The Big Year: and hopefully beyond

From homebase in Oak Harbor, Kimberly writes: Last night, Black Swamp Bird Observatory loaded a bunch of birders into our awesome Bird Bus and went to see the movie The Big Year.  I was excited to go to the movies with Kenn and a bunch of friends no matter how good or bad the movie turned out to be. To be honest, I was more than a little concerned that Hollywood would simply adopt the model perpetuated by the media for decades and cast us in the same stereonerdical role.

I was wrong.

Steve Martin's character, "Stu Preissler," is a powerful, wealthy, executive who is obsessed with birding. His colleagues all bow to his executive prowess and on more than one occasion, they actually beg him to rescue them in challenging business negotiations. He's a hero. But here's the beauty. He's also a really nice guy.  He loves his family, and while on occasion (with some gentle admonishment from his loving and supportive wife) he skips a few family moments to see great birds (sounds familiar, doesn't it?), he's still a great guy.

To me, it was a spot on portrayal of the "friendly umbrella" that birders around the world always seem to be under. With a few exceptions, birders are just a nice bunch of people, and I thought the movie did a wonderful job of portraying that. Sure, the "Kenny Bostic" character played by Owen Wilson made some rather edgy choices. But even he had moments of sincerity.

And the Greg Miller character portrayed by Jack Black? Well, of course he was my favorite. I'm an intelligent woman, but I do love some crazy, slapstick humor, and Black happens to be one of my faves. I suppose the fact that we know and adore Greg Miller introduces at least some bias. But, Greg'll do that to ya. He's a pretty great guy. Black's character in the movie was that of the lovable underdog, and he even looks a bit like Greg, which is fun! 
Jack Black and Greg Miller
Brothers separated at birth?
I'm going to be careful not to spoil it for you, so if you haven't seen it, GO! See the film, represent birders, drive the box office ratings up, and help send a message to the world that we are a mass consumer market and that what we want really matters. Maybe then, they'll start to hear our cries for conservation-minded products like certified bird friendly coffee.

Moving forward...
A question I've been hearing about The Big Year is, "Sure, birders will enjoy it. But will the general public, the non birders, get it?  I don't think they have to totally "get" the whole idea of birding from the film. I think seeing three popular Hollywood actors obsessed with birding (and not looking like total dorks doing it) will be enough to pique the interest of some people. I think the real question is - how will we know? Will they become members of the American Birding Association? Will they buy Swarovski Optiks? Will they subscribe to WildBird magazine? All of which made appearances in the film.

At some point it would be good for "the powers that be" in the birding community to put their heads together and work on a collective marketing campaign. Make an effort to carry the movie's momentum beyond the initial surge of its release. National Audubon reportedly invested six figures in marketing the film. But what now?  I believe there's an opportunity here, but we have to be proactive about it. I hope we will.


  1. I've got a blog post cooking right now, Kim, about this topic and others related to it. I loved the movie, was grateful for the non-nerdiness of it. (though if you looked in the background in some scenes, there are decidedly nooby-looking extras)

  2. It was a thoughtful, charming, and funny movie. And I was thoroughly entertained.

    However, you are overly optimistic when you state: "At some point it would be good for 'the powers that be' in the birding community to put their heads together and work on a collective marketing campaign."

    The Big Year will be on Netflix and then long forgotten by the general public before any organized campaign is ever launched, Kim.

    Besides, most "keen" birders were debating if the flick was going to be "good" or "bad" for us, while the culture just moved along, ignoring us. It's another grand missed opportunity for birders... one that was handed to us on a silver platter.

    Not Audubon, not ABC, not IBA (the Irrelevant Birding Association) has what it takes to move the ball down this field. And that's too bad.

    So, if you are looking for "collective marketing" you are probably fantasizing.

    Yup, that's too bad.

    We deserve better. And, by the way, so do the birds.

  3. Kim, Paul's comment reminded me of your talk at MBS. About recruiting one new birder a year. An easy goal, and one that even if half of us attained would be huge.
    I got some non-birders to see it and they loved it. Asked me specifics, like what's up with the pink-footed goose, and do eagles really do that talon lock thing? I jumped at the chance to talk about it, keeping my usual exuberance in check, so as not to scare them away. :)
    While I keep hope for the "big" organizations to help out with this, I think it's up to John Q. Birders, the ones out there reveling in the coolness of birds, who are going to spread the word the best. It's OUR hobby or calling or whatever that we are talking about here. I avoided the heated arguments about what the movie was going to do for us, because I see the movie for what it is. A movie.

    I did a post on this very thing we are seen, what are we going to do about it.

  4. I'm currently living in Thailand but plant to buy the DVD the moment it comes out, and have the book already.
    The movie presents mainstream America with at least of glimpse of our world, using humor to keep their attention. As Dave Barry says, "All hobbies are boring except to the people who also do them."

    Also, it's better if genuine, respectful, nature lovers are the ones birding, not a trampling herd of silly fad-following main streamers sticking cameras in bird nests, stressing warblers by playing loud iPod bird calls to get the next photo

  5. No film, even one with Martin, Wilson, and Black, is going to create a stampede of new birders. But that's OK. Think of how many non-birders are going to see this movie because they've been told that it's a buddy comedy with three great stars. If even 1% of those people take an interest in birding as a result, the movie will be more successful than any initiative by the birding community. In the meantime, let's just enjoy it for what it is, and not try to make it the Second Coming of John James Audubon!

  6. I liked the film. I like Greg Miller. I like Birds.

  7. I've been dreading this movie. I assumed it would be a full of cheap humor, and mockery.

    "Har-har-har, aren't those people who care about nature a bunch of idiots?"

    Glad to hear otherwise.

  8. Since The Big Year only pulled in $3.2 million its opening weekend, it won't be in the theaters long enough to make much of a splash. It wasn't just the birding community that missed an opportunity here, David Frankel probably narrowly missed crafting a movie that would really connect with folks, but the biggest miss was probably with the marketing folks at Fox--who seems to have had trouble owning that it really is about the birds--or at least how people connect with birds.

  9. I dragged my husband to "The Big Year" and figured he was suffering in silence. But now he's setting up a "command post" where he can see the winter feeders and birdbath from his study so he can keep track of the different species. He's always fed the birds and enjoyed them but now he's planning to count them?! And he asked me if I owned a copy of the book!

  10. Still need to see the movie and can't wait to watch it. No, it won't convert crowds of movie-goers into birders but I bet it will get some people interested in birds and birding and that's better than nothing. In the meantime, let's all do our best to get young people outdoors and promote birding as much as possible.

  11. The movie is not boring because of the funny actors, and I love the whole story. And since I also do bird watching, I could relate to what they are doing. I enjoy watching birds and I use Kowa BD series binoculars which I noticed that they also used the same binoculars. That binocular series is a hit in the birding community. Right choice!


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