Producers know well that they don't need to travel to China with a film crew to obtain convincing images to help tell a story. (OK, Rick McCallum has famously taken a Star Wars crew to China to shoot background plates, but the exception proves the rule.) Instead, finer, more versatile and varied footage is increasingly available online for browsing producers.
Another theme in the stock world is delivery. Since today's producers want it "now," the Internet is giving them "now" — downloads are becoming the order of the day while producers with a day or two to spare are taking their footage overnight on disc.
And then there are those extraordinary client requests. Some stock footage purveyors pride themselves on their ability to deliver the impossible. Post spoke with some very busy stock houses that are helping to set the pace.
There's no doubt which format this company is about. But, says Always HD's president, Carleton Wilkins, working with high def footage is liberating for producers, not limiting.
"Our buyers are spread over all imaginable production markets," Wilkins says. "Strictly by number of buyers per individual market, however, the majority are in advertising."
Always HD (www.alwayshd.com), based in Mobile, AL, started out offering mostly the work of documentary cinematographers. "Therefore we assumed that documentary producers would be our biggest clients," Wilkins says. "But almost from the start, calls were coming in from ad agencies, networks, Hollywood, etc. We soon realized that the scope of professional HD footage was almost limitless."
Wilkins says that Always HD's requests "are as varied and random as our customers are worldwide. So the rule is that quality and composition are king; subject matter and location are happenstance. While it's true that the uniqueness of a particular shot may make it desirable — lava flowing into the ocean — a perfectly composed "ordinary" shot may be more universally needed by stock buyers. However, Wilkins does mention one particularly extraordinary shot request. "We received a request for a shot of a rattlesnake striking a camera lens at 60 frames per second." The challenge of finding the right snake and getting it to strike the camera was only superseded by the question, Wilkins says, "of who in the world is going to shoot it? Yep, we got it, and no, we don't want to do it again."
There was a time when high def footage was delivered as a big, fat pancake and the thought of downloading it from a remote location was nigh unthinkable. "All of our clients expect the deliverable as HD," Wilkins says, "and while we still happily accept orders for delivery via mail, the truth is that 95 percent of our orders are for download."
He adds, "NLEs have finally reached a point of interoperability such that we can store and deliver a single format. The most universal, lossless-quality, compressed format at present is the Photo-JPG codec which, at 100 percent, is actually 4:4:4 in color space — but can't include an alpha channel. So footage shot in HDCAM and then exported to a QuickTime .MOV file in the Photo-JPG codec is usable by anyone on any NLE with zero loss of quality from the original. Of course newer wavelet-based codecs are even more efficient, like ProRes422 and Cineform, and have the added benefit of supporting 2K and 4K, so we'll adopt that technology in the future — assuming there is universal NLE support."
Always HD has not yet received requests for 4K footage, but Wilkins believes it is only a matter of time. "Very few producers, statistically speaking, have had access to systems that could effectively deal with the file sizes associated with 4K — or even 2K for that matter," says Wilkins. "Editing and onlining 4K required some pretty vast resources. That has recently changed. These new wavelet-based codecs are so good that, for example, Apple's Final Cut 6 is said to process 4K without a hiccup. That will push the market."
As 2K and 4K cameras, such as the 4K Red camera, become more affordable, cinematographers' adoption of the technology will "move from theoretical to actual" Wilkins says. "And I believe it can happen quickly. In fact, if Red succeeds, it could happen overnight. Production is now almost fully digital, both in terms of cinematography and post, so it will continue to grow much in the same manner that technological innovation is governed by Moore's Law."
Artbeats, based in Myrtle Creek, OR, prides itself in offering a wide variety of styles and categories of footage which may be purchased royalty-free as collections or individual clips in HD. Other selections are available in standard NTSC. Some of Artbeats' more common usage examples include training DVDs; TV programs such as American Idol; movies (Silent Hill, Evan Almighty, The Reaping, Ocean's 13); as well as a multitude of commercials. "We also get a lot of churches using our footage for worship services," says Phil Bates, Artbeats' president. Since Artbeats employs a royalty-free model, customers pay once and can use the footage as much as they like, Bates says, and "therefore we don't always know what they are making with our footage."
Customer requests are "all over the place," Bates says, but he notes, "We get a lot of requests for effects footage. Water, fire and explosions are always top sellers." A lot of customers are asking for concerts (crowds, clapping, audiences), and car accidents are also a big request. "At NAB someone asked for footage of wild horses, not a common request," Bates says "and we were pleased to say that we had just released some solo clips of wild horses at the show." Besides the galloping horses, new Artbeats collections include a burning house, timelapse flowering plants, lightning and storms.
Artbeats' Website (www.artbeats.com) is a busy place and customers are increasingly attracted to the immediacy of digital downloads. Customers have the option to download footage at full resolution or have it shipped on disc. "Most of our sales are currently download already. We offer all our footage, including HD, as downloadable files at this time. A lot of customers want the option of doing both digital download and having the discs shipped to them," Bates says. Artbeats will offer the service soon — for a $30 fee the company will set up requested clips for download and ship the product. "The demand for digital download is really increasing," he adds. "Many of our customers will download the few clips they need right away, and then request that the disc be mailed to them so they have it on hand for future use."
Sales of HD are steadily growing. "We have minimal 2K and 4K requests at this time," Bates says, "but we believe the 2K/4K format sales will pick up in the coming years." In addition to its access to cinematographers and videographers all over, Artbeats' large staff gets involved in shooting fresh footage. The company boasts a "turnkey manufacturing operation" that includes production and direction of film shoots, digital capture, post and the ultimate shipping of shrink-wrapped discs. As for the shoots, Bates is eager to test a 4K Red camera from Red Digital Cinema.
PRO AERIAL VIDEO
Pro Aerial Video gets requests for footage for productions that run the gamut from student films to Hollywood productions. "It may be a political commercial, a music video, a travel-and-tourism piece or a movie of the week. I think of aerial footage as the eye-candy of B-roll," says Julie Belanger, a company founder with her husband and fellow pilot, Pat. "It can be someone's hometown, an American landmark, Middle Earth [New Zealand that is] or generic-but-lovely views of desert, water or a snow-capped mountain." Belanger is herself an aerial videographer with many clips to her credit. "I do have my favorites - my footage, that I personally shot, is the San Francisco and California Bay Area aerial footage. I'm particularly attached to my Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and Sausalito views." Morgan Hill, CA-based Pro Aerial Video is near the Bay Area.
As a pilot and aircraft owner Belanger has a penchant for air-to-air footage, but initially Pro Aerial Video did not include air-to-air — footage of airborne craft shot from another airborne craft — on its site. "We got so many requests for it that we've added it as a category," she says. "Sometimes what makes the footage unique is the aircraft being filmed and other times it's the background the aircraft is flying over."
"I can never tell what is going to be the biggest sellers" says Belanger. "We get new footage for our library all the time and the views are stunning. But beauty, the perfect view and that perfect footage fit are all in the eye of the beholder and the filmmaker. For instance, we had a client who wanted views of the Las Vegas. I, of course, directed him to my favorite clips of extremely low altitude, high-energy views of the bright lights of the Vegas strip at night. This just screams Vegas! You can almost hear Elvis singing in the background. The client, however, had different ideas. He chose a rare daytime view that showed Las Vegas in a totally different light."
Pro Aerial Video's New Zealand footage was shot using the same helicopter pilot who flew for Lord of the Rings. The flights take you to and through some of the most incredible geography I have ever seen," Belanger says. "It is breathtaking. In one clip, the footage takes you through a very narrow gorge filled with an overgrowth of vegetation. In another, we fly through a narrow ice crevice on a glacier. It doesn't appear to have enough room for the helicopter!"
Belanger says she loves talking to clients about their production needs. One night, "we got a call from ABC News looking for footage of the Australian drought. It had to have been very late for the producer in New York, but we were happy to help.
Coincidentally, earlier that day I had just spoken to an aerial videographer colleague who had footage of the Australian drought. Within 12 hours we had footage of exactly what he needed up on the site for review and ABC News was very happy."
Sometimes a request is not just unusual, it's impossible. "Falling straight down through a cloud has become a popular request." Belanger says. "We do not have it, and all our aerial videographers know that it is against FAA rules and regulations to "fly" or rather drop out of the sky, that way.
Belanger is proud of her site's searchability (www.proaerialvideo.com) but in a pinch, Pro Aerial Video's toll-free number — 1-800-779-0410 — will work for curious customers.
Pro Aerial Video most often provides clips in standard def via their site or the client's FTP site. "Or if they have the time," she says, "and they usually don't, on CD."
Belanger sees Internet download as the future delivery paradigm for busy producers. "Everyone is in a hurry and I see the pace only speeding up. We are most often asked to deliver the footage immediately. In the future, I see the availability of full resolution immediate downloads in all formats."
A stock footage company born of the award-winning documentary-producing powerhouse WGBH in Boston, WGBH Media Library naturally licenses stock footage mostly to television and cable producers nationally and internationally for documentaries. However, the library also licenses to corporate clients, museums, universities, educational publishers, and advertising agencies as well as to feature films. "Our footage has appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean, Adaptation and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, among others," says Alison Smith, associate director, research and stock sales for the WGBH Media Library.
Nature and science footage are always a "big ask" due to WGBH's internationally renowned series Nova. The library gets requests for public affairs footage because of the series Frontline and, more recently, WGBH has seen lots of requests for footage of Iraq and the Middle East. "We also get requests for history, culture, technology and animation footage," Smith says. "We have wonderful recreations of historical events or periods, from our historical documentaries such as Africans in America on the history of slavery, human origin footage and numerous others." Smith and company are very enthused about their new stock footage Website, the breadth of material it displays, and its cogent organization (www.wgbhstocksales.org).
The strength of WGBH's documentary series, in conjunction with the library's new Website, provide a kind of marketing one-two punch: prospective clients see footage they'd like to license on TV, and they can also browse through extensive offerings online.
Surprises are infrequent at WGBH, since everyone seems tuned in to the categories the service supplies. However, says Smith, "every so often you get a request that is surprising, for example when the White House called asking for malaria footage for a conference they were sponsoring on that topic. The surprise is good for us, because we learn more about our user needs and what we have in our collection that perhaps should be up on the Website."
It's a wild world out there and requests for nature footage can be pretty unusual. "Recently we had a request for an unusual sort of creature, a 'tree-hopper' ant, which we were able to fulfill," Smith says. "Another request was for a wasp, which is attracted to the scent of a specific orchid and then mates with the orchid in order to pollinate it. And most recently we had a request for footage of a frozen frog."
WGBH continues to deliver footage to clients in traditional standard def, Smith says. "Currently we still get lots of requests for delivery on Digi Beta and Beta SP. A few requests for HD, but not many yet. Clients are asked to return master materials upon request; about 10 percent of our clients do return master tapes."
DOWNLOAD IS THE FUTURE
As formats change and clients' need for speed increases, Smith foresees deliverable formats having less of an impact on fee structure than usage. "We are anticipating that the future will mean more download capability," Smith says. "People want their footage more than quickly; they want it now! It will mean we will have to figure out how to charge for the clip that is downloaded — because they will be getting the whole piece even though they may only use a fraction of it. So it will have to be a different pricing structure. There is also a need for the stock footage industry to revamp how they have traditionally licensed footage, which has become increasingly complex as each new technology appears on the scene. Hopefully we will be shifting away from licensing footage by how the program is delivered [via what technology] and moving more toward a simplified licensing system that is based more on who the audience is and where the audience sees the program."