Why the clamor for obscure footage? Aside from the fact that a greater number of clients are looking for ways to stretch their increasingly lean budgets, an accompanying increase in spec work, artsy personal projects and even ripomatic presentations have made stock footage a more desirable creative option.
In response to these demands, companies like Fabulous Footage strive to keep up with a particularly fickle area of the business that Garson says "is like fashion; what's in one year is out the next." Noting the current craze for home movies and archival footage, Garson recently added 16mm suburban images from the '40s and '50s to his collection, mostly from his own friends and family.
Known primarily for its contemporary lifestyle images, The Image Bank in New York has followed suit, purchasing Petrified Film, an historical collection from Warner Brothers and Columbia dating back to the 1920s. And New York-based Archive Films, which in the past specialized solely in historical newsreel footage, recently purchased rights to the Prelinger Collection, a private and often kitschy archive of advertising, educational and industrial footage in the U.S. The primary reason for the recent acquisition is simply that "clients now want more attitude from archival footage," explains president Patrick Montgomery, whose company recently licensed portions of "The Middletons Visit the World's Fair" and a General Motors industrial film called "Design for Dreaming" to BBDO/Los Angeles for the European TV launch of its new Power PC line.
And there are other considerations, such as the fact that "no one likes to shoot the inside of a fiber optic cable," says Susan Luchars, sales and marketing director at Second Line Search, a New York company that, as its name suggests, specializes in researching stock footage. In the past few years, Luchars says that Second Line has been bombarded with requests for images "that suggest advanced technology and the information superhighway." And Action Sports Adventure, a sports-specific film library that has licensed footage to Wieden & Kennedy and Bates/New York for, respectively, ESPN and New York Racing Association spots, has, according to owner Rob Pavlin, seen "an explosion in risk-taking footage that people look for but don't want to shoot," like rock climbing, inline skating and kayaking.
Still, up until a few years ago stock footage houses maintained a fairly mainstream and low-tech profile, where a typical agency request might be a sunset, or on a more exciting day, an aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty, recalls Margie Weitzel, manager of acquisitions at The Image Bank. Partly responsible for improving stock's image beyond "documentary outtakes or what you find in the trash," she believes, is the fact that companies have begun to expand their film libraries with specific collections rather than single images or clips. In addition to Petrified Film, The Image Bank recently acquired exclusive rights to London-based Helifilms Ltd., which specializes in international aerial images, as well as The Nature Conservancy and the exclusive scenic footage of Ireland of cinematographer Kit Kittle and Round Trip Productions; jumping on the sports and technology bandwagon, Fabulous Footage has added the ESPN library, while Energy Productions signed on Namco, a computer graphics company.
But offbeat collections can have equally offbeat sources. Both Garson and Weitzel, for instance, have received calls from film students shopping spec work and novice filmmakers hoping to make a buck off their European vacations. While Garson will occasionally represent unsolicited work of a more generic nature, Weitzel prefers offers of what she calls "once in a lifetime footage," such as an eclipse or a plane crash. The same applies to Energy Productions' president Jan Ross, who recently bought rights to a student's home movies of last year's Los Angeles firestorms.
More typically, stock houses complement their acquisitions with footage from seasoned directors and cinematographers whose personal work and project outtakes can prove a lucrative adjunct to their commercials or freelance careers. That is, after they're sold on the idea, according to Brian Mitchell, VP-managing director at Image Bank Film. While a number of directors and DPs have sought out stock houses for representation, Mitchell says, others have had dubious reactions to stock offers, along the lines of: "*'Scratchy footage of leopards and sunsets? You must be joking.'*" But now, as an increasing number of photographers experience the agency and client pinch, interest in stock as a financial and creative cushion is rising. "As long as you don't attempt to sign on directors at awards shows or while they're rejecting storyboards, it's easy to remind them that what they do for clients is execute, but much of what they do for stock is original and they own it," Mitchell explains. "And there's the reminder of the residuals that have eluded them as commercials directors."
For these reasons, Louis Schwartzberg, who directs commercials through Schwartzberg & Co. in Los Angeles, also exercises his DP talents with Energy Productions, the stock house he co-founded and for which he supplies much of its nature and outdoor footage. The money and freedom also enabled The Image Bank to court director Bob Gordon of production company Giddens Marshall Short for his stylized images and swish-pan camera effects, while Fabulous Footage has signed on freelance DP Robert Richardson, whose credits include "JFK" and "Platoon" and who provided the company with its rain forest footage.
In addition, stock houses are expanding their role in the interactive market; Energy Productions, for example, recently formed a subsidiary called Digital Energy, which will provide images to producers of CD-ROM programs as well as produce its own series of educational and entertainment software titles.
Ultimately, while stock footage will never replace dazzling special effects or the big-budget extravaganzas of a client like Nike, Steve Garson points out that its creative diversity will prove to many belt-tightening agencies "that they