YouTube and Sundance have partnered on various projects in the past, but on Saturday the two are launching what they say is their most ambitious pairing yet.
That’s when their documentary, “Life in a Day,” both begins and ends filming.
“This is a new frontier project,” John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, told TheWrap. “It’s challenging what story and film can be.”
What has Cooper so enthused is not that the project is being produced by Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) and directed by Kevin MacDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”). It’s that neither one of the two big-ticket moviemakers are doing any of the actual filming.
In an unprecedented move, they are using the concept of crowd sourcing to make a picture. Instead of sending MacDonald and a crew of more seasoned film folk out across the globe, the pair arae soliciting footage shot by YouTube users that capture their activities over the course of a single day. MacDonald, who is credited as the film’s director, will then cut the best of the submissions into a single documentary.
It's a similar concept to the popular "A Day in the Life" series of books, which captured a 24 hour-span in various countries. The only exception being that those were shot by professional photojournalists.
In fact, the creator of those books, Rick Smolan, was enlisted to expand the project’s reach beyond YouTube users, sending 650 Fuji HD cameras to 40 countries around the world to get footage from remote areas where internet access is scarce or nonexistent. (Camera distribution in Ghana, right.)
“They understood that if they only had YouTube users contribute their slices of daily life, they’d have a very narrow sampling of people who went online,” says Smolan. “So we used our network to get cameras to people on the other side of the world, and the other side of the digital divide.”
“Life in a Day” will have its world premiere at the Park City, Utah, film festival.
Festival organizers and YouTube executives believe that the project is indicative of a new model of no-budget filmmaking and gorilla distribution. For YouTube, it also represents an attempt to get into the content game.
“This really is an effort to expand the YouTube brand,” Anna Richardson, a spokesperson for YouTube, told TheWrap. “We’re going to start filling a void, as more people look to and consider us to distribute their products. Maybe indie filmmakers will see ‘Life in a Day’ as a bridge between filmmaking and distribution.”
The YouTube users who get selected won’t get paid for their efforts, but they do earn a co-director credit. Twenty of their number will be picked to attend the movie’s Sundance premiere.
The movie will be offered free on YouTube simultaneously with its premiere, and the company plans to do a series of screenings around the world.
As for the film’s artistic merits, that’s anyone’s guess. Not a single frame of film has been shot yet, nor will it be until Saturday rolls around. In granting “Life in a Day” entree into the prestigious festival, Cooper was taking a flyer on a concept.
“We’re going in with our eyes wide open,” Cooper said. “I’m curious to see how experimental it will become, but Kevin is not afraid of that. There’s always a risk that this will be just a best of YouTube, but I doubt it, because we’re looking for something more profound.”
Rick Smolan says the job of assembling the footage will be monumental, but he's excited by the risks involved. “There are so many great unknowns here,” he says. “So many ways in which this could be a disaster, or it could be absolutely brilliant.
“But it’ll be a huge job, looking through all the dross for those flecks of gold, and then somehow weaving all the wonderful disparate moments into a coherent whole.”
Sundance's Cooper is so gung ho about the project that he may even break out his own camera and record his daily events.
“I was going to do one myself, but I’m getting cold feet,” Cooper said. “The big fear for me is that it would be boring. I’m not pregnant, I’m not getting married, so I’m stumped. I may just go out into the world that day and see what’s out there.”
Both Sundance and YouTube have only good things to say about their partnership.
“I find them very easy to work with and very forward thinking,” Cooper said. “They share ideas with us and that’s rare in the sponsorship world.”
“It’s a great way to be involved in the film community and to become more established in Hollywood and with indie filmmakers,” Richardson said.
That said, the two companies collaborations have not always worked seamlessly in the past. A much ballyhooed deal between Sundance and YouTube to make five films — “The Cove,” “Bass Ackwards,” “One Too Many Mornings,” “Homewrecker” and “Children of Invention” — available for rental during failed to deliver. The movies in total attracted 2,684 views and brought in $10,709.
“People go to YouTube and assume that things are going to be free, so that requires a change in perception,” Richardson said. “We’re starting to see a shift in how people think about what’s available.”
For his part, Cooper says that the project might have been more successful if there had been time to market it. Getting the technology in place left the festival and YouTube with only a couple of weeks to promote the fact that the films would be available for rental.
Anemic sales aside, YouTube maintains it’s in it for the long haul.
“The rentals are really part of the Google and YouTube ethos of launch and innovate,” Richardson told TheWrap. “We’re pleased with the results, but we’re listening to feedback so it becomes the best product it can be.”