You Tube & the Future of the Archive

There were two noteworthy announcements from You Tube last week. The first was that that they are opening what they are calling a “Creator Space” in London. The idea, according to You Tube’s Sara Mormino quoted in The Telegraph, is to help You Tube stars to “take their channels to the next level”. The offering, run out of You Tube’s Soho offices, will include a TV studio and editing facilities as well as lectures, workshops and face-to-face support for concept and story development. “Our partners from all over Europe, Middle East and Africa will be able to book time in the space to create and collaborate with other creators, learn new techniques, as well as gaining access to state-of-the-art audio visual equipment, to help them generate great new content for their channels.” It’s not clear exactly how this will play out – how access will be managed, what it will cost, and whether this is a one-off or a pilot, but it’s interesting to see You Tube getting involved in the provision of facilities and facilitation.

The same day as this announcement, the You Tube blog provided an update on another initiative. “Do you need a professional opening for your San Francisco vacation video? Perhaps some gorgeous footage of the moon for your science project? How about a squirrel eating a walnut to accompany your hot new dubstep track?” This was Cathy Casserly, CEO of Creative Commons (CC) announcing in a guest post, that, only a year since You Tube introduced the option to licence videos through Creative Commons, people have already made 4 million videos available for remix and reuse on the platform. With advice from Creative Commons, You Tube structured their offering to make it very simple to opt for a CC licence, offering only one option; CC BY –  which allows for sharing and reuse (including commercial) with credit. They backed that up with an automated attribution system so that source material would automatically be credited in any video which had been made by remixing CC material.

The approach has paid off, with an estimated forty years worth of footage(!) now available on You Tube under the CC BY license. This amounts to a pretty powerful documentary resource, which will also provide a boost to the culture of commons-based creative practice, by encouraging remixing and reuse, further spreading the practice of content sharing and the adoption of Creative Commons licensing.

You Tube’s isn’t the only open archive around by any means. There is plenty of CC content in Vimeo, who added Creative Commons search to their platform earlier this year. Meanwhile, The Internet Archive is an umbrella for a substantial range of free to use US fiction and non-fiction content including the wonderful Prelinger Collection of “ephemeral” films.  And recent collaborative documentary projects are resulting in a burgeoning of new archives. One Day on Earth have made the content that they have gathered through their two collaborative self-portraits of life on earth in 2010 and 2011 available. The Global Lives project plan to do the same with their 24 hour portraits. (Do please let me know of other open archives.)

This wealth of available content could herald a golden age of archive-based work. The question for would-be makers might be where to begin thinking about the possibilities. On this there is nowhere better to look for inspiration than to the work of the great film essayist Chris Marker, whose death at 91 was announced earlier this week. It’s not that he generally used archive footage himself, but his films feel like he could have done. La Jetee is made (almost) entirely from stills. In Sans Soleil we are asked to imagine the film footage as the archive of a (fictional) cameraman, whose reflections are the subject of the soundtrack. From that premise Marker weaves together disparate footage shot across continents into a meditation on time, place, memory and film itself. Consummate filmmaking.