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Stock Footage Libraries: Facing Recession Challenges

By Brigitte Clifton

Stereoscopic 3D
Archival still of a US Army flame squad from Lou Reda Productions’ Library of Congress collection used in
The History Channel’s WWII in HD series.
Photo courtesy of Lou Reda

With everyone around the world feeling the impact of damaged economies, many in production have turned to the stock-footage industry as a sort of refuge, an always effective and affordable solution for their production needs.

That doesn’t mean the stock-footage industry is recession-proof, however. Clients are still demanding unique, high-quality images, but they’re making fewer projects during tough times and budgets are tighter for those that do get the green light.

Finding Flexible Solutions
The solution for many stock-footage houses has been to go with the flow. FootageBank HD (www.footagebank.com) has always specialized in high-quality, current, privately-owned material, including international locations, aerials and natural history. But even with their elite, high-resolution, rights-managed material often used for IMAX productions and other film and television work, the archive has found itself making adjustments over the past few years.

“It used to be very much that people paid for what they ordered,” says company founder and president, Paula Lumbard. “Now we’re getting to know the client and saying, ‘Let’s package this for you’ to allow for more flexibility, lower rates and an overall product that fits the budget.”

stock footage
[Top] Red Cross disaster relief vehicles caught in a Hurricane Katrina storm surge in Mississippi captured in
HD 24p by StormStock’s Martin Lisius.
Photo courtesy of Martin Lisius/StormStock
[Lower Left] Global ImageWorks provided an HD aerial of Antwerp for the FOX series, Human Target.
Photo courtesy of Global ImageWorks
[Lower Right] FootageBank HD licensed penguin imagery for Verizon’s in-store Twitter campaign.
Photo courtesy of FootageBank

To adapt to the changing market and offer more adaptable packages for a variety of budgets, in 2009 the company launched a royalty-free subdivision, Footagehead (www.footagehead.com), that offers the same trademark quality at a lower price point.

Lumbard has also begun tailoring services to meet tighter budgets for features and TV. For example, during pilot season, FootageBank offers stock to pilots at half the cost when they’re pitching to networks. If the show is picked up, they pay the remainder.

Artbeats, Inc. (www.artbeats.com) has also found a sweet spot in meeting the needs of changing production demands. Offering challenging shots such as gyro-stabilized aerials, ultra slow-motion effects and pyrotechnics at affordable, royalty-free pricing allows “producers to create big-budget masterpieces without the high production costs,” according to president and founder Phil Bates.

To maximize these offerings, Artbeats’s FootageHub search engine calls up well-known brands such as Steve Gibby and Ribbit Films, new gyro-stabilized aerials from Belgium’s Wim Robberechts & Co., lifestyles footage from the UK’s OmniReelLife and other new, in-demand products. Artbeats also shoots its own material. Recently, through an ongoing relationship with a world-class aerial cinematographer, Artbeats was able to capture footage of cities, landscapes and various landmarks on all five Hawaiian Islands.

Providing consistently top-caliber footage by shooting your own material is one of the things StormStock president Martin Lisius credits for his company’s longevity. Founded in 1993 by cinematographer and storm-chaser Lisius, the StormStock library (www.stormstock.com) is recognized as the highest-quality collection of storm footage in the world, he reports, with a large majority of new footage shot on either HD or 35mm and transferred to HD. Lisius and his team recently added a Texas tornado, a Rocky Mountain blizzard and several New York City winter storms shot on HD to the rights-managed images StormStock regularly licenses to film and television producers worldwide. The company provided footage for several new TV documentaries and for The Discovery Channel’s Raging Planet 2 series.

Lisius says he has seen a slowdown in business during the recession, however, as “clients are spending less on everything now, including stock footage.” But his business niche seems secure since “it’s much cheaper and safer to license footage from StormStock than to send a crew to go shoot a hurricane or tornado.”

stock footage
Scenic cove along the coast of Molokai captured by Artbeats.
Photo courtesy of Artbeats

Personal Touch Supplements Online Service
While it is a forgone conclusion that today’s archives are now searchable online, producers often need to combine the immediacy of searching for and viewing potential shots online with the personal attention of researchers who are familiar with the library and can find unique shots more efficiently. So while online databases are becoming more comprehensive and more powerful, it is frequently more efficient to pick up the phone to ask the libraries for a more personalized search.

According to Oddball Film + Video (www.oddballfilm.com) director Stephen Parr, “An online database is only as good as the questions asked it, and many producers know that stock houses with a good knowledge of their collection can save them time and money while uncovering footage they never would have requested or even known existed.”

Global ImageWorks (www.globalimageworks.com) has digitized most of its holdings and now has over 20,000 clips available for viewing online. The company finds that providing longer pieces of content for viewing gives producers a much clearer idea of each shot’s potential. But equally important, according to president Jessica Berman-Bogdan, “is the personalized service we offer” where callers bypass account executives and speak directly to staff researchers who fulfill their orders. Global ImageWorks has provided footage to a variety of commercials, webisodes, museums and television shows including Fringe, NOVA, Gossip Girl and the opening titles of True Blood, as well as Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney’s award-winning, My Trip to Al Qaeda.

stock footage
[Top] Framepool licensed this action soccer shot for T-Mobile’s “Rewind” commercial.
Photo courtesy of Framepool
[Lower Left] Footage of Rajasthani pot dancers from Oddball shot at the Pushkar Camel Fair in northern India.
Photo courtesy of Debasish Sen/Oddball Film + Video footage
[Lower Right] Global ImageWorks licensed an HD shot of New York City’s chic Henri Bendel boutique for
Gossip Girl.
Photo courtesy of Global ImageWorks

One of the largest online collections of motion content, Framepool (www.framepool.com) has been a trendsetter in technical standards for online research and delivery with 500,000 clips available for FTP download. Framepool USA Chief Operating Officer Peter Carstens says that tape is rare in his business today because of the convenience of FTP delivery. “It took some time for digital downloads to become fully accepted,” he notes. “But now we feel that producers wholeheartedly trust the quality of digitally-delivered master material and therefore reap the time and cost benefits, too.” Providing that service requires constant infrastructure updates, he says, and Framepool is currently installing a new portal to make the process faster and more powerful.

FootageBank’s focus on High Definition media makes that digital delivery more difficult, says Lumbard. “But that’s the way things are going, so we work with clients to educate them about download speed, server space, et cetera to get that material. And in a global market, getting a High Def file into Poland or Turkey requires a lot of education for all sides.” FootageBank recently installed a High Definition digital-capture suite to smooth the process.

Global ImageWorks’ Berman-Bogdan, who provides a good deal of HD and RED footage, agrees. “Clients can either download footage already digitized from our website or we can digitize and send files online within a couple of hours,” she says, but “on the masters, it’s a whole other story.” Although the technology has evolved to meet client expectations, “sometimes even if the client wants it online, they don’t have the ability to download such large files. So we end up making a physical copy on some form of media.”

stock footage
Archival still of British Empire troops in Normandy from Lou Reda Productions’ Library of Congress collection
used in The History Channel’s WWII in HD series.
Photo courtesy of Lou Reda

Predicting Future Demands
Stock-footage libraries always face the challenge of predicting where client needs will lie next year or even next month. Libraries like StormStock offer specialty material — hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, storm clouds, blizzards and stormy seas — that will always be in demand. Others, like Framepool, choose to cast their nets wide. Framepool’s array of content features material from over 400 production companies, including world-class brands and other top sources. Footage is provided raw, not color-corrected, wherever possible, in bins of related shots or rushes to provide a selection of angles and takes of the same content.

FootageBank thinks the future is in larger formats: 2K, 4K and stereoscopic 3D in raw formats and various codecs. With more pixels to manipulate, Lumbard believes filmmakers are able to maximize creativity for a better production. Since travel is more expensive these days, the library’s RED and HD location clips are quite popular as is natural-history footage illustrating global warming. Verizon Wireless took advantage of Footagehead’s royalty-free, natural-history footage for a recent series of commercials.

stock footage
Global ImageWorks supplied iconic Soul Train footage to the TV One series, Unsung.
Photo courtesy of Global ImageWorks

For some, “special” is a specialty of its own. “We want people to know that what we have isn’t what everyone else has,” says Global ImageWorks’ Berman-Bogdan. The company seeks out unique material as well as such iconic TV series as Soul Train and Omnibus. Overall a rights-managed footage house, Global ImageWorks has been experimenting with royalty-free footage to meet varying needs. “We have some royalty-free materials, and some filmmakers have asked us to offer their material royalty-free, so we’re giving it a try,” she explains.

As its name implies, Oddball Film + Video makes a business of seeking out the strange. While he recognizes the need for large footage libraries, Parr says Oddball doesn’t “try to be all things to all clients. There’s so much footage available on the Internet that people are always saying, ‘We don’t want the same footage we always see, we want something different.’ So I look for B roll, news outtakes, home movies, unique things that fill in the cracks.”

stock footage
StormStock’s Martin Lisius shot HD footage of a spring blizzard in Utah last April.
Photo courtesy of Martin Lisius/StormStock

With holdings of over 50,000 archival and contemporary 35mm, 16mm and HD media elements, many digitized for immediate online distribution, Oddball has filled a need for the nuanced for over 25 years. Its international client list includes major networks, commercial projects and famous directors who seek shots that “encompass a global vision of pop culture.” Its comprehensive collection of archival and contemporary footage of India and the subcontinent includes Hindu spiritual festivals and bizarre rituals in which ancient traditions and modern influence collide in a compelling juxtaposition of iconic imagery.

When military footage is needed, particularly of a historical nature, Lou Reda Productions (www.redafilms.com) is usually the name producers turn to. Having developed relationships with all five branches of the US military and collected armed-services footage for 35 years, Lou Reda has transferred and archived over 17,000 hours of footage from 1897 to the present, garnering the designation of the largest, privately-held library in the world. Because military museums are generally understaffed, under-equipped and under-budgeted, valuable footage often sits around in cartons, unable to be viewed even by military archivists because of lack of playback technologies. As a service to the museums, Lou Reda has long cleaned and logged archived films, transferred them to HD inhouse, and then returned the original films to the museums along with a digital copy and a detailed log. In exchange, Lou Reda is allowed to keep a copy for licensing.

stock footage
Artbeats captured the city of Honolulu along Waikiki Beach. Photo courtesy of Artbeats

stock footage
Sunset-flamed trees from FootageBank HD were licensed for the ABC pilot, Off The Map.
Photo courtesy of FootageBank

Such an arrangement puts the library in an ideal position to discover hidden jewels that sometimes have not seen the light of day for decades. Because of Lou Reda’s unique expertise, franchises like The History Channel rely heavily on the company to research and pull footage for their programs. Managing director Scott Reda estimates the library has provided footage for 300 History Channel productions alone. So when the cablenet was considering a color HD production on World War II, it naturally approached Lou Reda. The two-year effort had a Lou Reda researcher working at the National Archives for six months and international researchers looking for color footage that had never been seen before. A prize find came from a box obtained from the Navy, which had no idea of the contents: film footage taken by a soldier, the first reel of which contained a whole new angle on the Japanese surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri. The material became a key shot in a History Channel production which premiered last November.

Framepool’s Carstens believes that “the stock-footage industry has a big growth potential” because of its role as a cost-efficient and time-effective tool in the creative process. “Collections which can offer a great variety of high-quality footage, short reaction times and great customer service are best positioned.”

December 10, 2012