17 Feb 2015
The First Five Years: Diogo Castro Freire (MBA 2012)Diogo Castro Freire
on climate change, the film biz, and one REALLY important director he has in his corner.Topics:
Photo by Brian Henderson
When did you realize that you wanted to make a career change? (Diogo left a career in management consulting in October 2014 to become founder/executive producer of Adaptation Now, a documentary film project that will tell the stories of the communities dealing with the leading edge of climate change.)
“I had wanted to do more for climate change for a while. When it became clear I wasn’t going to have as much impact as I could if I stayed in consulting, I decided it was time to make the jump.”
When did you first become interested in climate change–related issues?
“I first learned about it in college. At the time, I was studying economics and found the topic fascinating, from an economic theory perspective; it was—and still is—an unprecedented market failure and tragedy of the commons on a global scale.
“Over time, my interest and concern for the problem grew. I learned more about the science and the consequences of inaction. I realized we were making miniscule progress toward solving it. We still are. I realized that even the smartest people I knew were misinformed about what climate change meant for them.”
Why did you choose film as the medium to explore this topic?
“I never expected film to be in the cards.
“Originally, I had planned on going to work for a solar startup, but I decided to pause the startup search after watching Chasing Ice, a visually compelling and beautiful documentary on the melting of glaciers around the world. Everyone should watch it! Chasing Ice reminded me of how effective film can be at sharing a complex topic with large audiences.
“But a particular and obvious question puzzled me: Why haven’t films like Chasing Ice, The Island President, and An Inconvenient Truth, to name a few, succeeded in creating the political environment for effective climate change policies?
“My theory is that audiences are now self-selecting in what they watch, and we need a broader spectrum of stories, choice of protagonists, and distribution strategies that are purposely chosen based on their ability to reach the hearts and minds of people outside the environmental movement.
“I spent a few weeks researching and formulating how this could be done. I then discussed the project with my dad, a veteran director, and when he told me he would dedicate time to support the film, I knew I had the means to make Adaptation Now a reality.
“At that point, the decision was clear: launching this project became my priority.
“We definitely need these types of initiatives! The policies required to address climate change require broad support to be implemented. That is impossible when only 16 percent of the population understands the reality of climate change and what it means for them. It is particularly hard in the U.S. because the topic has become unnecessarily controversial and polarizing. This is a massive communications failure; there’s a massive gap between what scientists know and public opinion.”
What stage is your documentary in now?
“We finished the first stage of filmmaking, called development, in the fall. That included the synopsis for the film and strategy for the broader communications initiative that will have the film as its platform. It also included assembling the core and supporting teams, budgeting, and outlining a detailed production plan.
“We are now wrapping up the second stage, called pre-production, which includes finalizing the treatment (equivalent to a script in a narrative film), casting, location scouting, and, of course, fundraising.
“In short, we are ready to start filming as soon as the initial funds come in. We started with an IndieGogo campaign, which already has the support of 500 people and obtained fiscal sponsorship from the prestigious San Francisco Film Society. Climate change is a story about all of us, so we thought it was appropriate for our initial funds to come from all of us.”
What have been the most enjoyable and most challenging parts of making this film?
“I have enjoyed almost every moment—from getting to work on something of great personal meaning, to mastering the nuts and bolts of a new industry (film).
“Just launching the project has already, I think, shed more light on the topic for all the people in our [the team’s] lives as well as for the growing number of people supporting us. At the very least, we succeeded in that! Personally, that is an invaluable reward in itself.
“Challenges have included fundraising for a venture that is, by nature, unlikely to offer a financial return. Statistically speaking, documentaries don’t make money. Learning how to lead a team of very talented and creative people has also been challenging for me, as I come from a very data-driven, structured, and analytical world.”
How do you use what you learned at HBS in your role as founder/executive producer of Adaptation Now?
“I think HBS was really an inspiration when it comes to taking initiative, to taking that first step in pursuit of a vision not knowing what the journey will be.”
Which HBS professor had the greatest impact on you?
“There was definitely more than one! I would also say that, in addition to professors at HBS, there were several classmates who, through their choices and examples, had tremendous impact.”
What advice do you have for fellow alumni considering a career change?
“You have one life: live it well! My two cents’ worth is, think about the causes you care about and what are the opportunities that will help you learn and grow.
“There is obviously an element of risk in any career change. That risk has to be acknowledged up front. You should take steps to mitigate it, but you should also feel comfortable embracing it.”
How do you hope to make a difference through your work with Adaptation Now?
“Our goal is to engage people outside the environmental movement in a productive way. We have two success metrics we will track: (1) The extent to which climate change becomes a higher priority in communities where it is currently poorly understood, and (2) the extent to which this newly raised awareness is productive. Can we rally local support, for example, toward genuinely effective solutions like pricing GHG emissions as a negative externality?”
Can you finish this statement? “Adaptation Now is…”
“An effort to tell the story of how climate change already impacts our communities and the ordinary people trying to address this unprecedented global challenge.
“It is an effort to bridge the massive divide between what the experts know and public opinion in a way that empowers individuals and their communities to act.”
Follow Diogo Castro Freire on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DiogoCFreire.
Learn more about Adaptation Now at http://www.adaptationnow.com/.
Class of MBA 2012, Section B