I would like to start a conversation in the documentary community about a disturbing dynamic I see evolving – the potential devaluing of ‘gold standard’ creative work.
As the owner of a HD footage company, and an executive in this business for over 20 years, I have the privilege of knowing both the producers of programs about the natural world and those who risk life and limb to document it. It’s a network of people who know one another and share a passion.
With the economic crisis, the dynamic noted above arises as programming budgets are slashed.
A hypothetical scenario: a documentary is being made about the Bering Glacier. A team is sent to shoot the glacier on the ground but there is no money in the budget to shoot it from the air. An aerial approach would add a grand view of the largest glacier in North America and enhance the production value of the show.
Being the small community that we are, the producer knows who has shot these aerial views and since I represent the footage, they come to me for the shot. Therein lies the rub. The show may offer a license fee lower than the cinematographer feels he or she should be paid.
My question to the show producer is, ‘Would you want your own footage licensed so cheaply?’ and in some cases, ‘Do you license your own footage so cheaply?’
Some cinematographers/footage suppliers will not license their images for the amounts budgeted today, thereby driving down their income and weakening the value of the show wanting the shot. Others allow me to license the footage at the offered rate and may feel they are not receiving the value per shot, but want to monetize their footage. In the long term, this trend can drive down the value of everyone’s footage.
The challenge is: how do we value a commodity (rare and beautiful footage) and extend that value into ‘downstream’ clip licensing?
At FootageBank HD, I maintain a personal relationship with suppliers, and consult with them when budget issues conflict with sales of their footage. We have created a new pricing structure to meet the needs of most non-fiction programmers and are working hard to bring all suppliers on board.
I ask programmers to remember that footage is often coming from someone they know and respect. Even in times of budget cuts and industry changes, let’s try to hold the value of both programming and clip licensing. It is good business for everyone.
Paula Lumbard is founder and president of FootageBank HD