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August 2014
Issue: November 1, 2007

CALLING ALL STOCK

By: Randi Altman

Whether producers are seeking behind-the-scenes shots of funny people, obscure footage of a secret military mission or Floridians voting in 2000, stock imagery houses need to make sure the experience is smooth and quick.

Sometimes that means transferring 35mm film to high definition video, other times it means narrowing down a very broad search, and it almost always means a DVD screener. Either way, getting the images needed to tell these filmmakers' stories is what counts. Here are a few examples of producers getting what they need for their projects.

FUNNY BUSINESS

Independent producer/director Michael Kantor (kantorm@thirteen.org) is no stranger to using stock footage to help tell a story. His last project was a history of Broadway, aptly called Broadway: The American Musical. That project, which took nine years to create, was honored with a couple of Emmys.

"There are only so many places to go to for material on Broadway," he reports. "But my current project, which is the history of comedy in America over the last century, is obviously a much broader subject. So we're reaching out to every archive we can find that has really interesting material."

One collection that is "particularly interesting" to Kantor is HBO Archives' The March of Time, which spans from 1935 to 1967. "They have a lot of behind-the-scenes footage that seems unique," he says.

Currently called Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, this six-hour PBS series covers comedy from Charlie Chaplin to Jon Stewart. It features interviews — shot HD on Panasonic VariCam — with comedians and people who know the history of comedy, along with clips from films and television shows, as well as radio selections. Kantor, producer Sally Rosenthal and co-producer Erika Frankel have been working on this show for almost two years; it is expected to air in early '09.

Kantor especially likes the March of Time newsreels, which ran from 1935 to 1951, "because it's stuff that didn't air on these comedy shows — we get to  see them rehearsing."

Telling a story that spans so many years means massive amounts of archive materials. According to co-producer Erika Frankel (frankele@thirteen.org), who was tasked with locating this footage, "Our strategy to find this material is doing a broad sweep over all the main archives and then targeted searches for more specific things."

In the midst of this first broad sweep, Frankel has found what she calls "a couple of gems" in the March of Time library. One is a clip from Allen's Alley, featuring comedian Fred Allen and his group of performers. "That was one of the most popular radio shows around, but it was very short lived on television," explains Kantor.

Another "unique" shot they found was of Jack Benny and his sidekick Eddie "Rochester" Anderson looking over scripts. "It's a nice behind-the-scenes glimpse of him," says Frankel, "and that is what you are always hoping to find when doing archival research."

A lot of these shots from the early days of television  tend be public domain and are available in many different libraries, so "it's the clips that are specific to a certain archive or are kind of unique... those are the gems that you hope to uncover and build an entire scene around," she says.

Frankel credits the HBO Archives Website (www.hboarchives.com) with making her job a little easier. "If you roll your mouse over an image, and if that image has been digitized, it starts playing," she explains. "Many times when you are searching for footage there are just text descriptions, so being able to actually see the image really helps us determine if we even want to bother ordering it on a screener."

This saves them a lot of time and allows the producers to be more targeted. "Because there are so many characters that we are trying to cover," says Frankel, "it's best to be a little more specific so we're not totally drowning in archival materials."

As far as the format of the clips, Frankel is happy to find whatever she can. "It's more about the content than how it actually looks, but you always want to find something in the best possible quality. This show is going to be on HD, so eventually we'll have to get masters in the best format possible — Digi Beta or HD."

Other libraries included in the producers' first sweep were Getty and Corbis.

Make 'Em Laugh is being edited on Avid Media Composers and will finish on Avid Nitris.

DOCUMENTING THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION

When footage was needed for a four-part documentary series on the sexual revolution, producer Audrey Costadina, of New York-based Perry Films (www.perryfilms.com), turned to BBC Motion Gallery for much of her imagery needs.

The project, Sex: the Revolution, will air in the spring of 2008 on VH1 and the Sundance Channel. It spans from the 1950s to present day — so their needs were massive.

Obviously, the project is archive heavy, "so one of our go-to sources on these types of productions is BBC," explains Costadina. "BBC has extensive coverage of many cultural events that happened in the US, and they have archived thousands of hours of footage from from the '50s, '60 and '70s."

While some of series features stills, the big need was for motion imagery, both color and black & white. "We do use stills, but we tend to focus on acquiring moving footage because we don't use any narration, therefore we rely on time-appropriate footage to move our story along," explains Costadina. "This story combines over 40 original interviews with the archival footage, feature films and popular music of the time."

The original interviews conducted for the series were shot using a Panasonic DVCPro50 camera; they are editing on two in-house Avid Media Composers and intend to online in Avid Symphony.

According to Costadina, the decision to use footage from BBC Motion Gallery was an easy choice. "We have an account with BBC and have been working with a rep there for over 10 years," she says. In fact, "the last four shows that I've produced with Perry Films have used an extensive amount of BBC footage."

When she started doing her research, much of the BBC's historical archive wasn't online yet, but with a combination of the Web and a sales person, she found the shots she was interested in.

"Because most of the footage we are looking at is historical, a lot of it isn't digitized or available online in lightboxes, so we order DVD screeners from them," explains Costadina. "We request a lot of older talk shows and feature programs from the '60s and'70s. BBC has a ton of material to choose from, whereas many of the older US shows from that time period have been lost or destroyed. But the BBC has done an amazing job of cataloging."

Other libraries they are looking at for their imagery needs include ABC, NBC and Getty.

The documentary series breaks down like this: the first hour spans the '50s to the mid '60s; the second is mid to late '60s, the third is early to mid '70s and last is mid '70s to present day. Here are some examples of shows they have received from BBC for possible inclusion in Sex: the Revolution — a more contemporary program called The Last Days of Time Square; The American Way of Sex With Malcolm Muggeridge (1965); Whicker's World: the Love Generation (1967); The Naked Ego (1970); Love's Pestilence (1983) and Killer in the Village (1988).

A little bit about BBC: In addition to providing material from BBC's programs and news shows, BBC Motion Gallery licenses CBS news archive and has distribution deals with Japan's NHK, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and China's national television station, CCTV. Its Website (BBCMotionGallery. com) has over 700,000 hours of digital clips.

FINDING A SECRET MISSION

William VanDerKloot produced and directed Flying the Secret Sky: The Story of the RAF Ferry Command, which is expected to air on PBS next year. This feature-length documentary tells the story of a secret mission that took place prior to the United States' involvement in World War II. Still photos, interviews and old footage, including home movies provided by some of the pilots involved in the mission, help tell the story of this secret operation that had Canadians and Americans flying much-needed aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean to replenish the Royal Air Force's ever-dwindling supply.

According to VanDerKloot, whose VanDerKloot Film & Television (www.vanderkloot.com) is based in Atlanta , this operation attracted airline pilots, bush pilots, barnstormers, crop-dusters and daredevils who were willing to fly across the north Atlantic Ocean — a route that, in 1940, was treacherous.

"Much of the stock footage came from Canada and the UK," reports VanDerKloot, who found a lot of what he needed to depict America's involvement from Gary Carr at Buyout Footage (www.buyoutfootage. com). It came by way of a number of public domain films made during the war, especially the "Why We Fight" series

When he started this HD project a year and a half ago, high def stock footage was hard to find, so he needed to go back to the source, which in most cases was film. Buyout Footage transferred the films that VanDerKloot needed to high definition.

"This wasn't just an upconvert; it was a transfer, and it looks amazing," he reports. "We are so used to seeing grainy World War II footage, but when it's transferred from 35 film to HD it looks terrific."

A lot of the imagery that VanDerKloot was interested in at Buyout was available elsewhere as public domain footage, "but his Website is very easy to navigate, and I was looking for specific shots, so once I found them in those government films, I would just buy the entire film from him."

VanDerKloot estimates that he got between 10 and 12 films from Buyout Footage. "It was delivered HD [10-bit uncompressed 1920x1080 24p QuickTime] on hard drives, and then we'd offload them into our system and archive them on HDCAM tape."

According to Carr at Buyout, the telecine process uses a Nova (formerly Cineglyph) best-light transfer to 10-bit uncompressed QuickTime 4:2:2 direct to RAID via HD-SDI (using Blackmagic and AJA cards). The transfers are run inverse anamorphic, which retains all of the original 4x3 aspect ratio picture information in a 16x9 environment. This allows editors freedom to use "Pillar Box" or adjust all of their own parameters for a full 16x9 image.

Other HD footage used in Flying the Secret Sky was acquired from the National Film Board of Canada, as well as the Imperial War Museum in London.

Along with the original interviews — shot on HDCAM via a Sony F900 camera — VanDerKloot did purchase still imagery, but a lot was borrowed from some of the veterans they interviewed. "I would take a scanner with me on interviews and scan them at high resolution, so we wouldn't have to take the photos away from these guys," he explains.

At press time the film was just about done and was undergoing its final audio mix. It was offlined at VanDerKloot Film & Television's Magick Lantern (www.magicklantern.com) on Avid Media Composer and onlined on Avid DS Nitris. The mix was via Pro Tools|HD.

In his quest for this obscure footage, VanDerKloot found that HD stock imagery has come a long way recently. "When we were first starting the project, HD footage was very difficult to come by, people would say, 'We don't have anything in HD, I don't know when we can get it to you.' Now, it seems like there has been a revolution in the past year and almost everything is available in HD."

LOOKING PRESIDENTIAL

HBO Film's Recount, which is currently in production, is a drama that follows the Florida recount from Election Day in November 2000 through the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore five weeks later. While most key players are being portrayed by actors, Al Gore and George W. Bush will be seen only in actual news footage, and freelance footage researcher Deborah Ricketts has been working closely with the NBC News Archives to collect as much as she can from that time.

"It was a tumultuous 36 days after election day — we didn't know who was going to be our president," says Ricketts, explaining that  the film depicts some of the events that happened after election day. "There was an enormous amount of news coverage of election night, of course, and the subsequent events that followed over the next month, and I've been obtaining this news coverage for the production."

Ricketts (debricketts@mac.com), who started her research in 2006 while the show was being written, has been working closely with NBC News Archive (www.nbcnewsarchives.com) researcher Meghan Keller. "Meghan has done a lot of the research for me and I've done some of my own. The NBC Website is very complete, but sometimes I need a deeper search that only an NBC researcher can do."

Ricketts gets DVD screeners of the footage; the format they are using for the show is Beta SP.

In terms of the kinds of footage that's been found, she says, "we will probably use b-roll of people voting on Election Day; some of the demonstrations that were taking place in Florida after it was determined there was a problem with the vote count; interviews from people, like Pat Buchanan; and some of the news coverage from the night of the election and the days following."

Ricketts says they just started shooting the show and she won't know how much stock will actually appear in the film until it's cut and picture is locked. "Since it's playback you don't know how it's going to appear in the final edit of the scene."

Another recent project that Ricketts worked on, with NBC News Archive researcher Erica Schwartz, was ESPN's eight-hour miniseries, The Bronx is Burning, which aired this past summer.

"What's really great about the footage NBC provided for this series is the quality and coverage," she says, "especially for the period. It shows just how extensive their archive is — this is where their collection is unsurpassed."

The Bronx is Burning is set in New York City in 1977, and she calls NBC's coverage of the time "absolutely amazing." About 20 percent of the series was made up of stock images, from Son of Sam, the garbage strike, the blackout in the summer of '77 and the ensuing riots, to the mayoral race. "The coverage was really remarkable, and the fact they had the footage at all… In 1977 most news footage was still being shot on film and not a lot of it has survived in the last 30 years. For this project, we pulled film elements that had never been used before, and had therefore never been transferred to tape. We did the transfers, which looked beautiful, and the footage was ultimately used in the project."

Ricketts not only appreciates NBC's news archives, but calls their archival collection "one of a kind" and "very well preserved." Other sites she calls on for her work are BBC (which includes CBS), CNN, ABC and ITN.

MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING

Often, when political spots come to Orlando's David Nixon Productions (www. dnp.tv), a full-service HD production house specializing in commercials, indie films and corporate videos, they have small budgets and not a lot of visual material to work with. To help give them a jumping off point, the studio often calls on Digital Juice's Jump Backs HD animated backgrounds. While it might not be stock footage, it is stock animation.

"With political spots, you are sometimes making something from nothing, as opposed to a concepted spot where you are shooting something on location or on-set where you have backgrounds already," explains DNP owner David Nixon. "Political work is more nefarious and you have to come up with something in the edit suite. There are so many wonderful animations in this collection that you could use them as a platform to put other images and other graphics on top of."

DNP has done a lot of work recently for The Victory Group, a political strategist agency based in Tampa. "Sometimes they'll bring us a 30-second spot they've written that has no footage at all, and we have to come up with something," he describes. "Or for an entire spot there may be a still image of somebody's face and that's it."

That leaves Nixon and DNP having to create the entire spot. "Usually we will start with a Jump Back background and then use graphics and still images and video, if there is any, plus voiceover and music to create the 30."

DNP owns the entire Digital Juice Jump Back HD series, which features about 20 animations per volume. The files come in the compressed .png format and can expand to any size needed. "Each series comes with either one DVD disc or multiple discs, and you can preview them," he explains. "We normally load them all into our hard drive and have them ready to pull whenever we need them."

Nixon says that because they are in a compressed format on the DVD you have to render the backgrounds once you pull them off the DVD. "Normally we just load them on a dedicated hard drive, then we can search through them very fast, either with the client there or just for the editor to go through and find what he wants."

He says the beauty is being able to try different things. "For a client, we might try  one or two or three spots with different backgrounds so they can see a series of different things and pick which one they want."

DNP cuts in Apple Final Cut 6 at 720p because they shoot everything in DVCPro HD format via Panasonic VariCam. Final Cut is also used for compositing images onto these animated backgrounds because they  aren't doing heavy compositing.

Nixon reports that by using these animated backgrounds, his studio saves a ton of time and money. "If you were going to go in and create those animations in After Effects, it would take you days to create the level of quality that these Jump Backs are... and it would cost the client thousands of dollars."

He says it's definitely the way to go for a low-budget type of spot where the client would never be able to afford any high-end graphics. "This way they can just look at them — they are already finished — they pick which one they want and there are hundreds and hundreds of them. You can go through and show them all sorts of different looks. And they are such high quality."

DNP also calls on Digital Juice's Editor's Tool series, which Nixon says is like the Jump Backs, but for lower thirds.

When they do require stock imagery, DNP typically calls on Getty Images and Thought Equity.