A very public affair


Aired in the UK on 11 June 2012, Britain in a Day is a follow-up to last year’s Kevin Macdonald-directed, Ridley Scott-produced award winning feature, Life in a Day, which was assembled from clips captured across the world the previous July.
Crowdsourced documentary films are fast becoming fashionable thanks to the ever growing social media networks developing around the globe.

Last year the BBC invited Britons to document a moment of their life as it happened on Saturday 12 November 2011 – from the marvellous to the mundane – and then upload the recordings onto YouTube.

The resultant documentary, Britain in a Day, is a 90-minute film directed by Morgan Matthews that offers an extraordinarily candid look at 21st century life across the UK, crafted from over 750 hours of footage, including 11 526 clips uploaded by the public. It offers remarkable insight into the lives, loves, fears and hopes of people living in Britain today.

The concept of projects like this is not new, but the medium on which the elements are laid out – the Internet, and in particular, YouTube – are certainly groundbreaking.

Britain in a Day is a classic example of that growing phenomenon: the crowdsourced film. Music documentaries such as The Beastie Boys’ Awesome; I F…ing Shot That! (2006) and Jonathan Caouette’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009) were constructed from ideas and footage submitted by members of the public.
Life in a Day director Kevin Macdonald says: “I think that the Internet is a great metaphor for, and a creator of, connectedness. Life in a Day is doing something that wouldn’t have been possible pre-Internet, specifically pre-YouTube. The idea that you can ask thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, to contribute to a project and communicate about it and learn about it at the same time belongs essentially to the age in which we live. Life in a Day could not have existed 100 years ago, 20 years ago, or even six years ago.’

Growing trend

Egyptian filmmaker Amr Salama made a striking movie about the Egyptian Revolution. Where better to turn to for footage than the people who were there?
“The role of social media is to get everyone to know that we all share the same problems, we all share the same needs, we’re all asking for the same rights,’ says Salama.

After using social media to follow and participate in demonstrations that ultimately helped topple former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Salama used Twitter to gather over 300 gigabytes of documentary video of demonstrations at Tahrir Square and elsewhere, as part of a new film about the revolution that may soon screen at film festivals all over the world.

Salama’s project capitalises on the new democratic possibilities unlocked by rampant adoption of both handheld video and social media.

“During the revolution everyone was using cell phones to shoot pictures and videos and put them online; everyone was making videos to show how they were dealing with it.’

The importance of post

Back in London, post-production giant Technicolor helped paint the perfect portrait of Britain in a Day in its DS online suite and graded on the Lustre grading system.

Because the clips were shot using several different mediums, resolutions and exposures, it was down to the experts at Technicolor to grade and edit the chosen raw footage into a coherent and cohesive montage. This process presented a number of challenges, as much of the footage had been shot on camera phones which, due to their auto-correction technology, can often result in over exposed footage.

“While there were the usual colour and luminance differences you would expect from so many different materials, we also had the challenge of making each section look its best, while still maintaining a flow that the eye could digest over 90 minutes,’ explains Technicolor’s Principal Feature colourist Paul Ensby.
“The production editorial team put together a wonderful selection in the final edit using clips from the lowest resolution capture mediums, right up to some of the most professional quality cameras.’

As well as grading and editing, Technicolor provided VFX and completed the HD mastering to BBC specification and international masters.

The shrinking gap

Rapidly advancing technology allows ordinary people to own equipment capable of producing images close to those acquired by professionals.

The BBC Britain in a Day project even ran online training courses to educate the public on how to make films. These projects could not have been done with Hi-8 without it screaming “home video’.

With minimal working knowledge, amateurs can get really good footage these days. Older cinematographers must be horrified with younger ones who don’t know how to tape-measure shots or follow focus using lens markings, but the younger ones see no point – they just watch the HD monitor.

The crowdsourcing venture acknowledges the shrinking gap, and to some degree allows amateurs to be closer to what professionals do.

For Britain in a Day director Morgan Matthews, a Bafta-winning documentarian, the making of the documentary required a new set of working practices.

“As a filmmaker it’s very unusual to go to an editing suite not knowing what’s there. New rushes were coming in every day. It was exciting to think you could uncover some gold.

“Also, there was a lot of footage which was quite roughly shot and had very poor sound and image quality. It was wonderful to be able to produce something really quite beautiful and meaningful out of that.

“In isolation the clips don’t have power or meaning. Put together, though, they become a collective portrait of all of us. I think there’s something very moving about that.’

By Ian Dormer

screen africa magazine – september 2012


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