Stock Footage

A few thoughts about stock footage, laziness and burning pianos.

Before memes existed my concept of stock footage was poor. I knew of it, had certainly seen it but probably could not have told you what it is. Now all of us are knee-deep in some form of it or another on a daily basis.

Again, they are bracelets not rings.

This past weekend I decided to finally give in to an urge and joined a stock footage site. What kind of urge can only be satisfied by joining a stock footage site you ask? Why the video making urge. Still unclear?

For me, a person who is primarily a writer, I continually come up with ideas that are expressed only as words. Before I started writing screenplays this was not troubling. Once I began my foray into the world of screenwriting I found myself wanting to make the things I was writing. Which is, to put it very mildly, a whole other kettle of fish.

Over the years I have bought cameras, written about buying cameras, and spent a great deal of time learning how to use said cameras. I think I have improved. But what I actually have achieved is still a long ways off from what I write.

Recently I have been flying my drone more. At times I have been getting footage that is downright good. I want to do more with this footage than just stick it on a hard drive. So I’ve been trying to edit the footage together and do…something with it. Only it’s footage of rivers and buildings and people the size of ants walking their dogs. It is not terribly interesting. Enter – stock footage.

My hope was to join a quality site, I chose for a number of reasons, and be off and running. The main reason I chose Artgrid is that their policies are similar to which I use already for music. It is a decent service, you get to use the clips you download as much as you want and how you want and there is no weirdness about leaving their site and losing access to the video or music you previously downloaded. I love the clips on Artgrid, the things I have found over the course of the past two days surpass anything I have shot and I am amazed at the variety.

This is a roundabout way of saying my expectations were surpassed. I had heard a song on Artlist last month that excited me greatly. I wanted to use it. Only I don’t have any footage that works with the song. I kept thinking about what I could shoot but it kept coming back to other people. And motorcycles. And fire.

Which is what stock footage is meant to help you with. And it has. I spent about an hour on the site, found a number of clips that are interesting and perfect for the song and put something together. I have had to remove it because I have cancelled my subscription and no longer have access to the clips I downloaded. Instead I am going to include the winner from a competition from FilmSupply. This person went above and beyond and did a voice over and created visual effects for their trailer but the it’s the same basic thought.

Immediately after putting this together my next thought was, “Now what?”. And I had all of these clever ideas for using my drone footage with stock footage to tell a wonderful story. Only those ideas all quickly fell apart. The reasons are simple.

First, nearly all stock footage comes without dialog. So yes I have clips of people but they aren’t talking and even when you take a number of clips for the same sequence you do not really have a story. This is a man bringing his vegetables to his farm stand to sell them. He interacts with a customer, counts his money, smiles at the woman with him. That’s it. I’m not saying you can’t craft a story from that but it certainly isn’t War and Peace.

The second reason isn’t really a reason just how things are: this isn’t meant to substitute going out and shooting things for yourself. The general idea is you need to fill a specific hole or gap in your film. An exterior shot of the doctor’s office or the drone shot following the car driving up the coast. Or a piano that is on fire slowly falling off of a cliff.

These sites have these things and allow you to complete your story without spending a few days driving around to try and find something that works (or setting a piano on fire – this can be very helpful and keep you out of prison). It’s not meant to give you the exact storyline you were looking for, with all the little looks between your leads, so you can direct your movie without leaving your home.

As with all of these lessons I learn, I am sure this is obvious to nearly everyone else. I tend to be a bit slow on the uptake with such matters. I’m pleased I was able to put together my fake trailer and be rid of the nagging thought of needing to do something with that song. I wish I could have done so without having to pay for it.

Author: John Ryan Sullivan

I am a writer and filmmaker.

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