Released on April 1st as both an April Fool’s Day joke and as a kickoff to Earth Month, TreePeople’s new video campaign, Save Our Concrete, is full of gags (like a nod to the Tiananmen Square tank man), and features TreePeople volunteers as faux protestors.
“Sometimes a large corporation must plant a tree,” says the actor playing the part of the corporate executive. Sign-wielding marchers chant “Save Our Concrete!” in a downtown LA parking lot, the 6th Street Bridge visible in the background. The video starts with a small angry mob and ends with an ironic rally to stop trees and save concrete.
Save Our Concrete was a departure from our usual tactics, as an inventive way to call attention to the serious need for trees in our urban environment. The video was conceived by David Zucker, long-serving TreePeople board member and writer and director of the classic films Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, and many others.
“The best way to get a message out is not to take yourself all too seriously,” David said. “We want[ed] to get people’s attention and you can’t always do it with facts and figures.”
Spectacle with a Purpose
David knows firsthand the value of a spectacle. In the 1970s, he and his sketch comedy troupe were looking for a way to publicize their venture, the Kentucky Fried Theater, on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Right outside the theater, there was a huge billboard. They rented it, and for a month it advertised the Kentucky Fried Theater sitting below it. Meanwhile, the comedy troupe organized a neighborhood protest against itself, claiming that a “big corporation” planned to tear down the sign and plant a tree in its place. The stunt gained media attention from large local outlets including the Los Angeles Times and broadcast news. Needless to say, the theater never struggled to get people in the seats!
“Forty years later it’s a good repurposing of the same idea, and we thought we’d apply it to a good cause,” David said.
“I’ve been trying desperately to get attention since the first grade,” he joked. “We want people to know that you can do a good thing and have fun and it’s so rewarding. If people are encouraged to find out more about TreePeople and maybe even really get involved—you never know where the next Andy Lipkis will come from.”
For the Love of Trees
David first heard about us in the 1970s, but he didn’t get involved until 1989, when he started volunteering.
“They were actually doing something, planting and educating people, and they weren’t political, and they encourage personal responsibility,” he said of his first impressions of the organization. He also liked that the focus was local, attentive to the environmental issues particular to the LA area.
“I’m from Wisconsin where there are so many trees, and if you just leave the earth alone it will grow,” he explained. “But in Los Angeles trees need people.”
After David heard Andy speak at an event, they became fast friends with a shared vision for Los Angeles. “Andy has either discovered or intuited what people didn’t know,” David said. “The city as a forest ecosystem—that’s Andy’s idea.”
From Class Clown to Board Clown
Zucker has now served two and half decades on our board. “This is the organization that I devote all my spare time to,” he said. “My whole association with trees and TreePeople, Andy, the whole organization has been a big part of my life.”
“Maybe my job is to poke everyone and remind them not to take everything too seriously,” he said.
“The reason why we’re all in TreePeople is because we’re really invested in the ideas and goals, and because we all really believe in it. This was a fun way to have fun with it. It’s nice to make a living off of something you believe in.”
David added that learning to laugh at himself was part of his upbringing. “It’s ingrained in me,” he said. “Even the most serious things, you can still laugh.”
In that spirit, we laughed at ourselves when creating Save Our Concrete—lampooning the idea of the “tree hugging hippie” protestor, while poking fun at corporate interests at the same time.
“[Andy and I] have the same sense of humor and I would always make him laugh,” David said. “For his son’s fourth or fifth birthday I bought him a toy chainsaw. There’s always this brief moment of WHAT and then everybody laughed. It gives you some perspective.”
Save Our Concrete was a joke, but we take the protection of our urban forest seriously! In reality, we strive everyday to protect LA trees. The city needs your help to stay green, clean and sustainable. Pledge your support now!