Oscar winning director Kevin Macdonald takes time out from the edit suite to talk about his latest project, the youtube generated documentary Life In A Day which is being produced by Ridley Scott.
For his latest documentary, Touching The Void director Kevin Macdonald, along with producers Ridley Scott and Liza Marshall for Scott Free Productions, turned to YouTube users from around the world to upload footage of their daily lives on a single day - 24 July.
Macdonald is now in the process of editing the footage - all 5000 hours worth- into a feature length documentary which will premiere at Sundance in january. Youtube, who is sponsoring the documentary, has promised to fly 20 of the people’s whose vidoes are used, out to the festival. The feature is being sold internationally by Hanway.
You’re in the middle of the edit. It must be a mammouth task..
It’s incredibly fascinating. I was kind of nervous when we started, because you’ve got no idea what you’re going to get, and I was thinking it could be a total disaster. We had 5000 hours of material that came in. And within it, there are some brilliant little films, some brilliant material which is really intimate. People have really opened up about their lives. It really does what I was hoping it would do, which is that it feels like a portrait of the world today.
How are you planning to structure the material?
We went through and said, what is the best material. We found 100 hours that are fairly good and then we said these are the best things and so we put them in a line and said, how do we structure it.
We start at midnight and we go to midnight and there is a chronological kind of structure. We will have a sequence of newspapers being delivered, so there will be a newspaper trolley in Germany, a hand reaches in, that’s in Cuba, someone walks along the street, that’s in America, and then it goes through the letter box and that’s in England.
The film is all about similarities and contrasts in life, but what it comes down to is the fundamentals of life – birth, illness, death, babies, love. They are things that really matter and that we all have in common and that is really fascinating.
Did most of the material come from Internet savvy teens and 20 somethings?
We did get a lot from teens and 20 somethings, but then, some of that stuff wasn’t very good. On the whole, there is a big cross section, but the one thing that is perhaps not as represented as we would like it to be is the developing world.
We knew that doing a film about the internet, countries that don’t have internet and cameras readily available it would be harder. So to offset that we sent out cameras to various developing countries, but we didn’t bank on how hard it would be to a) get the cameras into the depths of Papua New Guinea and get them back and b), it’s one thing to send cameras with instructions, but if the people who are being filmed have never seen a documentary before and have no idea what is interesting about their lives, then it makes it difficult.
Anything that you couldn’t use because it was fake or filmed on the wrong day?
We have been quite upset a few times, when we’ve thought we had a fantastic bit and then discovered it wasn’t real. There was something that we had built our whole ending around and then last week we discovered that it wasn’t filmed on the day. Someone had shot the aftermath of the bomb explosion in Pakistan, at night. But we discovered that the bomb was three days earlier, so we had to exclude it and that’s been disappointing.
We’ve been quite strict about the fact that it has to be filmed on 24th july.
Does this documentary show that anybody can make a film these days?
When I started making films in the early 90s. it was when High 8 cameras were first coming out and for the first time you could make something relatively professionally with a camera you can buy at Dixons. Everyone said it would revolutionise film making.
But actually, this whole process of doing what I’m doing is very reassuring, because it makes you understand why it hasn’t happened. Yes, you can go out and do it..but the hard thing is finding a subject. You can get an HD camera for £1000 and you can go and make something and mix it on the laptop. But unless you’ve got a great story, it isn’t going to be any good.
Does your documentary film-making have an impact on your fiction films?
When I’m making a fiction film, I try to make it as much like a doc as possible, I try to make it as real as possible. And when I’m making a doc, I’m trying to take the chaos of reality and squeeze that into the structure of a fiction film with a beginning, middle and end and elements of tension that make it a good story. So in a way in each one you are trying to do the opposite.
You seem to alternate between docs and fiction films. Which do you prefer?
For me it’s like, why wouldn’t everyone do that? Each one makes you think about the other one in a different way, each one is pleasurable in their own way. They are both hard in different ways, in docs, there is so much risk inherent, you don’t know what you’re going to get. In fiction its’ about the different elements and bringing all those elements together.
The funding, the actors, the script, getting the right actors for the financiers. All those things make fiction hard. The pleasure of fiction films is that you have more control as a director and you get to exercise your craft. With a doc, it’s about the subject matter being really interesting and wanting to share that.
How do you think audiences will react to Life In A Day
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In a way, it’s the definition of an art movie, you need to commit yourself to it as a viewer. The funny thing is it’s financed indirectly by YouTube, but in a way its’ a return to the old fashioned model in that it’s a sponsored film, but there is no editorial interference. There has been no pressure to make a commercial film, and it’s the first time I’ve been in that situation.