Archive Treasures

Among the millions of feet of archived film and video, there are a select few clips that stand apart from the rest. RealScreen asked several footage houses to comb through their collections and tell us about their rarest holdings, the ones that have fetched the highest price and their best sellers. Just for fun, we also asked about the strangest requests they've ever received.
February 1, 2002

Among the millions of feet of archived film and video, there are a select few clips that stand apart from the rest. RealScreen asked several footage houses to comb through their collections and tell us about their rarest holdings, the ones that have fetched the highest price and their best sellers. Just for fun, we also asked about the strangest requests they’ve ever received.

Somewhat surprisingly, all of the archives interviewed assert that ‘most rare’ and ‘most expensive’ are seldom one and the same. Much more important in determining price are such details as the nature of the project, how the clips will be used and the expected level of exposure. And, while several houses said their rate card standard is in the US$15 to $100 per second range, the above-listed variables (and many more) tend to take costs off rate card more often than not. In terms of best-selling footage, the ripples from September 11 are still being felt, with several archives citing an increased demand for military or conflict clips, as well as footage symbolic of a simpler time. As for strangest requests, judge the overall winner for yourself – ‘the wind’ is definitely in our top three.

F.I.L.M. ArchiveS

New York, U.S.

F.I.L.M. Archives has about 20,000 hours of contemporary and historical footage in its vault, and represents the collections of close to 60 filmmakers.

Rarest footage: Mark Trost, president and CEO of F.I.L.M., points to color footage of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. ‘It’s kodachrome, so it looks like technicolor,’ he says, adding that only one print exists. Trost also cites pre-WWII newsreels from Germany that show the beginning of Lufthansa, guys getting ready for a joust in 1939, and military training. ‘One thing that was really odd is if your plane got shot, you stuck a handkerchief in the hole. They actually show them doing that,’ he notes.

Biggest sale: Trost says F.I.L.M. represents a collection of 1970s drive-in movies from Independent International Pictures – ‘they’re cheesy versions of Dracula and Frankenstein and sexy ’70s movies from Europe’ – and licensed 40 minutes of it to clothing retailer Prada for five figures. ‘Prada [launched] a new store in Manhattan where they put together this mulitimedia design, with [images] constantly running on screens. They loved the sexy ’70s European movies.’

Best-selling footage: ‘There’s a shot from the ’30s or ’40s of a guy wearing a padded helmet. He keeps running into a wall and gets kicked in the head. They’ve used it on Letterman and on Conan O’Brien – it’s been used for anything and everything.’

General Motors Media Archives

Detroit, U.S.

The GM collection contains 30,000 hours of footage (60,000 unique titles).

Rarest footage: Tom Freiman, manager of GM’s communications support group, says, ‘Zora Duntov, who was the father of the Corvette, was GM’s chief engineer in the 1950s, and we have some footage of him in a 1956 Chevrolet racing at the top of Pike’s Peak. It was a prototype vehicle based on the Chevy Sports Coupe. It’s rare because we don’t have a lot of footage of Zora driving around in those experimental vehicles.’

Best-selling footage: Freiman cites: anything related to the Corvette; historic or current manufacturing footage; anything related to product development; exhibits, such as Futuramas and Motoramas; concept cars or experimental vehicles.

Strangest footage request: Soapbox derbies from the 1950s and ’60s. Freiman explains: ‘A soapbox derby was a program in which kids designed their own cars to race – not powered vehicles, they roll down a hill.’ Freiman says it seemed like a strange request, but in sorting through the gm archives (a process that the car company has only recently undertaken) researchers discovered that the collection does include soapbox derby footage, because GM sponsored some of these events during their heyday.

ITN Archive

London, U.K.

Thanks in part to a partnership with Reuters Television in 1998, the Independent Television News Archive contains footage from 1896 to the present day.

Rarest footage: Karena Smith, itn Archive’s development manager, suggests: the coronation of Russia’s Czar Nicholas II in 1896; the Hindenberg catching fire; the now famous footage of a little girl (Kim Phuc) running from a napalm attack in Vietnam; and three airplanes that were blown-up at Dawson’s Field in the 1970s. ‘That was a hijacking,’ she notes. ‘That’s quite rare.’

Best-selling footage: ‘For us, it almost always goes back to conflict or royals,’ Smith observes. She points to Princess Diana’s 1992 speech in which she talked about withdrawing from public life, adding that Diana is still the most popular of the royals. In terms of conflict, she notes increased demand for the history of Afghanistan, anything on Osama bin Laden and the plight of the Palestinians. ‘We’ve been working a lot with companies who are looking at the history of terrorism, the impact of the conflict now and what impact it will have on the world economically. A lot of those backgrounders are pertinent now.’

Strangest requests: Smith has a host to offer: the Titanic sailing into New York harbor, the Titanic sinking, Jesus on the cross, sexual encounters – in the office, with animals, different animals together (dog and duck) – the Great Fire of London in 1666, real dinosaurs and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I.

National Geographic Film Library

Washington D.C., U.S.

The NG Film Library, which opened last year, contains more than 25,000 hours of footage, with film dating from the late 1960s.

Rarest footage: Matthew White, VP of Nat Geo’s Library, says, ‘There’s one image of a baby chimp who spontaneously reaches over and touches [explorer-in-residence] Jane Goodall on the nose. When something like that happens, the image itself is remarkable for what it means in terms of all of the work that she put into developing a relationship with these creatures in a way that helped all of us understand so much more.’

The clip is from Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees (1965). White also points to underwater footage from the Black Sea, captured by Bob Ballard for The Quest for Noah’s Flood.

Biggest sale: Ivy Woods, head of sales for the NG library, describes a shot from the archive’s signature collection that, on average, fetches US$20,000 to $30,000: ‘The Jesus lizard – he runs on water. It’s a slow-mo of this lizard on its hind legs and he’s booking across the water. Its scientific name is the basilisk lizard and it came from a show called The Rainforest that we shot in Costa Rica in 1983.’

Best-selling footage: According to White, the best-selling clip in 2001 featured two dolphins jumping out of the water together, from Dolphins: The Wild Side; in 2000, the top seller showed lion cubs walking towards the camera, from Africa’s Paradise of Thorns.

Oddball Film + Video

San Francisco, U.S.

As its name implies, Oddball F+V

specializes in unusual footage, including wacky inventions and odd Americana. Established in 1982, the archive contains 40,000 films, 20,000 videos and reps about a dozen collections.

Rarest footage: Stephen Parr, Oddball’s director, cites a 1967 interview with Andy Warhol and Gerard Melanga promoting the Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable event at the Rhode Island School of Design. ‘It’s a one-of-a-kind piece,’ he says.

Most expensive footage: According to Parr, footage that has sold for US$5,000 to $10,000 include shots of a guy driving a vehicle shaped like a giant hamburger; Siamese twins from the 1920s, and 20 or 30 men in Santa Claus costumes facing off against a swat team.

Best-selling footage: ‘It’s called the Sofia girls,’ Parr says. ‘It’s a film made in the early 1950s of a gymnastics class in Sweden and it’s very powerfully shot. It shows women being very strong and athletic, and there’s an almost tribal feel to it.’

Strangest request: Observes Parr, ‘We get a lot of requests for footage of people wearing 3D glasses in a theater. A lot of people think they’ve seen that shot, but it’s actually a still image. There was never any moving footage of that ever filmed.’

Third Millennium Films

New York, U.S.

Established in 1999, Third Millennium has a collection of about 2,500 hours, of which close to half is 35mm.

Rarest footage: ‘The rarest footage we have now is extraordinary New York City aerials, many that feature the World Trade Center at all times of day, night and dusk,’ says Maria Marin, president of Third Millennium. ‘I bought the entire collection from Don Sweeney and Al Cerullo [a renowned helicopter pilot].’ Third Millennium represented the collection until last spring, when Sweeney and Cerullo opted to sell. Marin values the collection, noting that aerials are limited because they’re expensive to shoot.

Biggest sale: Managing director William Morrow points to a $15,000 sale to Nokia of a clip from Black Sabbath, a 1963 horror flick from Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, for use in a European commercial. Morrow describes the clip: ‘The shot is of a woman holding a candle. She pushes a door open and then [the camera] zooms in on this hideous looking dead woman rising up, with big bulging eyes.’

Best-selling footage: Marin says they have sold shots of Arctic blizzards over and over again.

Strangest request: ‘Somebody wanted [footage] of a stretch limo driving into a hole in New York City, but a hole so big, that only the back end of the limo would be sticking out perpendicular to the street,’ Marin recalls. Morrow cites a request for a cat coughing up a furball. While he did find a clip of a cat coughing, no furballs were involved.

The Weather Channel Video and Music Library

Atlanta, U.S.

The Weather Channel has footage covering every season and type of weather going back almost 20 years, and holds around 10,000 tapes.

Rarest footage: ‘We have purchased rare footage of cyclones and hurricanes from third parties who have the courage to go into deadly storms,’ says Joyce Jefferson, the Weather Channel’s manager of library services. ‘Our crew was among the first to arrive in Oklahoma on May 3, 1999, and they captured footage of the F5 tornado, the largest outbreak ever recorded in Oklahoma.’

Best-selling footage: Hurricane clips, Jefferson notes.

Strangest requests: One of Jefferson’s top picks: ‘Footage of wind without rain or storms. Just the wind blowing.’

Oxford Scientific Films Library

Oxford, U.K.

Established as a commercial entity in 1990, the OSF Library holds two million feet of archived material, 1,000 hours of which are on video. Natural history and special effects photography are its main focus.

Rarest footage: Rachel Wakefield, a member of the OSF Library’s sales and marketing team, says, ‘Our High Speed Collection is the rarest. High speed is a very expensive and difficult filming technique. Mistakes cost a lot of money.’ OSF has built a large collection of subjects filmed in high speed, she adds.

Biggest sale: ‘We sold one shot for £20,000 (US$29,000),’ Wakefield recalls. ‘It was one of our fish shots and it was expensive because they wanted a lot of rights.’ The five-second shot was used in a commercial about two years ago, which required worldwide release.

Strangest request: Wakefield cites requests for a single, live, time-lapse shot of a baby growing into an old man; single, live, time-lapse shot of a tree growing from a seed (though OSF has managed time-lapse sequences of an acorn growing into a sapling); and live-action dinosaurs.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.