Yellow Dot Studios’ Staci Roberts-Steele Believes Comedy Can Save Our Planet

This article first appeared as part of Jenelle Riley’s Acting Up newsletter – to subscribe for early content and weekly updates on all things acting, visit the Acting Up signup page.

Yellow Dot Studios wants to save the Earth — and entertain you along the way.

Oscar winner Adam McKay has launched the non-profit studio with the intent of creating videos and other materials that will raise awareness of climate change and other issues, often told with comedy. It’s a high-wire act McKay has become adept at, having previously tackled material like the 2007-08 financial crisis (“The Big Short”), politics (“Vice”) and climate change (“Don’t Look Up”).

Just last week, Yellow Dot debuted “Commercial for Big Money,” a 2-minute “advertisement” that begins with a whimsical, Norman Rockwell-inspired image of a paperboy as an authoritative voiceover begins laying out how corporate greed is destroying the planet. That was followed this week with “IRA Kitchen” in which gal pals Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael drink wine and discuss the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, which offers tax benefits and incentives for utilizing clean energy technologies.

Staci Roberts-Steele, a co-producer on “Don’t Look Up” who previously worked at McKay’s Hyberobject Industries, serves as Yellow Dot’s Managing Director. Last September, Steele produced a spoof “Chevron Ad” for Hyberobject that quickly went viral, racking up over 4.5 million views in just 24 hours. That spoof utilized stock footage and began with an uplifting soundtrack as an announcer intones how Chevron believes “nothing is more precious than life….” before going on to note how the company is destroying the planet.

The Yellow Dot board also includes such members as Dr. Ayana Johnson, co-creator of the Urban Ocean Lab think tank. David Fenton, who wrote “The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from 50 Years as a Progressive Agitator,” serves as Senior Advisor.

Steele spoke about the genesis of the company, what lies ahead and why there’s still hope for the planet.

It feels like Yellow Dot might have begun in many ways with the fake Chevron ad. What was the genesis of that?
It was just an initial text from Adam McKay who sent a bunch of dialogue and was like, “I think this is funny.” I said, “I think it’s funny, too, are you okay if I run with it?” And we reached out to some editors and cut together a video we released on Twitter the next week. We had no plan. Then in about an hour, we had a million views. We realized there was an appetite for this, that people want to digest these emotions they have towards big oil companies and the climate in a playful way.

Why is this something you’re passionate about personally?
Working on “Don’t Look Up,” which was an allegory for climate change among other things, I definitely became more aware of climate change. I read the 2018 IPCC report, which freaked me out, and then I read David Wallace-Wells’ book “Uninhabitable Earth,” which freaked me out even more. I think the speed of it all was what really got me scared. The latest report said we have about seven years before we can’t turn back. But after that initial feeling of fear, I started to think: Well, how can we fix it?

You’re trying to inform audiences while also entertaining them — what is the secret to that tone?
Our mission is to always lead with entertainment. And the message or the information or the education will hopefully follow. Obviously, Adam is the master of that — he did it with “The Big Short” and “Don’t Look Up” — he’s really good at taking complicated information and breaking it down and making it fun.

What kind of content can we expect coming up, and where do you get your ideas?
We have a lot of people coming to us and we’ve reached out to climate groups and scientists and asked them what information they’re trying to get across. So hopefully we can take it through our little creative channel and try to come up with something that is funny or entertaining or just a different way of thinking about it. We’ll be rolling things out and not just videos but memes and some live events and climate campaigns. We want to do a wide variety.

Is it exciting to show people that science and scientists can be funny?
It is! How do I put this — nerds are cool. And people know that, and what’s really fun about scientists is they know so much and love to talk about it. They’re an amazing resource in that way. Again, for a lot of people, climate change can be depressing. But there’s also a whole world of people who have so much hope and it’s really refreshing to hear that. And the climate tech people are working on carbon removal and things we need to do like phasing out fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy. It’s exciting seeing all this science we already have, we just need to implement it, pay for it and get it going.

I want to talk about that hope because it might be easy for a lot of people is to think they’re nothing we can do at this point. How do you combat that?
That can be hard. But remember, two years ago, people were talking about climate change being a hoax. And I feel that’s less of a thing because people are at least acknowledging that the weather is messed up. We can agree on that to start.

I think knowing that we have the solutions, we just need to get people on board. We need to inform people and show our government and our world that people want this change. To me, that’s exciting. And honestly, there are hopeful signs. My daughter, who’s five, was learning about Earth Day and came home and told me what she was learning. She’s asking questions like, “Does this run on solar? Are these busses electric?” She has all these questions that my generation might not have thought to ask. There is a younger generation that has lived with this their whole lives and they’re excited to take action.

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