Moonshine Moonshot Blog

Why your film will benefit from hope-based messaging

Sep 20, 2022

Why your film will benefit from hope-based messaging 

Question. Are you “hopepunk” or “grimdark”? 

I understand that might not be the most conventional way to start a blog post but I have a point – promise! The whole idea of “hopepunk” was theorised by fantasy novelist Alexandra Rowland back in 2017 as a response to the rise in “grimdark” storytelling that centred on our capacity for cruelty and agonising despair (think Game of Thrones or The Handmaid’s Tale). 

In a short Tumblr post, the author wrote “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” 

And on it went. 

“Hopepunk” stories set their sites on purposeful change and radical kindness. It’s a storytelling trend that values optimism and positivity - especially in the face of adversity. 

It’s not a term I refer to often but it does closely align with the films my team and I produce at Moonshine Agency. It also aligns with the topic I’m keen to unpack today. 

Which is ….

Hope-based messaging. 

Now, you might not be familiar with hope-based messaging. No judgement!  It’s not commonly referenced in day-to-day conversations. And it’s why I’m going to walk you through the concept in this post. To help you see how giving your projects a hopeful spin will actually enable you to make genuine impact with your work. 

Specifically, I’m going to look at: 

  • What hope-based messaging is  
  • How to position your message hopefully 
  • And how positive, hopeful messages can inspire your audience to get behind your mission 

Let’s break each point down. 

What is hope-based messaging? 

Hope-based messaging is exactly what is says on the box. It’s about giving your audience a reason to feel, well, hopeful. 

Probably the biggest antithesis to this type of communications technique is the 24 hour news cycle. Oh, and maybe the endless doom scrolling we all do on social media every day, which is designed to make us feel incomplete or fearful– unless we buy THIS ONE THING that will make our lives shiny and whole. 

But back to the news. I don’t know about you, but every time I switch it on I find myself falling deeper and deeper into despair. It’s actually what I call “fear-based communications” and it’s absolutely not something I favour. 

The focus of fear-based communications often hangs around the worst case scenario – but hope-based messaging flips the perspective. Even if your project centres around a topic that has some (or many) negative consequences or outcomes, there is usually a positive angle you can lean into and embrace in your storytelling. 

Damon Gameu’s 2019 documentary film 2040 is one of the greatest examples. Gameu explored climate change and the impact we can expect to see over the next 20 years. But instead of emphasising “the world is ending” narrative most of us expect to be confronted with whenever we hear the words “climate change”, 2040 examines what our world might look like if we embraced new technologies and renewable energies. It offers an unexpectedly optimistic way forward and, ultimately, makes viewers feel hopeful for what might come next. 

I know I left the cinema desperate to start trading energy with my neighbours (be sure to see the film if that doesn’t make sense to you). 

How do you position your message in a way that gives people hope? 

I’d like to share another example with you, using one of my own impact films called Conquering Cancer. 

Conquering Cancer looks at cervical cancer – a type of cancer that more than 600,000 women are diagnosed with worldwide every year.  A staggering 300,000 women are expected to lose their lives to the disease in 2022 alone. To put it in perspective, that’s one woman every 2 minutes. 

These statistics are devastating. Alarming. They make you feel frustrated. Overwhelmed. Hopeless. 

But what if I also told you that cervical cancer is also the first cancer that can be eliminated? 

That Australia is expected to eliminate the disease as soon as 2035? And that Malaysia has introduced an innovative cervical cancer screening program that has seen screening rates around the country climb? Or that Zambia has been vaccinating thousands of young girls against HPV – the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers – since 2013?

Now that gives you hope, right? 

It certainly gave me hope. It’s why these types of stories were the ones we focused on while making this film. Sure, we had to outline the problem – that cervical cancer is a deadly disease impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of women around the globe – but we also looked at the other side of the coin. That with the HPV vaccine, regular cervical screenings and access to appropriate treatment, cervical cancer might one day be eliminated. Yes, it is a HUGE moonshot –but it is possible. 

And no, I’m not talking about “toxic positivity” here or even suggesting you sugar coat reality. There was no way we could produce a story like Conquering Cancer without making it clear that this it is a deadly disease destroying families the world over. Or that the majority of women diagnosed (nine of out ten, in fact) reside in low- and middle-income countries and don’t have proper access to prevention methods. 

All of these facts made it into the story. But our focus was on the solutions that will make global cervical cancer elimination a reality this century. 

Hope-based messaging makes people want to take action 

A really important element of impact filmmaking is encouraging viewers to do something after watching. This is where your call-to-action comes in – it’s something I discussed in a little more depth in last week’s post, which you can check out here. 

Giving your audience a positive action to take is incredibly powerful. Especially if you tell them why that positive action will make such a tangible difference. 

Action can take many forms – it might be making a donation, writing to their local MP or hosting a screening of your film for their community. There are endless options and what’s right will depend on your film’s subject matter and message it’s trying to impart. 

But inspiring your viewers to take that action always comes back to your delivery. 

You need to inspire them to get involved. To be part of the story. To be part of lasting change. And it’s really difficult to do that when you don’t provide a sense of hope. 

While releasing Conquering Cancer, we’ve been asking viewers to host their own event screening of the film to help spread this positive cancer story as widely as possible. But we’ve also been asking women to get screened for cervical cancer. And asking parents to have their adolescent children vaccinated against HPV. Reminding viewers that all of these acts – even booking a routine checkup with a trusted healthcare provider – can drive the elimination agenda forward. 

If you’re interested in learning a little more about hope-based messaging and crafting your video story through a positive lens, you might benefit from my brand new eBook called: The Ultimate Guide to Video Storytelling. 

Oh! And did I mention it’s free? Grab your copy now by clicking here. 

Watch Mike and I discuss hope-based messaging in episode 32 of Moonshine Moonshot (you can subscribe to the channel by clicking here). 

Take me on your next walk or road trip (or just listen while you’re folding the washing or cooking dinner). You can check out the audio version of this post on your favourite podcast app or by clicking here.




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