It was a thrill to be invited onto Water Online’s Water We Talking About podcast to share the story of Brave Blue World with hosts Jim Lauria and Adam Tank

BlueTech Research CEO and Brave Blue World executive producer Paul O’Callaghan detailed the documentary’s journey from brainwave to Netflix and gave insights into how the art of storytelling can connect communities with the value of water.

Here, we present highlights of the conversation, which can be heard in full on the podcast

Adam Tank: This podcast is about how we tell stories about water. What you’ve done with Brave Blue World is fascinating, because, as far as I know, no one in the water industry has done something like this before. Why did you choose to create a documentary?

Paul O’Callaghan: I felt that for all of us in the sector, there was a collective appetite to tell our stories and a recognition that perhaps we don’t do a good enough job of telling our stories.

You can’t go about your life in our sector without seeing incredible innovations, incredible solutions every day, every week. Then you look in the newspapers, you hear on the news, a very one-sided story that is quite apocalyptic and doom and gloom. It can make people feel despondent.

The counterpoint to that is there are lots of things that we can do. I was particularly struck, in certain parts of the world, like Singapore, Israel, the Netherlands, that things really seem to click and they could achieve tremendous things to overcome water challenges.

The common denominator appeared to be that people really related to this, because you need policy to drive technology adoption, to change regulations, to bring finance to bear. It all begins with people. You know what? Unpopular policies don’t make their way through, because they don’t get people elected.

The lightbulb was there, a brainwave. I discussed this with the Water Environment Federation who said they’d love to get involved.

Before I knew it, SUEZ came on board and Xylem and L’Oreal and DuPont. They were all taking a risk to allow creative freedom to tell the story and to support it.

Then as we went along, we were so fortunate that people like Matt Damon came on board and Jaden Smith. Liam Neeson graciously added his voice to the narration.

Now, we’re at a different stage, where it’s doing what it was meant to do. It’s accessible to 200 million people in 29 languages. We’re humbled really about what we’ve achieved.

To get it on Netflix is incredible. How did you bring them on board?

We asked and we knocked on door. We were fortunate to have a good contact at the very top. A classic case of somebody knew somebody that knew Reed Hastings. The email went directly to Reed and that’s incredible but it was still a long journey after that. There were no foregone conclusions here but it was a very collaborative process, which led to a very good outcome.

This was a passion project for you. It took a lot of time away from your regular job of running BlueTech Research. What was that like?

The team were fantastic, they really stepped up. They covered bases and helped provide me with the freedom to be able to travel extensively. It turned out to be enriching for BlueTech in ways we could not have foreseen. I hadn’t traveled as extensively in the developing world to study water. It was a tremendous education. It made me fully appreciate things I had only read about. It added value that found its way back into our research work as we thought about atmospheric water capture, or the sanitation economy.

What have you learned about film production?

The medium is multi-dimensional. We were working in four dimensions. It’s not just language, it’s images, sound and music.

As time went on, we brought in a story editor, because we looked at the first cut and it was good, but it could have been better. Then the scriptwriter added flourishes. Everybody did their little bit along the way.

Another key thing people told me think about was casting – they meant find the characters. We were fortunate that we found warm, relatable characters. People relate to people. Humanizing what we do to understand its broader context in society is something we can all think more about as we communicate.

That person-to-person aspect is so important. When we talk to utility leaders especially, their job is to provide clean, safe, drinking water. I think many get tied up in the day-to-day operations. How do they translate that into a real-world practice?

People and stories. People might empathize with or see something in that film and think, “wow, we can do that here”. When we met with Orange County, they said their biggest achievement was communications.

Similarly, Singapore has worked on engagement for years and years, so I guess engaging with your local community, be that a school or a university, is a very good place to start.

One of the best lines of the movie was Matt Damon saying how lucky we are to be the ones to solve this problem. It’s incumbent upon every water professional to feel that sense of accomplishment, of being able to recognise we’re doing important work out there.

That’s what drives us as a sector. It’s a very collegial industry to work with. Even though many people will be competitors, when you get together at different events, you don’t really feel that. You just feel like there’s that collective.

It’s lovely that Matt Damon somehow captured that spirit very succinctly in a few words. I think he’s also correct. I think it is solvable in our lifetime.