In about a month, director Kevin Macdonald will sit down to review around 500 hours of the best video footage submitted by YouTube users from around the world and then make a movie from the contributions — all captured on one day: Saturday, July 25, 2020.
The film project, “Life in a Day 2020,” comes 10 years after the original YouTube-commissioned documentary, which Macdonald also directed. But amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Macdonald tells Variety that he doesn’t want to focus specifically on people’s experiences during the crisis.
“I’m hoping it’s not all people in face masks,” he says. “We’re definitely not trying to tell the story of COVID. We’re just trying to show people’s lives. It’s about what is important in your life today – what’s the emotional story you are telling today.”
For the new movie — produced in a process Macdonald calls “communal filmmaking” — YouTube is accepting submissions at lifeinaday.youtube. All videos must be shot only on July 25 and must be uploaded by Aug. 2. All subjects who appear in the videos must sign appearance-release forms.
“It’s like the anti-Instagram, anti-selfie movie,” Macdonald says. “We want people to present the real, authentic versions of themselves. The best things in the first film were the moments you connect to – the emotion is the key.”
Macdonald anticipates a more global lens for “Life in a Day 2020.” For the first film, 51% of the footage came from the U.S.; at the time, YouTube was just five years old. For this go-round, he’s thinking probably 20% will be from Americans because internet access and YouTube itself are more prevalent worldwide.
“I think of it as a sequel – that’s part of the appeal of it, to get some idea of how the world has changed,” the Oscar-winning director says. He’s reached out to many of the 300 or so people whose videos he used in the first movie. “I’m hoping some of the really prominent contributors from the first one will participate…. A lot of them wrote back and said, ‘This was a really significant point in my life.’ They’ve become filmmakers or YouTube vloggers.”
Ridley Scott has also returned as an executive producer on the new doc. “He brings huge enthusiasm,” says Macdonald, “and his name is useful in terms of reach, particularly to film students, who want to have their film seen by Ridley.” The original “Life in a Day” was the first documentary Scott worked on. “He has an incredible photographic memory for visuals,” Macdonald says. “We phoned him up and said, ‘You want to do this again?’”
Macdonald likens “Life in a Day 2020” to Michael Apted’s long-running “Up” film series, which has documented the lives of 14 Brits from childhood every seven years, starting with “Seven Up!” in 1964. The series’ ninth installment, “63 Up,” was released last year.
“I’ve always been jealous of that,” Macdonald says of Apted’s “Up.” “It shows how resilient and good and kind people are. Everybody has the same needs and desires. And when you boil it down, that’s exactly what the first ‘Life in a Day’ was about – we’re all the same under our skin and social circumstance.”
Back in 2010, when he embarked on the first film, Macdonald admits that he was “terrified.” Around 80,000 people sent in video clips, all captured on July 24, 2010. “I wondered, ‘How are we going to find a film in this?’” he says. “But it came together pretty quickly.”
“It’s the opposite of making most films,” Macdonald adds. “I can’t control it. I just have to sit back and see what people have done.”
On Saturday, July 25, Macdonald plans to be in Mauritania, in Northwest Africa — travel permitting — for some additional filming for STXinternational’s “Prisoner 760,” a legal drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley and Tahar Rahim. He expects to finish post-production on the film by mid-August, and “then I’ll be ready for ‘Life in a Day.’”
A 30-member team will review and translate videos submitted for “Life in a Day 2020.” Following that first cut, the film’s three principal editors — Mdhamiri Á Nkemi, Sam Rice-Edwards and Nse Asuquo — will winnow that down to about 500 hours for Macdonald to screen. The director acknowledges that in creating the crowdsourced film, “there’s a lot of trust involved,” because participants have to trust that he’s not going to misrepresent them.
“What surprised me the first time around was the generosity people showed. They prepared for days, making their videos look great,” he says. “I’m interested to see whether that still exists.” He adds, “YouTube 10 years ago was people uploading videos of their cats and children. Today, it’s a different world.”
One of the criticisms of the first film was that it didn’t include much strife. “There was darkness, but there was a feeling [among critics] that we were trying to portray a happy-clappy version of things,” the Scottish-born director says. “People didn’t want to share [their difficulties]. I had to strain to find that.”
In a bit of irony, Macdonald does not himself have a YouTube channel, nor is he on social media. Why not? “Because I really don’t think my life is that interesting,” he says with a laugh. “I think other people’s lives are more interesting. I don’t have the sense that there’s anything special enough for me to share it.”
Macdonald’s credits include “Touching the Void,” “One Day in September,” “The Last King of Scotland,” thriller “State of Play,” “How I Live Now,” and Whitney Houston documentary “Whitney,” which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. He won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2000 for “One Day in September,” about the murders of 11 Israeli athletes on Sept. 5, 1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
“Life in a Day 2020” is scheduled to premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival — one of the first titles to be confirmed for the fest — and will be available free to stream on YouTube. The film is executive produced by Scott, Macdonald and Kai Hsuing (“Lords of Chaos”). Jack Arbuthnott and Tim Partridge are producers. “Life in a Day 2020” is produced by Scott’s RSA Films in association with Partridge’s Flying Object.