Taking Stock Issue #1: Origin Story

Cliches and stereotypes exist for a reason. Let’s face it: they’re based on some kernel of truth.

Have you ever heard the the old nugget of wisdom that says you rarely end up in life where you started or dreamed of going? I’m living proof that the cliché is true.

I always thought I would be a video producer making some sort of entertainment-based content. I still do that, but it’s rare these days. (Upside: when I do it, I do it on my terms.)

Instead, I’ve found myself drifting into a related field. This endeavor tastes a lot like what an entrepreneur craves: dough. I like the flavor, and let me tell you: this man CAN live on bread alone.

I drifted into the business of providing stock footage after I had acquired a sizable amount of vintage 16mm automobile-related films. I was indulging my desire to collect car films in order to make short videos using this vintage footage as b-roll.

In 1998, I bought an accounting ledger and started keeping a record of all of my purchases and expenditures. Each time I bought a film on eBay, I wrote down what it was, how much it cost, and who I bought it from. If I had some of that film transferred to Betacam SP, I wrote down all the details.

After about four years, I had spent $10,000 in films and transfer costs. Gulp. This hobby was getting expensive.

I needed a way to monetize these films somehow. Because most of the films were made prior to The Copyright Act of 1976, I knew that if they had been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office at all, then they had probably not renewed after the first term of 28 years had passed. Since I was collecting films made by companies that were no longer in business, I felt I was pretty safe in exploiting them. But how?

One word: licensing. There were big companies like Getty Images and WPA that licensed stock footage to content producers all over the world. Need a shot of a beautiful sunset or a vintage shot of Lindbergh waving to crowds in 1928? Call the stock footage houses.

I knew that these businesses relied on content providers, and I wanted to be one of them.

While I investigated which giant conglomo to join, I had some success licensing some footage to independent producers. I licensed some 1954 Nash Metropolitan car footage to a Canadian company making a documentary about women and cars. The money was quite good. I licensed that same footage again to a production company that had a classic car series on The History Channel. Again, the cheddar was delicious.

The cash went back into my business. I started buying more films. I spent more money transferring those films to Beta SP. I knew I had to sign up with a stock footage firm, because I didn’t have enough time to devote to hustling for more licensing deals. I needed someone else to provide that infrastructure.

Who did I choose, and why? Find out in the next thrill-packed episode of Taking Stock: Adventures in Stock Footage!

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