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HaZ on the power of archive footage

You can expand your vision and range with carefully chosen stock and archive footage. HaZ talks through how he chooses and uses it in his work.
For me, footage saved my life. So with project Kronos, I didn’t really want to go and hire a camera crew. It’s just me funding it in my spare time while working in visual effects. I’m a massive fan of NASA, like I said earlier. And I noticed all of the footage is public domain. So I’ll download all the footage, and then I’ll rip the footage apart, and then I’ll recompose it. So my advice to anyone using stock footage is try to use it as an element, like you would do if you use smoke or fire elements in your comps, or you’d use a wood or concrete texturing, or CG. Use footage as elements.
So with Kronos, I will cut out the space shuttle, and I’ll cut out the smoke from the Saturn X rocket, and I’ll cut out the buildings from– the NASA buildings, and I’ll comp them together, and I have a new shot. If you’re a short film maker, independent, Pond5 is amazing. But it’s not just Pond5. There’s Dissolve, another company, and they’re like $20 or $50. And you have unlimited use– one time use, obviously, but unlimited for your film. And again, your use of stock footage can not only increase your production value for your film, save you a tonne of money. So with Kronos, I used NASA footage to construct my shots.
With Iris and Sync– especially of Iris, there’s a shot where there’s a helicopter going above, and they’re dropping the soldiers. I found footage on Pond5 for $25, for royalty-free to use, of someone filming a police raid. And I thought, wow, I got SWAT police guys kicking in. They’re at such a distance. You’re never going to see what they look like. But you know they’re moving. And I already filmed a bunch of guys already going into a building four or five.
So what I did was I shoot a mid close-up of some guys– my actor friends with the SWAT gear and the guns kicking the door, then I cut to the stock footage over the distance, and seeing these guys go in– those guys are not those guys I filmed. But to the audience– and you grade it, you’ll think, wow, these guys are going into a building. So that’s real footage and stock footage. My advice with buying stock footage is try to buy the highest quality you can. ProRest– there are a lot of places offering ProRest. But most of the places always offer H264s or PhotoJPEG. Go for the PhotoJPEG.
H264s are great if you’re not going to break the image, you’re not going to do a heavy grade on it. Because you’ll find– it depends on the bit rate they provide to you– it will go really pixelated, and it will look horrible, and it will kill your whole show. But even stuff like aerials– like in Sync, I’ve got shots where we finish one action scene, and before we go to another scene where there’s loads of talking, I need to bridge this. So this is basic filmmaking, pacing. I’m like, I need an establishment shot. I’m not going to go out and film one. So I go on Pond5 or Dissolve or other sites.
I found some really beautiful drone shots going across buildings. Take that, cut that in, grade it. Again, always think about what you’re going to do with your stock footage. Another good thing about stock footage is now they offer you to download the watermarked version. So you don’t need to buy it to test it. So I will download it– the watermarked version– cut it, make sure it works fine. Once I’m happy with it, I then buy it. So if you’re smart, and you know what you’re trying to tell in terms of your story, the good use of stock footage and footage that you shot, and the use of colour correction, you’ll have amazing production value.
When I used the NASA footage, I remember using it. I was like, this is NASA. It’s an American organisation. I read a lot of people get sued over there. Lawyers make a killing out there. I’m going to do the sensible thing. I’m just going to email NASA. And I didn’t get a reply back. And two weeks before I was going to release the short, I got a reply back saying, hey, we love what you’re doing. It’s great. You can use whatever footage you like, HaZ. We only ask for one thing. And I thought it was going to be a credit. Oh, no. It wasn’t that. Not to use any footage with the NASA logo on it. Guess what?
All of the footage I had had the NASA logo on. They were the best ones. So again, coming from a composite background, I was able to paint it out and replace it with my own logo. And I think someone at NASA thought that was quite funny, because they retweeted it, which is cool. Always, always, always check, and get something in writing. Even when you’re buying stock footage, don’t just download the footage. Download the licence file. File it away. Because someone out there might think that you’re using footage that’s similar to theirs. It happens. Then you’re prepared. And also, you want to sleep better at night.
I know I can sleep better at night, because every single footage I’ve bought downloaded, I’ve got a licence file for it. So do the sensible thing.

Every shot counts when you’re a guerrilla filmmaker. Whilst low or no-budget filmmakers might think of using stock footage for explosions or the odd lens flare, there’s so much more available nowadays that it can make sense to use archive footage to help you tell your stories.

After all, if it’s the right quality, as VFX artists you can make it your own individual shot by manipulating it, so it needn’t look like anyone else’s shot. With careful selection, you can really enhance the production values of your film, whilst also saving money. HaZ has found the power of archive footage particularly rewarding, and you could argue he’s made it a central part of his work, so who better to advise on this?

Have you used archive footage for complete shots, to establish a scene or location for instance? Did you customise it? Let us know of any legitimate sources you’ve particularly found useful.

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