‘A Day in the Life’ Breathes Life into Web Video

Morgan Spurlock is not a man seemingly daunted by challenges. He survived eating only McDonald’s for a month in “Supersize Me.” He sold his soul to make a point about product placement and editorial consideration in “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” Now, Spurlock is testing the power of the Web as a credible mass video-distribution vehicle.

Spurlock has teamed with Hulu for “A Day in the Life,” in which he profiles some of his favorite, most fascinating people. The mini-doc is a soup-to-nuts, warts-and-all look at a typical day of an eclectic collection of cultural icons like will.i.am, Richard Branson, Russell Peters and Greg Gillis (Girl Talk). It’s ambitious and at times riveting, putting to shame most of the bubble-gum efforts that have dotted the Web video landscape to date.

The first episode dives into a day in the life of CEO Richard Branson, offering up a more thoughtful, honest view into his life than a True Hollywood Story profile would provide. Spurlock spends a full day trailing Sir Richard, following him through the most mundane aspects of daily life to the most exciting. The show moves from Branson prepping for a press conference to jetting off — on Virgin Airline, of course — for dinner with the Queen and President. “A Day in the Life” provides a more behind-the-scenes view of celebrity life rather than the glitz and glamour that is usually associated with these individuals.

And it works. Watching “A Day in the Life,” you get the comfortable feeling you’re in the hands of a pro. There’s no tortured plot device or ham-handed “momversation” with a B-list actress. There’s a professional director making a very solid show about a fascinating character. It feels almost like, well, TV.

Spurlock takes his time in the episode, as if he’s trying to emphasize that, apart from the glitz, the lives of these famous people can be just as mundane as our own. There’s lots of footage that was shot while the film crew waited for something to happen — standing in a hallway, waiting for an interview to start. Like warfare, those boring moments are puncuated by reminders that Sir Richard is very often not at all like us. There he is talking about his new ventures with random commuters. Then he’s handing out free airline tickets. It is in these moments that Branson’s true personality shines. He’s rich and famous, unashamed of either, and having a hell of a time living. He’s like we imagine we’d be like if we were in the same situation. (Please, God.)

Despite his high profile and outsized personality, Morgan Spurlock is surprisingly absent from “A Day in the Life.” This was a smart move. “A Day in the Life” is focused on the people profiled. (Branson will be followed by features on will.i.am and Russell Peters.)

The Web has been home to other documentary projects, such as Cinelan and SnagFilms, but none with the celebrity firepower and documentary sensibilities that Spurlock brings. This is a big leap forward for Web entertainment. Is it perfect? No. But it shows that very talented people, when given the space and a platform, can produce great content. Hulu is the perfect vehicle for this to happen. It’s a clean, well-lit enviornment that attracts high-end brands — and Spurlock and his subjects are high-end brands. Hulu already has an audience that is pre-conditioned for longer form content, and it shouldn’t have a hard time sticking with 30 minutes of premium content. “A Day in the Life” launches on Hulu on August 17th.

 

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