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Licensing Learning Curve: When to Opt for Stock Footage

Documentary filmmaker Rick Ray, based in Ventura, Calif., is part of a growing league of videographers who travel the world shooting projects for television networks, corporate clients, self-produced films and other distribution outlets.

“We shoot primarily world destinations—travel, adventure, culture, beautiful landscapes, nature, disasters, emerging events of political importance and that kind of thing,” says Ray. “We have shot for National Geographic, Discovery, Travel Channel and many other clients.”

Shutterstock video contributor Rick Ray on assignment in Cappadocia, Turkey

Ray is able to get double-duty from his travel to exotic locations by not only shooting for the specific project at hand, but also by negotiating with clients to retain the stock footage rights to his work.

“I was the director of the film 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. We went to Tibet, Northern India, and all around that region, and then all of that footage was made available for stock.”

Another of his projects was Raising the Bamboo Curtain for PBS, starring Martin Sheen. “We went to Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma while those countries were emerging. We filmed the historical transitions going on there. I also shot a film called The Gates of Jerusalem for The Learning Channel, which was an in-depth study of the Middle East.” He points to other films, like Everest: A Climb for Peace and Iraq: The Untold Stories, for which he generated a significant amount of quality stock footage.

As to stock footage possibilities for upcoming projects, Ray says, “You never really know what productions will need. Stock footage is the ultimate scavenger hunt. Lately I have been shooting generic exterior locations for various TV productions as well as traveling the world for elite hotel, safari and airline footage.”

Stock footage is being used increasingly in creative projects because of its availability for immediate download, the variety of creative options and the economic advantages. The trend has created an impact for both sellers and buyers.

Ray has chosen Shutterstock to license his footage. “Generally, libraries can be divided into two categories: those that are curated and those that take almost everything. If, as a customer, you choose a library that takes everything submitted, you run the risk of getting lost searching through endless clips of variable quality. You can spend all day searching.

“What I like about Shutterstock is that they have managed to be very selective in their process. They’re very particular about what they take. Buyers don’t have to search through a lot of junk to get at what they really like.”