may say solar is ugly, particularly solar installations on existing homes: now being addressed in new construction with Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) that almost disappear into the roof; legislation has been passed in CA to not allow Homeowners Associations to ban solar on roofs; Debate about rights regarding trees of neighbors growing to shade one’s solar system: see case in Sunnyvale that ended up in court about trees shading a neighbor’s PV system.

Links: Habitat for Humanity House on Olmstead


8. Biomass Energy Dairy Digester Technology

1. Produces Methane Gas
2. Methane Gas is Main Ingredient of Natural Gas.
3. Natural Gas runs Electricity Producing Generators.
4. Biomass is a Renewable Energy Source.

Detractor: Expensive to implement and requires a large area to store waste.



9. Biomass Energy Keifer Landfill

1. Produces Methane Gas
2. Methane Gas is Main Ingredient of Natural Gas.
3. Natural Gas runs Electricity Producing Generators.
4. Biomass is a Renewable Energy Source.

Detractor: Due to cost, many landfills find it cheaper to just “burn off” methane rather than process the gas for transportation through pipelines.



10. Solar Thermal Slat-array concentrator

1. Solar shares program at turkey farm
2. Solar panels on individual homes can reduce energy consumption
3. Solar hot water heaters have been around for years, but are making a comeback.
4. Many of the large scale solar/utility-scale solar plants are concentrating solar or concentrating solar thermal plants – converting solar energy into high temperature heat, where the heat is used to create steam to generate electricity.
5.Can new solar technology lower initial panel cost and increase efficiency



11.Conservation Shade Trees

1. National Arbor Day activities
2. Tree Line USA annual award
3. Community involvement in tree planting



12. Electric Vehicles Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV)

1. Reduce air pollution from carbon based fuels
2. Part of plan to produce environmentally friendly community (no CO2 Emmission)
3. Direct Plug-in to electric grid.
4. Increased electrification of the transportation sector (batteries and hybrid technologies in vehicles and electric rail systems) anticipated.
5. Plan is for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) to fleets in CA starting in its fiscal year 2009 with lithium-based battery technology.

Detractor: BEV technology is still in the R&D Phase, technology not proven yet. Estimated 1-2 Years away.



13. Energy Conservation Changing Daily Habits in the Home

1. Energy efficiency has supplied 75% of new energy needed since 1975
2. Lowering energy use reduces cost to user
3. Conserving energy reduces need to build expensive new sources of power.

Links: Energy Star Appliances, Major Appliances run after 7:00 pm, Lights Out


14. Our Green Community Website What is it?

1. Blog about environmental issues
2. Find answers and express your opinions about energy related topics
3. Connect with other concerned citizens in the community

Links: MySpace for Green Community Members?


15. Carbon Footprint What is it?

1.Carbon impacts the environment both locally and globally
2.What we do at home can affect the world
3. Will knowing our footprint make any real difference?
Detractor: Environmental law and voluntary compacts are quite interesting, particularly when you cross country lines. How do we make sure that actions taken in one country are not spoiled by free polluting in other countries? What rights do developing countries get to pollute, given developed countries have already gone through their industrial revolutions?



16. Biomass
Ethanol and Biodiesel

1. BioFuels are Transportation Fuels made from Biomass Materials.
2. Blended with petroleum fuels (gas & diesel) but can be used on their own.
3. Cleaner burning fuels that produce less air pollutants.
4. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from sugars found in grain.
5. Biodiesel in made from vegetable oils, fats or greases.
Detractor: BioFuels are historically more expensive than fossil fuels and requires additional processing steps, and therefore considerations should be made regarding lifecycle analysis (how much energy is needed to create the biofuel, and therefore does the increased energy to produce the biofuel itself negate the environmental benefit of using biofuels). Also, controversy regarding the agricultural industry pushing biofuels for market and political versus environmental purposes.



17. Green Renters Saving money through reducing energy use

1. Off-peak hours for activities requiring high energy use
2. Energy saving products available
3. Participate in SMUD programs to lower energy costs
4. Solar share program



 18. Green Home Anyone can do a little which adds up to large amount

 1. Buy green power/solar shares
2. Plant shade trees
3. Reduce energy use through awareness of individual habits
4. Embrace available energy reducing technology
Detractor: Retrofit can have large initial cost



19. Green Technology New energy efficiency technology

1. Anyone can research and encourage new technology
2. As demand increases it creates avenues for entrepreneurs
3. Way to meet needs of society in sustainable ways
4. Creates opportunity to produce excess energy for sale back to utility



20. Eating Local/Organic Awareness of supporting CA farmers

1. There is a farmer’s market every day of the week in the greater Sacramento area.
2. A number of local farms offer CSA boxes – a box of produce from a specific farm or designated group of farms, with seasonally-appropriate fruits/vegetables/herbs/etc., that are provided on a periodic basis to subscribing customers – a great way to get your fruits and veggies, try new things, and come up with creative recipes.
3. Check out the Slow Food Movement – there is a international Slow Food Event in San Francisco this fall (maybe Sept?) that would provide interesting footage.

Detractor: Admit it, it’s not hard at all to be a localvore or eat relatively green when living in Northern California. But look at other parts of the United States and it’s much more of a challenge. How can we think about developing policies and encouraging the ability to do these things not just in our own “fruit bowl” of a backyard, but throughout the United States? 

Links: Sacramento Farmer’s Market on Sundays – huge, great diversity of people

21. Mass Transit Reduces auto pollution in dense urban areas

1. Dense population & high auto use create pollution problems
2. Design of transport interchanges where people access system
3. Success depends on high rider use
4. Crumbling infrastructures make mass transit more appealing

Detractors: 1.High cost 2.Voter resistance to being taxed to pay for system installations 3. CA State government raiding transportation fund to balance budget leaves no money for upgrades

Links: How is Sacramento dealing with the urban sprawl and pollution caused by inadequate mass transit system?

22. Earth Day Worldwide awareness of ways to manage resources

1. Developing nations are being exploited for their resources
2. People acting together at a local level can make a difference
3. Technology is available of which people are unaware
4. Celebrating concern for the environment raises awareness of how your actions can affect global community

Links: How can we affect worldwide awareness by acting on a local level? 

23. Avian Protection Impact of power lines on bird population

1. Birds fly into power lines and die
2. Large birds perch or nest on cross arms on power poles & towers
3. Animals and birds interacting with HV lines cause power outages
4. Identify avian migration/nesting patterns

Links: How do we design power lines and poles to lower impact on bird populations?


24. Customer Advanced Technologies Involve customers in the research of new energy efficiency

1. Customers evaluate new or underutilized technologies
2. R & D research is translated into real world demonstration projects
3. SMUD can evaluate the energy savings, and involve customers.
Detractor: Some of the technology may not work, or is not cost effective

Links: How are new technologies in energy efficiency tested and evaluated for effectiveness?


25. Solar Smart Homes Make energy efficient technology available to the community

1. Involve contractors to build Smart Homes
2. Utilizing technology to help reduce energy consumption
3. Build and showcase houses that are more eco-friendly
SolarSmart homes are the easy way to be energy conscious and green – just buy the house, you don’t have to think too hard.

Detractor: Increased initial cost of housing – actually, most SolarSmart homes are going for the same cost as comparable homes- the builders just choose to not upgrade other things – such as not doing granite countertops or stainless steel appliances.

Links: Can we build homes that incorporate the newest technology and also reduce energy cost to the customer?


26. Ocean Energy The earth is 75% water, presenting a sustainable alternative energy resource

1. Tidal Energy
2. Wave Energy
3. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)

Detractor: High Cost and Technology Limitations are keeping these Energy Generation methods form being used more frequently. Negative effect on sea-life/fishing industry?

Links: How can the large oceans be used to produce a sustainable energy resource?


27. Geothermal Energy Clear lake or Geysers

More info coming soon!



28. Hydrogen Vehicles Fuel Cell Technology

1. Improved air quality through zero emission vehicles
2. Energy security/reduce foreign dependence on oil
3. Sustainable fuel for the future (hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe).
4. The possibility of transforming the automobile to much more than a transportation device, What if you could power your house from the fuel cell on your car? What if you never stopped at a gas station and every morning woke up to a full tank of fuel?

Detractor: H2 fuel cell technology estimated 15-20 years.



29. Vegetation management Management of trees to lower impact on power lines

1. Wood chip recycling for customer mulching use
2. Elderberry Beetle research project with UCD
3. Tree pruning and planting strategies
4. Individual involvement will provide sustainability to benefit entire community.  

Links: How do we lessen impact of trees causing power outages by falling branches and storm caused damage

30. Large Hydroelectric Very low cost, flexible power source

1. Dependable source of “capacity” available to cover hourly demand variation, to backstop less firm sources such as wind, and to stabilize the electric system. Other sources either can’t do this or do so with inefficient operation.
2. Zero cost for “fuel” (rain and melting snow falling downhill)
3. Requires large areas to be flooded for reservoirs. New dams had environmental impact on streams, but ongoing impacts are minimal or have been mitigated.
4. Existing hydro power plants could be expanded in capacity or upgraded in efficiency, for more energy generation at no additional environmental impact.

Detractor: Introduces economic challenges because the supply of hydroelectric energy depends on the amount of the snowpack, which can’t be predicted far in advance. Construction of large new facilities politically difficult.

Links: In depth information at
Dudley McFadden x5953,
Brad Dommer x6025,
Dave Hanson x6733


31. Small Hydroelectric Environmentally benign

This involves small scale instream generation of electricity from flowing water. The user of the electricity typically would be a home or small commercial operation located near a reliable stream. There are also possibilities for turbines driven by water below dams on streams which are small (short) enough so as to have no biological impact.

Links: Dudley McFadden x5953,
Brad Dommer x6025,
Dave Hanson x6733


32. Natural Gas Turbine Improvements Improved efficiency and clean burning technologies

1. SMUD’s largest source of locally generated energy, so improvements have both economic and environmental benefits.
2. Newest gas turbines are significantly more energy efficient than older ones (called “clunkers” in the industry).
3. Infrastructure and regulatory system already in place (gas pipelines, emissions testing and permitting process) already exists.
4. Large centralized natural gas turbines are substantially more energy efficient and far less polluting than automobile internal combustion engines, making electric vehicles powered by them economically and environmentally attractive.

Detractor: fundamentally nonrenewable source. Subject to world energy market price fluctuations.

Links: Ross Gould x6584
Kevin Hudson x7101


33. Energy Efficiency      
34. Publically Owned Utility Company Advantages

Benefits of Publically Owned Utility Company In Your Area

1. 20-40% cheaper to consumers each month.

2. More Green incentives for public utility company model like SMUD.

3. Money goes back into upgrading power systems.

Detractor: Current for profit private utility companies do not want to let go of energy control, customers and profits.

Links: California Municipal Utilities Association:

American Public Power Association:


35.Climate Change      
    More environmental film story ideas coming soon!  


Click on the Story Ideas link on the far right for more ideas on how to create films for each of the above environmental film topics. These sub sections are still being developed and will be updated over the next few months. Coming soon high resolution source DV, images, 3D models and other shooting on site options available at SMUD facilities.

Other Good Websites Resources:

• National Energy Education Development Project (NEED):

• Florida Solar Energy Center:

• New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA):

• Energy Star Kids:

• California Regional Environmental Education Network (CREEC):$42

• Energy Information Administration (EIA) Energy Kids:

• Solar Cookers International:

• Solar Cooking Wiki:

Good Classroom Resources:
• Resources for Teaching (RAFT):

Local Solar Installations to Film/Photograph:

• Utility Scale PV at Rancho Seco (requires advanced permission)
• Utility Scale PV at SolarShares Site in Wilton (requires advanced permission)
• Solar Hydrogen Fueling Station at SMUD (requires advanced permission)
• Solar Carport at Arden Fair Mall
• Solar Carport at Cal Expo
• Solar at Sacramento Zoo Gift Shop

Do you need help doing an original soundtrack for your SMUD environmental film? Doug Conner's class at Rio Linda will be available to create musical tracks for these films. Send me an email and I will forward your request. Remember to put SMUD or TOY Film in the subject line.

"A novelist must know what his last chapter is going to say and one way or another work toward that last chapter... To me, it's utterly basic, yet it seems like it's a great secret."

– Leon Uris

Quick Sample Environmental Shade Tree Story Ideas From

These story ideas below are meant to spark film concepts in your student’s imaginations. Your students are free to use any of the ideas, and change or combine them to come up with more interesting stories. Feel free to let students know they may send ideas to me for feedback via email at

One Page Case Study: 11. Conservation - Shade Trees

Main Characters: Talking trees, talking houses, actors dressed as trees, animated trees, hot looking people standing outside of houses with no trees, cool looking people inside houses surrounded with trees, super hero tree, sweaty hot overheating house, tree army.

Plot Goals: To cool houses down with shade, to plant a million trees near houses, to stop people from cutting down shade trees, to plant trees near hot houses needing shade, to cover the tops of every office building with trees, to plant trees where ever shade or cover is needed, to save money on utility bills, to combat global warming, to clean air, to landscape or make world more beautiful, to let people know SMUD gives out free trees.

Antagonists: Tree haters, people who think trees mess up views, ignorance.

Sets: Happy houses with lots of trees around them, broken down hot looking sad houses with no trees, houses on fire with no trees to show heat, houses in ice cubes to show cooling effect from shade trees, nice cool interiors for shade tree houses, broiling for hot.

Fast Tree Shade Film Ideas:

1) Show a really hot and sweaty funny character outside a house without any trees talking about all the horrible things that have happened because the house is just too hot. Really exaggerate the ideas. Then show a cool and happy version of the same character later with shade trees talking about how much better his life is now. Use changing house images in the background. Kids could be fighting in front of the hot house and playing on the trees in front of the cool house laughing.

2) You could also do a series of funny monologues with different outrageous characters talking about how much their lives have improved since they got shade trees telling wild stories about before and after.

3) Do a shade tree monologue where the tree talks about his friends and how hard they work to provide shade. Maybe the tree talks about a loved one being cut down to make room for a view or what it is like to be a dedicated shade tree on a mission.

4) Do a superhero shade tree story where the goal is to plant as many trees as possible or save hot houses from high utility bills. Think of funny names such as Super Shade, Wonder Weeping Willow, Bonzai Birch, Shade, Wonder Treeman, Wonder Treewoman. Use Hero Journey plot points and digital effects.


MyFlik Movies On Visual Storytelling:

Watch some movies below from the online Story Engine on Storytelling Goals, Creating Themes and Using Symbols and Metaphors. These short films are samples from the new 20 hour step-by-step "Writing A Great Script Fast" DVD Workshop:


Follow along and create a great film or story idea fast! Download the Workbook PDF file or DOC file to edit. You can also use a notebook or paper and the Online Workbook or watch it in 20 Steps.


Sample Movies

Below are some sample movies from the 94 minute version above on Storytelling Goals, Creating Themes and Using Symbols and Metaphors. These short films are part of the new 20 hour step-by-step "Writing A Great Script Fast" DVD Workshop:


Learn how to include themes in your films and stories in this free sample movie from the new step-by-step "Writing A Great Script Fast" DVD Workshop:


Learn how to use Metaphors and Symbols in your films, animations or stories from the new step-by-step "Writing A Great Script Fast" DVD Workshop:




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