Having the entire universe at your fingertips is a good thing for video producers, you don't have to fly the world over to find that perfect shot, and sometimes you can get it for free.
You've got a great vision for your next video. You have the talent lined up, you've got the storyboards sketched, and a strong script that provides a thousand words your video will paint. Trouble is, your production needs a skyline shot of New York City, yet you live in Scottsdale, Ariz. And, unlike your professional peers in Hollywood with budgets of multiple zeros for getting the shot, you've got a budget that features zero zeros. Well, you're in luck, here are five ways you can get your hands on that crucial content that will give your video a big-budget look, without breaking your bank.
1. Ask and You Shall Receive
In a macro-economics class somewhere, there's a college professor teaching his or her pupils a very important lesson about TANSTAFL, or "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch." While in business, there's a high probability that every action you make will incur some form of financial repercussion; we in the video production world can actually rest easy knowing that there are multiple ways we can benefit personally from someone else's hard work. Typically we just need to seek it out. There's more than one videographer who's thought, "there's probably a lot of people that want a shot of an airplane in flight, if I'm going to go to extreme extents to get it, why should everyone else have to?"
Free stock footage, royalty free footage, and free public domain footage all exist to help improve the overall quality of video content everywhere. As producers, knowing where to find this content is what helps us enjoy a four-course meal during our post-production efforts, instead of laboring through yet another editing session on noodle soup.
However, no content is created equally, so understanding the legal ramifications of copyright license practices, as well as ethical standards of incorporating content from other sources, is important when embarking on your edit bay action plan.
2. Paying the Video Piper
There are some differentiators between common use content and pay-per-clip video options. Some footage comes with a hefty price tag, while others are available for free. From a quality standpoint, like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Several websites, like Pond5.com, T3licensing.com, and Videoblocks.com, allow users to pay a fee to purchase individual clips. While the price can range from $5 to well-north of $75 per clip, use discretion when purchasing content. Purchased clips can be found in a variety of lengths, quality and format. Often times, this content is shot and produced by professional videographers looking to make a few extra bucks. And while the cost for these clips can drain your production coffers, the content tends to be good to excellent in quality, and typically captures the visual imagery you were aiming for.
Purchasing video clip libraries, much like music libraries, can be another good way to build your stock footage archives. Keep in mind, though, that a singular clip that catches your eye may be packaged with 20 other clips that will never see the screen of your computer's monitor. Weigh closely how valuable that clip is to your production, and whether or not you need to invest in a library of content that will hold little value to your future projects.
3. Royal Differences
Free stock footage is a great alternative for video producers who need a few extra shots, but can't quite incur the money to pay for clips. Free stock footage is content that's generic and non-branded - cityscapes, ocean scenes, crowded sidewalks, etc. Producers can use this content with minimal restriction, and often rely on this type of content to fill in the gaps of their post-production puzzles.
Royalty free footage is content you typically pay a small nominal fee for when acquiring the clip, and can use (almost) anyway you like. You can use royalty free footage for personal gain, but sometimes the content producer tags the content with certain restrictions. For instance, a producer may sell his or her footage of a puppy playing in someone's yard with the stipulation that it can't be shown in a video about the benefits of owning a cat. Royalties are what you would need to pay a performer in order to use him or her as a subject, for example, Coldplay receives a percentage for each "needle drop" when the tune Paradise is played by a radio station - a license of sorts. Now take away the royalties and you are left with the purchase price, but this opens up a lot of options when it comes to footage at your fingertips. Royalty free footage can possess a few caveats, so make sure you read the user agreement prior to slapping down your hard-earned cash on a clip.
Free public domain footage exists purely for the consumption of viewers everywhere. Chances are you'll recognize a clip or two, you want vintage horse and buggy footage for a music video? There's a clip for that. Need random people walking down a crowded sidewalk while circus clowns pour out of a tiny two-door coupe? Check and, most likely, check. Free public domain footage is content that had a copyright license to its name at one time. Now the footage can be used any way a producer sees fit, since the copyright license of free public domain footage has expired - for whatever reason - there aren't any laws restricting the use of said footage. So, go ahead, clown around with this content...you're free to do so.
4. Look and You Shall Find
The footage you need is just a few clicks away; knowing where to find it is the key. We've scoured the sites that feature great content - free stock footage, free public domain footage, and royalty free footage - and compiled a few thoughts about some of the best. Here are five useful sources to consider when searching for that illusive shot:
Prelinger Archives - established as a resource for aspiring film producers, the United States Library of Congress' Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division purchased the extensive collection from the archives' founder, Rick Prelinger, in 2002. Housing approximately 4,000 video and film titles, as well as the 60,000 films Prelinger himself acquired, the collection offers content aimed at preserving historic visuals not found anywhere else. Stock footage can be purchased through Getty Images, though there is a wide array of free public domain footage available through the collection's website.
StockFootageForFree.com - With watermarked preview clips of content from all around the world, StockFootageForFree.com offers snippets from every genre of video you could need for your production.
XStockVideo.com - Free stock footage for producers looking to add some 'x'-tra content to their videos, XStockvideo grants users the right to use the provided footage in a variety of ways. The website actually encourages producers to use the footage to promote their business or services, as long as it doesn't misrepresent what the footage is intended for. The website even grants you permission to decorate your home with their content - replace that stuffed jackrabbit head with a repeating clip of an actual jackrabbit!
Vimeo.com - Once considered the holding bin for up and coming video producers, Vimeo has not only become an accomplished site for watching great content, but it also features options for editors to utilize in their own productions. Vimeo's Creative Commons section is a sharing ground for free HD stock footage. This allows for creative collaborating between producers looking to share their footage, while leaning on content supplied by industry peers to create unique videos.
Opportunistic content - We mentioned Pond5.com earlier, they feature weekly clips that are free for producers to download and incorporate into a project. Whether it's a B-roll clip of nature, or an advance animation you can weave behind a subject shot on a green screen, free content available from sites where you traditionally have to pay for content is a great way to build your library, without busting your budget.
5. Respect the Content
It's easy to look at free stock footage and perceive it as content that's free for the taking. Without proper citation or referencing of your sources, you can quickly develop a bad reputation in the video field as someone who doesn't play nice in the sandbox. Much like the "Golden Rule" in life, do u nto other producers as you would want them to do unto you.
If you're going to incorporate someone else's work into your own, be sure to acknowledge that fact. If your video has scrolling credits, be sure to give a nod to the site where you found the footage; if you know the name of the original producer, give them a shout-out. Everyone appreciates the proverbial "tip of the cap," make sure you do the right thing and tip yours.
After all, your macro-economics professor would be proud to know you actually learned something practical in his or her class and applied it to the world of video production.
Sidebar: Free Stock Video Footage
Want some out-of-this-world stock footage - for free? There's very few sources that have original footage taken from space, not a lot of people have ventured that far - yet. But you can acquire stock images from space through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. From moon shots to the mars rover, photos taken by NASA are free to the U.S. citizenry because NASA is a government-owned entity, and we, the people, own the government, which means we own the images. You can find other free or cheap stock footage from most government agencies, but you need to read the disclaimers on each site because some photos might be copyrighted by the originator. Check out www.nasaimages.org and www.usa.gov for more information.
Sidebar: Turn Footage into Profit
Who says the royalty free footage world can't be a two-way street? Pond5.com is one site that offers healthy incentives to content creators who want to get paid for distributing their footage on its site.
The website actively solicits video, animation, and music clips that it can turn around and sell to its visitors. Content creators benefit by setting the price of the clip, and get a healthy commission each time someone pays to download the content.
Getting started selling your footage is a relatively simple 1-2-3 process. First, you determine which category your content falls under, and determine the length (short or long form.) Second, tag the clip with as much metadata to help website users find your footage - the better you tag it, the greater the chance it has of showing up under specific search terms. Third, watch the register ring...for every sale, you earn 50 percent of the purchase price. Not too shabby for a few minutes worth of work.
Dave Sniadak is an award-winning video producer. His clients include several Fortune 500 companies, professional sports franchises and small businesses.