The whole world seems to watch YouTube, and now a filmmaking team led by Oscar-winning documentary director Kevin Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott wants to use YouTube to turn a camera on the world.
Announced Tuesday, the project, called "Life in a Day," will seek nonfiction video submissions from around the globe in hopes of weaving together a snapshot collage of one 24-hour period of human life.
The idea is to encourage would-be directors to take out their cameras on July 24, shoot some footage and upload the results to YouTube, no editing required. Macdonald will sift through the entries and curate a full-length documentary using the clips as raw material. He also plans to show the final product at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with YouTube picking up the tab to fly 20 of the top submitters to the premiere in Park City, Utah.
At its core, the concept is certainly not new. There have been photo collections, for instance, titled "A Day in the Life" featuring images captured in a day in specific locations such as Africa, Ireland and Italy. Macdonald said he went back to study the 1930s Mass Observation project in England that sought to create a document of the era by assembling observations from 500 citizens via directed diaries and questionnaires.
"I'm paranoid, absolutely terrified that we will get no responses or that we will get too many — that we'll have absolutely nothing or more than we can handle," said Macdonald, who directed the acclaimed feature films "State of Play" and "The Last King of Scotland." "I'm also concerned that we might get too many videos of dancing dogs."
He has other concerns — he hopes for footage that will represent a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and heritages as well as a broad range of ages. To keep the content from being entirely dominated by "a middle class with access to broadband," the filmmaking team is sending out cameras to off-the-grid spots and will collect memory chips from those participants.
"Essentially, Kevin wants to get a better understanding of who his contributors are, what inspires them, what scares them and what makes them tick," said Sara Pollack, YouTube's entertainment marketing director. "What do you love? What do you fear? What makes you laugh? Show us what's in your pocket."
YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., got the ball for this project rolling last year as a way to get its users engaged. The San Bruno, Calif., online video giant had just completed a similar project called YouTube Symphony Orchestra, in which thousands of musicians submitted videos of themselves. A handful were selected to play together at Carnegie Hall in April 2009 in a concert conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
YouTube, being a video site, naturally wanted to do a project involving film, Pollack said. So the company approached Scott, best known as the director of "Gladiator," "Alien" and "Blade Runner." Scott brought the idea to Macdonald and will consult on the structure and tone of the film. But Macdonald said he'll be the one to rummage through what he hopes will be a mountain of material in search of a unifying theme.
"I do have some ideas as far as themes and structure but I'm keeping them to myself at this point because I'm sure they will change along the way," the director said. "We're looking for pure moments, and whether what we get is beautiful or ugly, we will follow it where it goes."