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What Is Stock Footage and When Might You Use It?

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If you’re a filmmaker, you might feel that using someone else’s film clips is the antithesis of what you do, but stock footage can often save you time and money plus add value to your product. I’ll explain when and way you should consider using film stock.

What Is Stock Footage, Exactly?

Usually stock footage consists of short-length clips that someone else has filmed, available to buy in a database either on a piece-by-piece basis, like Envato Market, or as part of a subscription service, like Envato Elements, where you can download as much as you like for one cost.

And you can now download excellent stock footage completely free of charge on Mixkit, a new site with an impressive and constantly growing video library.

Download free stock footage from MixkitDownload free stock footage from MixkitDownload free stock footage from Mixkit
Download free stock footage from Mixkit

Clips are generally things that are commonly sought after and quite generic – food being prepared for example – but can go all the way to the very niche if the author/maker thinks there’s a market for it.

Filmmakers tend to use these short clips within the mix of their own projects, and there are many reasons why, and numerous ways in which they might do this. You probably see stock footage incorporated into shows you watch all the time, but don’t really notice – and that’s a good thing! Stock footage, if used right, should blend seamlessly into your production.

The Impossible

There will quite often be things that you’d like to include in your video, that you just can’t get. This might range from the practically impossible to the inconvenient and costly. Let’s say you’re creating a piece that has some very particular requirements: microscopic, aerial… filming in the Arctic! You might not possess the kit, the skills, or the funds to be able to photograph those things, and that’s okay, we can’t cover everything, but often there’s stock video that can. For example, fly-over footage of the Alps:

Save Money and Time

I’ve touched on things that are impossible to do, but there are plenty of things you can do but just might not have the budget or time to do. Say you’re filming a drama and most of that is studio or local location work; you still might need some establishing shots of a city, for context. There are plenty of stock videos of major worldwide cities, so it’s easy to get nice, high-value production of an aerial sweep of recognisable skylines or landmarks, like this one of Singapore, for example.

Stock footage like this is also great to use for transitions or cutaways.

Add Production Value

Including something that your client wasn’t expecting can be a real moment to impress them, and don’t feel like it’s a cheat, you’re not pretending the footage is yours – part of being a filmmaker is making these creative decisions about including footage that will work well with your own, even processing that footage so that it’s indistinguishable from yours, and doesn’t stand out from the narrative. How about a velvety shot of chocolate to illustrate the opening of your new cooking show?

Supplement B-Roll

Pick up shots, or B-roll are bits of footage that compliment your main shots. For example, you have two people in a bar, drinking and having a conversation. While your main shot might be the two conversing, you could cut in closeups of them drinking, you get the idea.

While it’s always useful to get b-roll while you’re filming your main scenes (for continuity sake mostly), you can usually supplement this quite easily with stock footage.

Use Backgrounds and Elements

If you’re a filmmaker who creates digital effects or manipulations around footage, then stock can be really useful to create a background, or to cut out a building or other item that fits your vision. You can use various elements of stock footage to make a whole new piece, as long as the usage license lets you make those changes, of course. Here's a simple shot of a farmer's field as an example:

Using Archive Footage

Another reason you may need to use stock footage is of course to get access to video that isn’t possible to get because it was either a very long time ago, like archive footage, or in more recent history something has been demolished or no longer exists. Archive footage in particular will often be very different from the contemporary footage you shoot, and it’s sensible not to try and blend that with the rest of your film.

Make a Whole Film

While I wouldn’t recommend this for most people, it’s possible to create an entire film out of stock footage. If you wanted a short travel promo, for example, it’s entirely feasible to think you could make that from existing video if the place was desirable enough for stock authors to have shot – team that with some generic film of people eating, socialising, enjoying leisure time and you’ve got yourself a film.

Creating and Selling Stock Footage

If you’re a filmmaker, then you might also want to think about creating stock footage. It can be a great way to sell something you already have. If you live in in area that’s popular and desirable, then shooting around where you live can be quick and easy; likewise, if you’re often somewhere that isn’t easy for people to get to, to shoot their own footage. The key is to balance out two completely different things, and that’s getting something generic enough to appeal to enough people whilst also having something that not a lot of other people can get… I know, it can be a lot to get your head around, but the results are often worth it.

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