Docs

Culling the Shots

With producers trying to eke out all the profits they can from material they've already shot, it's only natural that many would turn to footage sales as a way to boost the bottom line. What follows are some tips and suggestions for those new to the stock market.
February 1, 2001

Minding Your Business

Planning for a library launch

By Susan Rayman

For producers keen to increase their income (is there any other kind?), shelves full of film or video seem to hold the promise of easy profits. Like any other business venture, however, starting a library requires a carefully considered strategy. ‘In terms of a business plan, the key element comes back to content, content, content,’ says Patrick Smith, head of archive development for London-based TWI Archives. Highly specialized collections can sell even if they are quite small, but a generalist library needs to be big enough to compete with established players, he advises. ‘I think the idea of setting up just a broad, general interest library nowadays is probably nearly impossible.’

Once you’ve settled on what you have to sell, the next step is ensuring you have the rights to sell it. ‘In the natural history or general documentary area, the commissioners of programs woke up quite a long time ago to the value of outtakes,’ explains London-based library consultant Carol O’Callaghan. ‘That doesn’t mean there aren’t valid ‘collections under the bed’, but it’s advisable to have another read of your contracts.’

Basic library start-up costs range between US$50,000 and $100,000 according to estimates from several library consultants, depending on factors such as access to environmentally regulated storage facilities, the existence of a comprehensive database, and whether or not the material needs to be transferred to another medium.

Smith says that for TWI’s 140,000-hour collection, they have a purpose-built vault for regulating temperature and humidity. Smaller collections might not require such an elaborate setup, but would at least need some kind of air conditioning unit and self-contained space. Storing the collection at a lab is one alternative that may be less costly, he suggests.

Turning a collection into an accessible library is apt to require more than a basic shot-list record, particularly for specialized areas like wildlife or medicine, so cataloging and creating a database should be factored into the plan. The question is whether it would be a better investment to hire someone versus tackling the task yourself. ‘By the time you’ve looked at it and then entered the details, it’s going to take at least twice as long as viewing the material in real time,’ Smith says. (Meaning a 10,000-hour archive would take 2,500 eight-hour shifts to catalog.) Either way, he adds, it’s a necessary process as it makes a big difference to sales. ‘The more detail you’ve got on there, the more chance you have of satisfying somebody’s request.’

Transferring is the other potentially costly and time-consuming element to factor into the start-up expenses in the business plan. Clients will expect the collection to be on digital video, notes Jessica Berman-Bogden, president of Haworth, U.S.-based Berman-Bogden Productions. ‘It’s great if it’s backed on film, but in this day of avids, people are going to want it in a video format.’ Even if you have video masters, you’ll have to consider whether it’s worth it to do tape-to-tape transfers in-house or at a lab. ‘Speed is the key issue here,’ she adds. Berman-Bogden estimates one to three years of start-up time.

From the outset, set aside five to 10 percent of the budget for marketing, Smith advises. This takes in everything from printing catalogs, to traveling to film festivals and TV markets, to putting your database on the Internet (which could cost $10,000 or more).

Regardless of whether a library becomes your primary or secondary source of income, the process is essentially the same. As Smith notes, ‘It’s called a library but it is a business, so any of the normal costs that you think would come with a business, you’re going to have to pay in some way, shape or form.’

Traffic Duty

Driving customers to your archive is all about giving good directions

By Kimberley Brown

Marketing is an essential component for the start up and maintenance of an archive. Researchers and clients alike are in a never-ending search for fresh and unique footage, but they need to know an archive exists in order to source from it. Fortunately, bigger and brighter isn’t a strategy that necessarily spells success. Instead, producers should repeatedly target specific audiences.

Fair trade

Despite the internet’s omnipresence and wealth of search engines (don’t worry, I’ll get to that), advertising an archive in a good, old-fashioned trade magazine is still acknowledged as the most lucrative, albeit the most expensive, marketing tool. According to Margaret Bray, library manager for the United Wildlife Library (which houses the archives of both Survival Anglia and Partridge Films), when it comes to this particular medium, size matters. ‘We usually go for small ads, because we get a better [cost] return on those rather than one big ad,’ she explains.

Bo Landin, CEO and executive producer of Scandinature in Sweden agrees. ‘It’s better to be repetitive with lots of smaller ads than it is to have fewer, bigger ads.’ Both Landin and Bray are selective when choosing which magazines to advertise with. Scandinature’s archive consists of about 3,000 hours of footage and features natural history, science and environmental subjects. According to Landin, the market for footage in Sweden is fairly small, so he’s interested in reaching international clients. ‘I wouldn’t put an advertisement in the big, general trade papers,’ he explains. ‘I look for publications that will be read, from an executive point of view, by people with a need for my kind of footage.’

David Mansfield of New York-based Wren Productions suggests small archives like his – which houses about 200 hours of footage and is entirely run by himself and partner/producer Lynn Descoteau – investigate publications that deal with related subject matter outside of the obvious production circles. Mansfield specializes in underwater photography and has logged a number of hours in the waters of the Caribbean. Although the majority of Wren’s footage customers hail from the documentary production community, the prodco has pulled in clients by placing advertisements in diving and tourism magazines.

Knock on their doors

When the Survival and Partridge archives were incorporated into the United Wildlife Library, explains Bray, the collection’s marketing strategy had to change. ‘When we were Survival, we had a very low budget for advertising; we relied on the brand name,’ she says. ‘That is changing now. We recognize that we have to make people aware of the fact that we have a different identity.’ Bray estimates United’s current marketing budget for the footage archive is about 15% to 20% of the library’s gross revenues. The bulk of this goes to ads in trade magazines, but the archive also reaches out to select clients through information pamphlets sent to them by direct mailings. ‘If you send out 100 brochures to targeted people,

hopefully you might get seven to 10 responses,’ says Bray. ‘But, it’s worthwhile in the end, certainly with the commercial companies, because even two or three responses will pay for any outlay you may have had in sending out that material.’ Bray recalls buying mailing lists from various organizations in the past, but she has achieved equal success by culling names in more creative ways, such as targeting companies listed in ‘top advertising/production companies’ articles that are found in any number of publications. ‘We try to find the cheapest way of making up mailing lists,’ she adds.

At the dawn of the 21st century, direct mailings need not be limited to pamphlets. Landin is presently wooing Scandinavian corporate, advertising and educational clients by sending out DVDs that provide recipients with a sampling of what the archive offers. ‘Advertising companies have good computers,’ says Landin. ‘DVDs are more fun [than cassettes], they give a better picture quality, and they let people know you’re part of the new media world.’

Live and interactive

Landin believes one of the best ways to compete with large archives is to be faster and

cheaper. Another is to play up the personality of a small library. To do this, Landin makes an effort to meet clients in person. ‘Personal contact is important because every archive has a flavor,’ he says. ‘When the BBC has everything, why do people come to us for footage? Because it’s more personal.’ Along with sending out DVDs, Scandinature hosts screenings for the business and education communities in Scandinavia’s larger city centers.

Trade shows are also an excellent means of reaching clients, especially those based in far away places, and often enable people to look at material alongside those who shot it. As the number of markets and fests dedicated to docs continues to rise, picking and choosing where to go becomes crucial. Due to the nature of Scandinature’s archive, Landin prefers events such as Wildscreen that draw an international crowd of natural history enthusiasts.

Bray also has her fingers crossed that she’ll eventually be able to promote the archive in

person. With Granada’s recent acquisition of United, future marketing plans for the archive remain uncertain. ‘Having a presence at select trade shows throughout the world – actually being there – would be a good way of pushing us forward. Quite often, our presence at trade shows is noticeably lacking.’

Community service

The United Wildlife Library manages a presence at some trade events through their membership with the Federation of Commercial and Audio Visual Libraries (FOCAL). FOCAL is a trade organization that was formed in 1985. Its services include clearing copyrights, providing technical and legal advice, and putting researchers in touch with those looking for material. ‘One of the best marketing ploys is belonging to FOCAL,’ says Bray. ‘They attend trade shows throughout the world and advertise their members’ archives and services. They have a magazine, Archive Zones, that is distributed to all their members, is given out at the trade shows and is sent to a mailing list. They even do workshops that deal with such

topics as how to market your library. From those perspectives, they’re a very useful organization to belong to.’

What works for one archive doesn’t necessarily work for all, however. Wren’s Descoteau prefers fending for herself when it comes to promoting the archive. ‘We’ve done a better

job marketing ourselves,’ she comments. ‘Because larger organizations represent a number of different archives, yours doesn’t always get the attention it needs.’

Rather than piggyback an archive with a larger organization, production companies can opt to list their collection in one of the many footage directories published each year. However, both Landin and Wren’s Mansfield agree that there is usually a direct relationship between investment and return. ‘Some are good and some are scams,’ says Landin. ‘If there’s no cost, go for it. Otherwise” Mansfield concurs: ‘I’ve signed up with a few directories, but I never got much response from them.’ Mansfield notes that directories often offer the chance for archives to pay more to be listed first, which he sees as fair, but not worthwhile for a smaller operation like his own. Landin also points out that a few years ago, producers like him regularly turned to archive directories when doing a project. However, with the arrival of the internet, he now goes online to research potential footage sources.

Get wired

Once Wren Productions launched its website, says Descoteau, calls started to come in from Europe and around the globe. Bray also found that having a website allowed the U.K.-based archive to broaden its geographic customer base. ‘One boon is that for researchers and people in the States – because hours are so difficult – we would lose sales,’ she explains. ‘Researchers often just want to see what you have and they need to know the same day, so quite often we would miss out. With the website, they can see what we have, inform the relevant parties and order it for the next day. From the American sales point of view, it’s important to us. It’s a strong marketing tool, even if people use it just to get a basic idea of what the catalog consists of. To have something up there is better than nothing.’

According to Bray, the website for Survival represents about 90% of that archive’s catalog, and is updated once a month to include newly shot footage. Like the websites for both Scandinature and Wren, Survival’s features no moving images. ‘It would be wonderful to get the money to put pictures up there, but we would have to be very selective – the library is so large, I don’t think that if we put pictures of every shot that we have [online], that we would ever make that money back.’

Matthew White, VP of National Geographic TV’s Film Library, estimates a basic website with streaming media costs around US$15,000 to $20,000. He acknowledges that providing high quality moving images depends on broadband technologies becoming more prevalent, but thinks including even low res streaming media is vital to engage today’s marketplace. ‘You have to have at least that,’ says White. ‘And, some way for people to research a visual database of sorts, so that you can enter in a search term, get results, and then be able to screen those results.’

White holds that a 56k modem can handle streaming media. He adds that the files are harder to load and won’t look as polished, but says archives with a customer base that draws mainly from the doc production community should anticipate this level of technology. For archives working with ad agencies, which often have broadband technologies in place, White recommends a more robust approach, that will allow them to preview what they’re expected to license. ‘If you have to please all of those audiences and can only choose one approach, go with the 56k,’ says White. ‘But, I think you would be missing out on some of the wonderful business that is in advertising. They’re not going to want to watch that stuff.’

Nat Geo’s database has 100,000 video clips online, a figure White expects will jump to one million by March. For collections that have to be more selective when choosing which images to highlight on a website, White advises using shots that will carve out an identity for the archive: ‘Select the most saleable images – what was unusual or what were the money shots in a production. I wouldn’t bother putting B-quality footage up on a small site at first, because it will affect the way the site is viewed.’

Several systems are currently on the market that provide moving images online. White believes archives that plan to include a small number of clips to illustrate a collection, can accomplish this on their own. Larger collections however, may want to consider turning to the professionals. Says White, ‘Once it’s a catalog of images that is going online, you’re going to need to get encoding companies involved and integrators that can combine different types of technology.’

Full circle

Bray estimates about 10% of United’s new customers result from the website’s links with other online footage organizations and search engines. This raises a significant point. As Bray says, the internet is a great marketing tool, but a website is a marketing tool that needs to be marketed to be effective. Explains White, ‘The key thing is going to be finding ways to drive producers to the website. That’s where there’s going to be a lot of expense and trouble. Already at this time, producers are starting to get into routines on the sites they frequent.’

Imposing Order

Properly cataloging an archive can make or break a sale

By Kimberley Brown

Organizing an archive so that footage can be found quickly and efficiently is a crucial aspect of setting up a library. Researchers and producers alike often demand a time-bending turn-around for search and delivery of materials. If an archive is properly cataloged and indexed, this aspect of customer service becomes possible in the hands of fewer people and ensures clients get what they want, when they want it.

The level of detail required when cataloging footage depends on the size and nature of a collection. Producers with smaller collections with unique shots don’t need to be as comprehensive in their text descriptions as those with larger, general or wide-ranging footage – ‘Kennedy being shot’ might work, whereas ‘lion in Africa’ may not. That said, there are important details anyone cataloging an archive should include.

Breaking it down

Sue Malden, corporate affairs manager at BBC Information and Archives in London (the library that manages the footage that is sold by BBC Worldwide), suggests producers consider cataloging complete productions as well as the footage within them. Although Malden acknowledges this process might be more important for a broadcast archive, which regularly re-uses and re-sells whole programs, she reasons that television docs are recognized as valid sources of information and may have unforeseen importance to an archive’s revenue potential.

When cataloging a finished program, Malden starts with the basics and gradually moves into more specific detail. The title and subtitles should be listed. If a producer has allocated working titles to a program throughout its production, Malden includes these as well. Each show is also given a unique identification number. The date and channel on which the program originally aired should be noted, along with the names of the producer and the editor. The length of a show can be given in either time or feet. Explains Malden, ‘Time is increasingly more appropriate, but older collections were always measured in footage. Knowing the length is important for broadcast or sale of the program.’ The technical format on which the show originated, and music or special effects tracks should also be cataloged.

To avoid viewing a program in order to find out what’s in it, Malden provides a summary of what the show is about. For docs in particular, she recommends doing detailed descriptions of each shot that appears, such as whether it’s a close-up or a long shot, or whether something moves left to right. Says Malden, ‘This is particularly useful for reality and current affairs

programs, because these have much more of the kind of material that can be used in a different context.’

When cataloging raw footage, it’s generally best to take the time to shot-list each sequence. Due to the volume and variety of National Geographic’s natural history and wildlife material, Matthew White, VPNo one ever said starting up a library need be a solitary pursuit. The many options for assistance range from library trade organizations to archive consultants to footage agents, depending on the help you want.

Anne Johnson, head of FOCAL International, says that the purpose of her non-profit organization is to offer guidance and marketing for its members. ‘[We provide] a focal point for everyone to find footage, and help with networking.’ FOCAL chapters already exist in the U.K. (its home base), France and the U.S., and a new chapter is scheduled to open in Germany later this year.

FOCAL’s annual membership fees in the U.K. are £90 for individual researchers, with an additional £10 fee if FOCAL is to provide referrals; £550 for research companies or libraries; and £800 for sponsorship membership, available to companies that service the film and tv industry, such as facilities houses. Says Johnson, ‘Some people might think that’s a lot of money, but it is another form of advertising. For that, they get into our members’ guide, they go onto a disc that we hand out freely, and they receive [promotion] via our website.’ FOCAL will provide non-members with basic start-up advice, though they are encouraged to join.

For many would-be librarians uncertain of how to turn their collections into commercial archives, Johnson often suggests contacting a professional library consultant. As veterans of the research business, consultants advise on the going rates, the competition, cataloging techniques, and so on – but for a price. (One consultant says he charges US$3,000 to $5,000 for a week of work.) Another benefit is increased access to appropriate buyers.

For example, when the Vietnam Film Institute was thinking of opening up its archive, London-based consultant John Abbott eased the way by finding a licensee. ‘I got all the footage for Battlefield Vietnam [a 6 x 120-minute series produced by Lamancha Productions in London] from them,’ says Abbott. ‘What it gave the Vietnam Film Institute, which has the responsibility for managing the archive, was a substantial sum of money to reinforce its argument for some investment in the infrastructure and management of the resource.’

An alternative to managing a library on your own is to put the collection in the hands of another commercial archive or library agent. Patrick Smith, head of archive development for London-based TWI Archives, says his best piece of advice is to look at what you have to sell, then decide if it’s better to put it into a larger library in which your material may have to compete with the library’s other holdings, or a smaller library in which yours is a specialized collection. ‘Like any business relationship, look for a partner you feel you can trust, who will make it a good experience for you.’

How to divide the revenues is the key issue to negotiate, but you can also discuss the priority of your collection in the library. Notes John Flewin, president of London-based consulting firm Tan Media, ‘There’s the fear that their own copyrighted material gets offered first. I think the answer to that is to build ground rules with the representative, but then from time to time get it tested’ and you don’t have to tell them you’re doing it.’ He adds that the standard cut is 45% to 50% for the copyright owner, about 10% less if the agent does the cataloging. VP of National Geographic Television’s Film Library, goes as far as involving species experts in the archiving process to ensure that names are spelled correctly and that the proper Latin form is being applied. This enables each species to be found through a variety of search methods.

People need footage for a variety of reasons, but according to White an archive has two basic markets: ‘You have people who are editorially focused on getting an exact animal species and they need it to the letter. Others are more conceptually based and don’t care about the detail, but need to find images that express emotion. That’s where cataloging gets tricky.’ Generally, explains White, customers concerned with editorial content hail from the documentary production community; conceptual clients tend to be involved in advertising or corporate projects. Recognizing these two camps, Malden suggests including conceptual terms in a shot’s synopsis – saying it’s ‘romantic’ or depicts a certain aspect of life alongside descriptions of what’s actually taking place.

Time-coding the access copies of an archive’s footage is also advised. ‘Time-coding allows you to identify exactly where on a tape the sequence you want is,’ says Malden. ‘If you want to get back to that exact sequence, you can just zoom right in. Or, if you want to have it copied, you can just quote the time code. Time coding will be increasingly important in the digital domain when you will be able to use the technology to embed a unique time or number for every shot change right in the tape.’

For both programs and footage, any rights associated with the material should be

noted. Malden points out that completed docs may use footage that was purchased from another library and is limited to use in that program only. To be re-used, the rights need to be cleared again. Presenters, musicians and actors will also have rights that should to be acknowledged in the cataloging details.

Simple and Expensive

It doesn’t take long to realize that cataloging an archive is a time consuming and potentially expensive undertaking. Allan Kent, vice president of Toronto-based Maxima Film Corporation, began cataloging one million feet of unused footage just over a year ago. With three full-time employees devoted to the process, Kent estimates around 40% of the archive is completely cataloged. Of the one million feet, about 80% is underwater footage and 20% is topside. All the footage features water-related creatures and geography.

Maxima’s approach to cataloging is simple and, according to Kent, works from a

common sense point of view. ‘It’s being done by species and in some cases by location. We’re using a very basic system right now, but it can be flipped over into a more elaborate one if need be.’

Two of Maxima’s catalogers are familiar with the footage and the species featured in it, a qualification White believes is beneficial when cataloging material. Ideally, White sees Nat Geo’s catalogers having a strong role in how film is documented in the field. ‘We have a series being shot in Africa right now and nobody is going to have a better handle on what that footage is like those who are producing and making it,’ he says. ‘That said, there are so many ways material needs to be massaged so that people can do different types of searches. I can’t expect a producer in the field to be thinking images are powerful or depict teamwork or that a tree in the distance that stands by itself looks lonely. But, we need those types of words and description in our database in order to effectively sell footage to the people who need it.’

White thinks producers with a small collection they’re familiar with can catalog their own archive, but Malden issues a few words of warning. ‘Producers’ descriptions will be influenced by their immediate perceptions as to why they’re shooting something, what they want it for and how they envisage using it. For example, they might describe a sequence as ‘a good shot of Sue in front of a hospital’, and they know exactly what that means. But, is it raining or sunny? Night or day? It’s probably better to get someone who has the skills in logging, organizing new information and describing shots, but ensure they have the back-up information they need. I think it needs to be a partnership. You need to place people’s strengths.’

BBC Information and Archives is one organization that offers its cataloging services. For short-term work (about two days), Malden estimates the rate is around £250 (US$370) per day. For longer projects, the fee drops slightly to about £200 ($300) per day.

Looking forward

Technological advances that allow footage to be searched using images rather than text descriptions are highly anticipated. A single visual image can be described a thousand different ways, with a thousand different words. Trying to determine which search terms will be most effective in recalling an image is a difficult and lengthy process. Until broadband becomes common and the necessary software becomes affordable, producers can expect to endure short-term pain for long-term gains.

Get Help

Where to turn for advice on selling footage

By Susan Rayman

No one ever said starting up a library need be a solitary pursuit. The many options for assistance range from library trade organizations to archive consultants to footage agents, depending on the help you want.

Anne Johnson, head of FOCAL International, says that the purpose of her non-profit organization is to offer guidance and marketing for its members. ‘[We provide] a focal point for everyone to find footage, and help with networking.’ FOCAL chapters already exist in the U.K. (its home base), France and the U.S., and a new chapter is scheduled to open in Germany later this year.

FOCAL’s annual membership fees in the U.K. are £90 for individual researchers, with an additional £10 fee if FOCAL is to provide referrals; £550 for research companies or libraries; and £800 for sponsorship membership, available to companies that service the film and TV industry, such as facilities houses. Says Johnson, ‘Some people might think that’s a lot of money, but it is another form of advertising. For that, they get into our members’ guide, they go onto a disc that we hand out freely, and they receive [promotion] via our website.’ FOCAL will provide non-members with basic start-up advice, though they are encouraged to join.

For many would-be librarians uncertain of how to turn their collections into commercial archives, Johnson often suggests contacting a professional library consultant. As veterans of the research business, consultants advise on the going rates, the competition, cataloging techniques, and so on – but for a price. (One consultant says he charges US$3,000 to $5,000 for a week of work.) Another benefit is increased access to appropriate buyers.

For example, when the Vietnam Film Institute was thinking of opening up its archive, London-based consultant John Abbott eased the way by finding a licensee. ‘I got all the footage for Battlefield Vietnam [a 6 x 120-minute series produced by Lamancha Productions in London] from them,’ says Abbott. ‘What it gave the Vietnam Film Institute, which has the responsibility for managing the archive, was a substantial sum of money to reinforce its argument for some investment in the infrastructure and management of the resource.’

An alternative to managing a library on your own is to put the collection in the hands of another commercial archive or library agent. Patrick Smith, head of archive development for London-based TWI Archives, says his best piece of advice is to look at what you have to sell, then decide if it’s better to put it into a larger library in which your material may have to compete with the library’s other holdings, or a smaller library in which yours is a specialized collection. ‘Like any business relationship, look for a partner you feel you can trust, who will make it a good experience for you.’

How to divide the revenues is the key issue to negotiate, but you can also discuss the priority of your collection in the library. Notes John Flewin, president of London-based consulting firm Tan Media, ‘There’s the fear that their own copyrighted material gets offered first. I think the answer to that is to build ground rules with the representative, but then from time to time get it tested’ and you don’t have to tell them you’re doing it.’ He adds that the standard cut is 45% to 50% for the copyright owner, about 10% less if the agent does the cataloging.

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty

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