A crowd in cyberspace: can crowdsourcing be used to make non-news documentaries?

Citizen journalism is a concept we are becoming familiar with – amateur videos of key news events are swiftly ascending to rival professionally shot footage.


…Natural disasters…

..Armed conflicts…

…all are events where ordinary people equipped with nothing more than a camera phone can capture a few seconds of footage that can profoundly influence global politics.

Even beyond these snippets of footage that find their way first onto the internet and then onto the television screen, the amateur news documentary is becoming a more credible source of information. As the price of recording and editing software falls the quality of this material inevitably rises and a growing online audience means that these films are becoming a more powerful tool.

But are other forms of journalism seeing the same shift towards a more democratic and open means of production?

One unusual example to be found is this nature documentary. All the footage was crowdsourced over the summer of 2010 from online users.

Nature documentaries have almost always been the preserve of paid professionals – the equipment and expertise to mount expeditions to capture this footage are expensive and the best locations are simply to remote for many people to reach.

But with a whole community submitting material programming can be put together for a fraction of the cost and contain some incredible footage. After all, a professional film crew may only be able to spend a week shooting, giving them only 7 days to get lucky and see something incredible. With a community of hundreds, even if each contributor only spends a few hours filming the overall time spent hunting for the perfect shot rises considerably.

And nature documentaries aren’t the only genre to make use to make use of the online community as a means of crowdsourcing.

In January of 2011 Ridley Scott premiered a documentary online entitled ‘A Day in the life’. The teaser trailer is available below.

Scott gave contributors a simple guideline – to film life as they saw it. After collecting 4500 hours of footage 26 final contributors were selected and the footage was made into a feature length documentary.

With access to hundreds of volunteer cameramen, Scott was able to gain, at minimal expense, footage that would have taken a professional team months to obtain.

Film-makers are still exploring the possibilities of using crowdsourcing to collect footage for documentaries, and it is unclear how much acceptance these productions will gain in the mainstream media.

However, if amateur footage proves to as easily accepted in documentaries as it has been in news it shouldn’t be long before crowdsourced documentaries make the leap from online to TV.

By Alan O’Doherty

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