Letters to the Editor

We've blown a hole in the theory that the whole industry goes on hiatus in the summer (aside from the folks actually out there shooting). Our July/August issue generated waves of correspondence and phone calls. In particular, our 'Undercover Stock' feature...
September 1, 1999

We’ve blown a hole in the theory that the whole industry goes on hiatus in the summer (aside from the folks actually out there shooting). Our July/August issue generated waves of correspondence and phone calls. In particular, our ‘Undercover Stock’ feature earned us both laurels and rotten tomatoes.


I work in a stock footage house. I appreciate your investigative article, however I do not think you did a good job of separating the real companies from the bogus… such as film/audio, Firstlight. They no longer exist! Other companies just aren’t real archives… they make a few small sales.

I also think this was a bad article to run in an issue where you are taking money in advertising from the very same people you are investigating. You may find that some places won’t advertise in the future.

Lastly, you quote a producer at Andrew Solt Productions who glowingly recommended Historic Films. What he didn’t tell you was that Andrew Solt is a co-owner of Historic. How’s that for non-disclosure and investigative reporting?

Next time I suggest you hire a real researcher who knows the ins and outs of this business for the ‘reel’ poop.

I do applaud your efforts… no one has ever done this. I just think it needs some fine-tuning.

Anonymous, via email


I have, for quite some time, thought that a consumer survey of stock footage libraries would be a great idea – a great asset for producers. Contrary to what you may think, I would appreciate the feedback – positive and/or negative – that an undercover survey might unearth about my library, our customer service, the quality and diversity of our footage and so on. But I really take strong issue with the methods you used to conduct this survey, and the incomplete and meaningless conclusions you drew from it.

The companies chosen did not ‘represent a cross-section of stock suppliers,’ as your article states. It represented the industry Titans (whose advertising presumably RealScreen could not afford to lose and were probably hand picked), and a lot of companies no one in the stock footage world has ever heard of.

Now, don’t think I am angry just because I was left out of the survey. On the contrary, given the unprofessional approach of the research conducted, I can only count my blessings!

The next time you take on a project of this scope, I would hope that you take a lesson from Consumer Reports. Take no advertising from the companies in that issue, research every single company on a fair and level playing field, choose undercover producers who have no vested interest in stock footage, follow through and test the results you get and… spend a little money to find out the truth. Your producers will thank you for the effort you made, instead of making you the laughing ‘stock’ of the trade.


Burbank, CA

Via email

(BC: Of the 54 libraries we surveyed, 35 have never advertised in RealScreen, and that was never a criteria for inclusion. As we mentioned in the article, we approached the research from the point of view of a producer who had no contacts in, or knowledge of, the stock footage industry. We solicited real stock requests from producers and then looked to fill them at houses that claimed to have similar footage.)

The marketing and data-collection efforts for the RealScreen Summit 2000 have also been an impetus for feedback on story ideas and our general editorial approach. While we’ve always made no bones about being about the business of the business, some readers would appreciate it if we broadened our horizons.


Having just received the RealScreen ‘Content Survey’ and an offer of an early bird special for the Summit, I thought I would send you a letter instead, letting you know what my feelings were about the last Summit and the magazine overall.

A number of subjects – and questions – have come to mind and I have laid them out for you. Perhaps these issues have been discussed in issues that came while I was in production out of the country. (Brendan Christie’s thoughtful column in the June issue examining National Geographic’s recent partnership with Fox suggests a sensitivity about the trade-offs in form over business, but doesn’t really look hard enough at the subject.)

The tone of the last Summit and the tone of the magazine itself have really been defined by the business end of the documentary process – the broadcasters and distributors – who buy the product. While I think this is good and valuable, the fall-out from this position is that the point of view and concerns of the producers seem to get short shrift. Perhaps my central question is: Who is your customer, and what is your mission?

I do not mean this at all to be a condemnation of RealScreen and its efforts. I am grateful that your magazine is in print and I applaud the idea of the annual Summits. But I encourage you to consider the art and craft as well as the business of documentaries – and in particular the difficult business environment in which both struggle to co-exist.

R.G., independent producer

Via email

Your feedback is always welcome, please keep in touch. Send email to or call Mary Ellen Armstrong at (416) 408-2300 ext. 263.

Letters to the editor should be accompanied by a home and business phone number so that they can be verified. The editor reserves the right to edit letters for brevity. RealScreen does not necessarily endorse the opinions voiced here.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.