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Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Case Study: Life in a Day


On July 24, 2010, Internet users across the world participated in the Life In a Day, touted as the first “YouTube” documentary, which would be made up of entirely crowdsourced material. Participants filmed their lives on July 24, 2010 and uploaded their videos via YouTube.

Produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin MacDonald, over 80,000 users uploaded content in hopes of being selected for the documentary. MacDonald assembled twenty “researchers” to sift through the footage and the film, which has already been pre-selected for Sundance. To help reach remote areas of the world, the producers teamed up with NGOs who helped individuals participate to capture their stories.

As the first crowdsourced YouTube film, the parameters laid out by the editor still reflected a traditional outlook. As Joe Walker (editor) stated in a YouTube video, content is king and shoot the highest quality footage. Kevin MacDonald stated in another YouTube video that participants whose footage is chosen will be contacted and asked to submit their original footage. The film itself was not truly a mash-up of YouTube footage, rather YouTube is a means to vet the footage before selection. The idea however of a movie based on crowd sourced material means that the form itself lends itself to its its own mish-mash aesthetic and point of view. The role of the editor could be seen as what Vertov referred to as a kino-editor, “organizing the minutes of the life structure seen this way for the first time.

In sampling the uploaded, crowdsourced material, many worked within the “YouTube/direct address” aesthetic. Joe Walker (the editor) encouraged participants to avoid heavy editing to allow more freedom for the production to edit the film. At the same time, some of the most interesting films were shot by amateurs who were not regular YouTube contributors. For instance, Morning in Tokyo, followed an American school teacher as he films, in mundane detail, his day, camera jerks and all. Additional submissions, included one by Jonah, username Mutant Boyfriend who edited together a piece about his day at a swim meet. Thomas Bergeron used puppetry to answer the three main questions, “What do you fear? What makes you laugh? What’s in your pockets?”

Australian vlogger, video blogger, Christiaan Van Vurren aka The Fully Sick Rapper, who was isolated for 180 days due to an obscure strain of Tb was asked by Kevin MacDonald to upload an example. This perhaps is the most shaped and artistic sampling of what they thought could be possible. Although it was heavily edited, it demonstrated some interesting examples of montage and editing. Fast editing, use of compositing, emotionally works on a “vertical” or paradigmatic level and provides us with an insight or eye into Christiaan’s isolation that wouldn’t be readily apparent by physical or verite style observation.


The full length documentary, Life in the Day premiered at Sundance in January 2011 and was theatrically released in summer 2011. Joe Walker’s editing team organized the material into themes and tagged them:
The researchers’ job was to tag the clips as they arrived, coding them to be placed under certain themes. One amusing example of this was the tag word “mybeautifulgirlfriend,” which was used to signify any clip that featured a keen photographer filming his girlfriend.
Although a bold experiment, the actual documentary, still appears disjointed and fails to keep engagement through the whole piece whereas the unedited, YouTube movies may have. Anthony Benigno has one of the more critical reviews on the Internet of the film and basis his critique on a lack of emotional engagement:
At its best, Life in a Day at least sniffs the kind of human connection it's trying to wrestle out of three-minute snippets. Perhaps its saddest and most powerful scene shows an Army wife getting all dressed up for a Skype date with her husband. At its worst, it veers closer into exploitation – a cow is slaughtered on camera in one scene – and even voyeurism (a subway passenger films a young woman the next car over, and hastily shoves his camera away when he's made). For every scene that grips you, there comes a bunch of moody, artsy interludes (people living in the jungle?!?! WE MUST HAVE IT!!!!) that start promisingly but never go anywhere.
It appears that the film’s failures derive from the traditional editing structure. The team became lost in the footage and failed to construct an overarching structure. The context for moments become lost for lack of a clear theme. An interactive structure, for this work, may provide the emotional engagement that the the traditional format currently lacks. The participants could seek out the them for themselves, using the tagging as the structure. The initial submissions can still be found on YouTube as an fascinating archive and time capsule into the lives of participants in 192 countries and uploading over 4,200 hours of footage.

Emerging Crowdsourced Models

New production models as well are developing to support crowd sourced work. “Stroome me” is what founders Tom Grasty and Nonny de la Pena hope will enter users’ lexicon when using their collaborative editing site, Stroome, which enables users to crowdsource their video work:
Stroome is the world’s most comprehensive collaborative online video editing community. A place where anyone with a camera and a point of view can polish, publish and promote their content to a potential audience of millions.
The project was the Knight News Challenge Winner and is seen as an effective foray into what is being termed “participatory journalism.” Stroome allows users to upload their own content and edit/mash it with other members of the Stroome community directly from one’s browser.

Additional Models

The website Hit RECord by the actor Joseph-Gordon Levitt is an “open-collaborative production company.” Levitt directs collaborations within the online community and the company splits the profits 50/50 with the contributing artist. 18 Days in Egypt is powered by Stream Group, a privately owned company in The Netherlands, which provides convergence based technology for the web.
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