Taking Stock Issue #2: Avengers or Justice League?

In the first issue, our hero took great joy making some money from an asset he had bought and made accessible. I bought some vintage 16mm films and had them digitally transferred so that they were TV ready.

But let’s face it: I was lucky. It’s the kind of luck you get when you spend your wages buying rolls of scratch-offs and win just a little more than you invested. Then you look at yourself and realize you haven’t shaved, there are scratch-off filings everywhere, and that rancid Spam odor is you.

Things just couldn’t go on this way.

I had to find someone who could represent my growing collection of films while I focused on growing the collection. I knew that there were stock footage businesses out there, but I had no idea who to sign up with. This was around 2001 or 2002. (Keep in mind that there were few, if any, microstock sites out there. We were still reeling from the first dotcom bust that occurred in 2001. Nobody was really using the internet to build a stock footage business.)

After some initial research on the web, I narrowed my prospects down to two.

WPA Film Library

At the time, I was working on a documentary about the Nash Metropolitan automobile. I was looking for some vintage historical footage of the Metropolitan, and it appeared that WPA had some. Cool.

After doing more searches, it looked as if WPA had a lot of historical footage. I soon noticed their name at the end of many historical documentaries and TV shows. They were obviously a resource for big production houses that needed some historical b-roll.

I contacted them and received a sample contract. In those days, you signed an exclusive agreement with companies like these. They would rep you worldwide in exchange for your undying fealty only to them for X number of years. That means that I could not broaden my exposure to other markets by offering my stuff to other companies.

But here was the kicker. They were only offering 35% of each sale to the content provider. They made more than half the money. In a universe filled with evil, greedy, thievin’ schemers, I didn’t know if this split was a petty crime or a satanic pact.

I decided to keep looking.

Getty Images

In this vast, wondrous world of stock footage, there are two 800 lb. gorillas: Corbis and Getty Images. I don’t know why I didn’t investigate Corbis more thoroughly, but I didn’t.

However, Getty Images was very transparent with their information. They sent me a boilerplate contract, and their split was 50/50. Also, they had a very friendly representative who gave me the time o’ day and answered my questions. This would be the beginning of a good business friendship with Ellen Bose. (It continues to this day.)

Getty also has the same exposure as WPA and Corbis. I see their name in the credits of many, many TV shows and movies. It looked like they could offer my footage to the broadest possible audience.

So I went with Getty.

The Bar Is Higher with Getty

Many producers feel that a partnership with Getty is about as likely as Fox News being fair and balanced. So why did they accept me? After all, I didn’t have one frame of original footage to offer them.

The answer is that I had expertly digitized, vintage, public domain 16mm film clips. What you’ll notice on lots of historical shows that use vintage footage is that the film is pink. Or red. Or some shade of Processed Ground Beef.

Many films from the 1950s-1970s used a cheap type of film stock that lost its color over time. The dyes in the film would fade. The films would end up with a reddish tint.

Most producers in my situation simply digitized the films without correcting the red tint. However, I knew that 100 out of 100 viewers would sense that there was something wrong with the film. I took the extra step to eliminate the red tint and restore whatever original colors still existed on the film.

Getty really liked that little bit of extra effort. It made them look better. Not only that, I had good footage that would appeal to people looking for vintage shots of American society and culture. That same footage is still selling 10 years later.

Then What Happened?

You’ll have to wait for the next blog post, adrenaline junkie! Next time, we’ll jump into the DeLorean, get it up to 88mph, and rocket forward 10 years to today. The industry has evolved, and other companies have forced Getty to innovate. (Or more accurately, one company innovated, and Getty bought ‘em outright.)

You could study a PowerPoint presentation on the efficacy of crop rotation, or you can wait for another pleasure-emitting stock footage post! Seems to me that the choice(crops)is clear.
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