Ridley & Me

It was recently announced that Sundance and YouTube are partnering for a Ridley Scott-produced, Kevin Macdonald-directed film called Life in a Day, which will consist of footage collected from all over the world that was shot on July 24, 2010.

The press release for the project, as picked up by the trades, dubbed it "the first user-generated feature-length documentary," which has provoked some hubbub on AJ Schnack's blog among other places, since there have already been a few such projects, including 11/4/08.

Naturally, there is now a debate about what constitutes a "user-generated documentary," with some claiming that 11/4/08 doesn't count because I "recruited" the filmmakers whose footage appears in the film. For what it's worth, I want to set the record straight about how the film was made...

Two weeks before Election Day 2008, I sent out e-mails and Facebook messages to basically everyone I know, encouraging those with access to any form of video cameras to record their experiences of the day. I also encouraged people to encourage other people to film. The mission was always to cast as wide a net as possible, and the footage that I collected came from a mix of friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends - some professional filmmakers, some amateurs. I then edited that initial collection of footage into the film that has been touring film festivals, but I also started this website in order to continue collecting footage shot that day, and I have been trying to use the initial film as a publicity tool to reach a wider group of strangers. The biggest difference between what I did and what Ridley & co. are doing is that they are famous and thus able to cast a much wider net.

What interests me is not who was "first," however. It seems to me that the story here should be the emerging genre of user-generated documentaries. That it has now been embraced by established filmmakers and venerable institutions is exciting for anyone who is interested in the potential of this genre.

While 11/4/08 focuses on a very specific type of moment, and thus becomes a "political film" on its surface, my overarching interest with this project has always been about whether or not it is possible to capture a sliver of history by limiting the amount of time and expanding throughout space. It will be fascinating to see whether Life in a Day can help get to the heart of this open question by focusing on a day that has no political distractions.

Conversely, I welcome Kevin Macdonald, Ridley Scott, YouTube and Sundance to check out my project and consider how this filmmaking technique can be applied to a day that has obvious historical significance, and thus might hopefully illustrate how film and the internet can create a new kind of History Textbook.

All of these films are experiments and I eagerly await all of the results.