Commentary

Life in a Day: Sourced on the Web, Released in Theaters?

Girl-sticking-tongue-out

Fans of Web stunts may recall the "Life in a Day" project that ran last year from YouTube. Mimicking somewhat similar photographic essays from magazine media, this project invited users to upload video pieces of their lives. It was up to them how they expected to chronicle evidence of their existence on planet Earth. But all of the clips were to be taken on July 24, 2010 so that these clips could be edited and melded into a final product. Call it a mashup on a global scale.

According to YouTube, the call for videos attracted 4,500 hours of footage. This tsunami of content included 80,000 videos and came from 190 countries. The footage ultimately was edited into a feature documentary by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald, who directed a chronicle of the Munich Olympics ("One Day in September") and "The Last King of Scotland." Ridley Scott produced. The film premiered at Sundance last week and will be released as a feature film in theaters. The plan is for it to premiere on July 24, 2011, a year exactly from the day the footage was filmed.

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What a curious move. To use the modern digital means of crowdsourcing, ubiquitous video and uploading to make a theatrical release. These are the sorts of Web projects that are supposed to prove something about the Internet, I suppose. But in this case it is supposed to prove that new media can leverage other people's work to build an offline event? Seems to me the more fitting plan makes a point of using even more of the digital creation and distribution palette. Multiple versions of the film freely distributed online? Mashup opportunities to crowdsource the creation of one or more versions? Regional versions that drill deeper into daily life on a more local level?

In an article this week in The Economist, filmmaker Macdonald discusses how he tried to avoid the handholding, teach-the-world-to-sing maudlin spirit such a project risks. As the reviewer relates of the final film shown at Sundance, they opted for organizing the clips around human universals: waking, breakfast, crying, talking, etc.

One universal impulse is to turn one's camera first to the kids. And so we imagine there were countless clips of children worldwide caught in the effortless act of being adorable. And yup, the teaser features a young Spanish girl encountering the world and its little challenges with a face that is to die for.

The best part of the project (and one that is a bit hidden) is at the Life in a Day site where you can explore about 1800 of the submitted clips as they have been indexed and tagged by YouTube. The result of tapping the tags is a globe interface of thumbnails into the topic.

We would like to see ambitious documentarians grab some of this stuff and re-think the "day in the life" editorial concept. Now that would show what digital media can do.
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