What do you think of when you think of stock video footage? This guy? You’re not alone. But he is not the poster boy for stock video.

Today stock footage is shot by filmmakers and video pros with an eye to authenticity and usability. Shoots are professionally cast and styled, locations are legit, and subjects are contemporary. The footage is fresh, relevant, often cinematic. Definitely not creepy.

Along with doing justice to your projects with its quality, stock footage has other things going for it. Here’s how it can save the day.

5 Ways Stock Video Footage Can Save the Day

1. Save your budget

One of the most compelling reasons to use stock footage is budget. With expenses for cast, crew, locations, gear, travel, insurance, and craft services, the cost of a custom shoot adds up quickly.

Odds are, your projects aren’t offering anywhere near a Pirates of the Caribbean–sized budget. And unless you’re working with a generous budget, some shots are impossibly expensive (or impossible, period) to get yourself.

Say you need a clip of a concert crowd. Consider the cost of the venue, all those actors, the stylist, the wardrobe, the setup, the crew to film it all — that one scene alone could blow your budget. So when a video calls for an epic aerial over Dubai, yet your budget is anything but, stock footage is the answer.

With the advent of drones, aerial footage is especially hot right now. Filmmakers like Hatch 86 Films specialize in aerial work and license it as stock video, for less than the cost of a drone or helicopter.


2. Save some time

Doesn’t matter whether it’s an explainer video, television ad, music video, or short film, producing a video is a lot of work. There’s concepting, writing, storyboarding, pre-production planning, permits and releases paperwork, casting, travel, set-up, before you even get to the actual shoot. Stock footage spares you some time and effort — someone else has already taken care of it.

Timelapse, for instance, is an amazing effect, but it requires a huge amount of time, both in the shooting and the editing. In this timelapse tutorial, photographer Alexander Bradley talks about how 20 minutes of shooting yielded a 10-second clip. Hyperlapse rock star Vadim Tereshchenko says he can spend 3 to 4 hours editing, all for a 5-second clip.

To get an appreciation for the time that goes into filming timelapse, check out Michael Shainblum’s post about his reel “Symphony of Light.” Weather, technical glitches, and one “surprisingly annoying” setup over a stream were part of the deal, often resulting in revisits and reshoots.

Symphony of light - kauai timelapse

With six Vimeo Staff Picks to his name, Michael kinda knows what he’s doing. Luckily for you, his time, talent, and frustrations can be your stock footage. No rain, no clouds, no cliffs to perch precariously on.


3. Save your butt

Despite your best-laid plans, it happens. You sit down to edit, and post reveals unpleasant surprises. Files get corrupted, hard drives damaged. Some shots are beyond “fix it in post” status. Or, sometimes, you simply forget to get a shot. You’re left with abrupt scene changes at best, gaping holes at worst. And no time or money to reshoot.

Use stock to fill those gaps. A well-chosen clip goes a long way in smoothing out the rough edges and stitching your narrative together. In this before and after, you’ll see that it literally moves the story from A to B.

Before and after - Fill in story gaps

Often it’s not even unwelcome surprises that can trip you up. For example, what if you need a summery establishing shot for your city’s new tourism video, but are in winter’s clutches? Stock footage is great for these kinds of literal representations, never mind time traveling.


4. Save you from a lawsuit

Nobody gets into this gig for the paperwork, but it’s a critical part of your business. Having proper releases and clearances for all your footage — whether it’s custom or stock — is essential. Missing or improper model and location releases, for example, could come back to bite you once your video goes public. Imagine if a company sees its building and logo in a shot you hadn’t secured a property release for. Or if a model sees her likeness improperly used in an anti-depressant commercial.

Reputable footage suppliers clearly indicate whether you have permission to use clips in commercial settings, and whether the clip has been cleared in terms of model and property releases (contrary to “found,” free, or public footage).

For extra peace of mind, you can purchase additional liability indemnification to increase your protection and a rider that locks down your clips’ usage, so you’re the only one using the footage for the lifetime of your project.


5. Save your talent for where it's needed

Some shots simply don’t need to be bespoke. Why reinvent (reshoot?) the wheel if you don’t have to? Focus your efforts on the proprietary content, unique shots, and scenes that depend on particular talent or locations. Establishing shots, timelapses, green screens — these are the kinds of shots you don’t always need, or want, to shoot yourself.

For example, in this video for 350.org, a global grassroots climate organization, you can see how stock video of quintessential nature shots adds interest and meaning to what is essentially a talking heads video. Filmmaker Timothy Hutton saved himself for filming those talking heads, including actor Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Besides, stock footage nowadays is shot by filmmakers themselves. They have an eye for what makes a good clip and an ear to the ground for cultural trends and hot subjects. They’re filming the kinds of useful, iconic content that brands are looking for and that audiences “get.”

This universal visual language is why you see so much stock video in ads for political candidates (happy, diverse supporters; the sun rising over a field), tech companies (people swiping their devices, dramatic cityscape timelapses), or anything geared to millennials (millennials having rooftop parties, skateboarding in gritty urban environs, distracted by their devices, etc.).

So when you need to establish a certain vibe or communicate a general lifestyle, stock is a perfectly respectable option. Save yourself for the content that requires your unique vision. Stock is no slouch.

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  • Lori Burwash is a writer at Dissolve, a stock footage and photography company. Videos made with Dissolve’s stock footage have earned five Vimeo Staff Picks and include “This Is a Generic Brand Video,” “Scenes You’ve Seen,” and “Emoji Among Us.” To watch the showreels and browse footage, visit dissolve.com.

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