‘Life’ YouTube channel and the notion of extended content
“Life in a Day” has made its Sundance debut, and now has a sleek YouTube channel that offers a variety of clips for the viewing. Given, of course, that the Ridley Scott/Kevin MacDonald crowdsourcing project is not a standard linear film but rather more of a mosaic, means that any clip it shows would seem to be both an excerpt of the larger project and an artifact in itself.
YouTube began as the ultimate amateur venue, the idea of turning the camera on yourself and putting the result out into the void, and with that it also helped reconfigure the way people watch video, why they watch it, and how they do (or don’t) distinguish between professional and amateur. A video 0f Egyptian protests caught on a cell phone camera can have the power of the most highly produced news content; a video of a guy doing dance moves can get 160 million views and not make him any money.
Where does that leave documentary filmmakers?
Monetizing gets harder in a world of free content, but linear gets harder, too. Television adapted to the invention of the remote control by often collapsing down story into something with smaller reward cycles – be it sitcoms with a stream of lame one liners, or a new “challenge” every three minutes.
In essence, online viewing may turn audience habits into the same dynamic in which iTunes destroyed the concept of an “album” by selling off individual songs like car parts. The notion of a record as being a larger entity, which had evolved in a way that had done away largely with 45 singles, was deconstructed.
So, is YouTube, online viewing and a world in which there are always multiple distractions mean that documentaries will become more component-driven? To some degree, the movement in documentary toward reality “plots” may be part of a response.
But if documentary “film” is really going to be a web-based phenomena, thinking about websites such as “Life’s” is worthy exploration. The website is often seen as the extended content, but to a lot of people, it’s the content itself, in an age of quick movement through digital space.
When newspapers began grudgingly putting up websites in the mid-1990s, they saw it as no more than a promotional device for the paper-and-ink product. We can all see where that went. So a web presence we think of as publicity may become, in many ways, the product itself, in which the film is the “extended” media. Some filmmakers, like some newspapers a decade ago, are beginning to get ahead of the curve.