Business of Stock Footage


Making a movie is a very expensive endeavor that requires a huge amount of prior planning and organization. One thing that movie makers sometimes leave to the last minute is the acquisition of stock footage, which is often used to establish locations and pull together different scenes.

Many elements of film are visual trickery. Stuntmen stand in for actors in dangerous scenes. Computers are used to bring mythical animals to life. Makeup can make a human being look like an alien from a distant galaxy. Sets are created to look like real locations. What may seem like a movie filmed in New York may actually have been filmed in an inexpensive studio somewhere in Canada, with stock footage of New York added in to trick the viewer into thinking they’re watching scenes from the Big Apple. Sometimes historic films make use of archival footage to add authenticity to their film. Whatever the case, there is a huge market for stock footage used for films.

While stock footage is expensive, it’s usually quite a lot cheaper than getting the real deal filmed yourself. Hiring an aerial filming company to take generic sweeping shots of Mount Everest seems silly if someone else has already taken that footage for another purpose. Why do it again if the old footage is perfect suitable?

Providing this kind of stock footage is a great way for production houses to earn additional income. Often, filmmakers wait until very late in the process to get stock footage, so post houses can work with them earlier in the process to figure out what footage would be good for which areas of the film, and get the planning done in an organized and natural way. This helps the whole production run more efficiently.

Additionally, the digitalization of the film world is making obtaining stock footage easier than ever before. Having a huge amount of footage in a central location where filmmakers can search and preview it is now possible. All of the searching can be finished in a single day instead of in weeks, like it may have in the past.

In period pieces, archival footage is essential. Actors and writers may use it to do research for characters, and directors may want to use it to supplement their own footage for the actual feature. With increasing quality and clarification of film, sometimes size and quality is a problem (as the old footage should integrate seamlessly with new footage without the viewer noticing the difference), but it’s still indispensable.

Stock footage is still very expensive though, with one second of HD footage costing upwards of $200 in some cases. But much of the time, this footage is crucial. Stock footage is an asset that can help filmmakers save a huge amount of time and money on shots that they would have otherwise had to get themselves. And they’re always going to need it.


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