Life in a Day is a crowdsourced drama/documentary film comprising an arranged series of video clips selected from 80,000 clips submitted to the YouTube video sharing website, the clips showing respective occurrences from around the world on a single day, July 24, 2010.
The film is 94 minutes 53 seconds long and includes scenes selected from 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 192 nations. The completed film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2011 and the premiere was streamed live on YouTube. On October 31, 2011, YouTube announced that Life in a Day would be available for viewing on its website free of charge, and on DVD.
The film was produced by Scott Free Productions and the YouTube video sharing site. The film was distributed by National Geographic Films. The visual effects were produced by Lip Sync Post.
The film was the creation of a partnership among YouTube, Ridley Scott Associates and LG electronics, announced on July 6, 2010. Users sent in videos supposed to be recorded on July 24, 2010, and then Ridley Scott produced the film and edited the videos into a film with director Kevin Macdonald and film editor Joe Walker, consisting of footage from some of the contributors. All chosen footage authors are credited as co-directors.
The film's music was written by British composer and producer Harry Gregson-Williams, along with Matthew Herbert. The film's opening song, written by Herbert, was performed by British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding. The film also features the song "Jerusalem" by Kieran Leonard and "Future Prospect" by Biggi Hilmars.
Director Kevin Macdonald told The Wall Street Journal that the project was initially conceived as a way to commemorate the fifth birthday of YouTube, and that he wanted to "take the humble YouTube video, ... and elevate it into art." Editor Joe Walker said that as he understood it, the concept for the crowdsourceddocumentary came from Ridley Scott's production company "Scott Free U.K." and from YouTube, while Macdonald explained more specifically that "the inspiration for me was a British group from the 1930s called the Mass Observation movement. They asked hundreds of people all over Britain to write diaries recording the details of their lives on one day a month and answer a few simple questions. ... These diaries were then organized into books and articles with the intention of giving voice to people who weren't part of the “elite” and to show the intricacy and strangeness of the seemingly mundane."
Macdonald began his "Around the world in 80,000 clips" article in The Guardian by posing the questions, "What do you love? What do you fear? What's in your pocket?" and explaining that "one day last summer, I asked ordinary people around the world to answer those three questions and spend a day filming their lives." The 80,000 individual clips received amounted to 4,500 hours of electronic footage. Macdonald explained that about 75% of the film's content came from people contacted through YouTube, traditional advertising, TV shows, and newspapers; the remaining 25% came from cameras sent out to the developing world, Macdonald pointing out "It was important to represent the whole world." At a reported cost of £40,000, "we did resort to snail mail for sending out 400 cameras to parts of the developing world — and getting back the resulting video cards." Macdonald later remarked that he regretted not sending out a far smaller number of cameras but providing training in camera operation and desired type of content: "Naively, I hadn't realised how alien, not only the concept of a documentary is to a lot of people (in the developing world), but also the idea that your own opinions are worth sharing."
Macdonald expressed to The Wall Street Journal that the film "could only be made in the last five years because ... you can get enough people who will have an understanding of how to shoot something." Film editor Joe Walker told Wired magazine's Angela Watercutter that the film "couldn't have been made without technology. Ten years ago it would've been impossible." Macdonald explained that YouTube "allowed us to tap into a pre-existing community of people around the world and to have a means of distributing information about the film and then receiving people's 'dailies.' It just wouldn't have been organizationally or financially feasible to undertake this kind of project pre-YouTube."
The filmmaking team “used YouTube's ability to collect all of this material and then we had this sort of sweatshop of people, all multilingual film students, to sift through this material. It couldn't have been done any other way. Nobody had ever done a film like this before, so we had to sort of make it up as we went along.” "To put (the 4500 hours of raw footage) in context, I just cut a feature film for Steve McQueen and there's 21 hours of [film] for that."
Walker, whose team edited the whole film over seven weeks, remarked to Adam Sternbergh of The New York Times that “The analogy is like being told to make Salisbury Cathedral, and then being introduced to a field full of rubble. You have to start looking for buttresses and things that connect together.” Walker indicated that a team of roughly two dozen researchers, chosen both for a cinematic eye and proficiency with languages, watched, logged, tagged, and rated each clip on a scale of one to five stars. Walker remarked that "the vast amount of material was two stars," and that he and director Kevin Macdonald reviewed the four-star and five-star rated clips.
In addition to the star rating system, the editing/selecting team also organized the 80,000 clips according to countries, themes and video quality as part of the selection process, and further had to convert from 60 different frame rates to make the result cinematically acceptable.