Stock Footage - A Short History

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To really appreciate stock footage, it's a great help to look at the history of how it came into being.

When you consider that motion pictures were invented late 19th century and that the studios were in full swing within 30 years (especially with the advent of sound in 1927), it was only a matter of time before the major studios realized they didn't have to reshoot a cattle stampede every time they needed one.

Add to this the myriad of other shots that are repeated in various plot lines: airplanes landing and taking off, explosions, car accidents, and even the mundane shots of prisons, hotels, hospitals, etc. With another leap, you realize you don't really have to take a whole crew to the wilds of the Sahara Desert or the African Bush as long as you have some establishing shots to "show" that you are there.

Dangerous animals became another great subject in stock footage and I'm sure many actors breathed a sigh of relief upon learning that the Gorilla they were fleeing wouldn't actually be sharing the stage with them. We've all seen the footage of the growling bear on the Colbert Report.

So the prescient early studio execs realized early on that they could recycle the scenes that would be used multiple times and created their own libraries from which other studios would be able to license footage for a fee. This trend morphed into a business for entrepreneurs and collectors of vintage footage that was easily accessible in the mid 20th Century because of the huge trove held in government archives such as the National Archive here in the US.

In the late 1970s when video tape became prevalent, the stock footage business accelerated by leaps and bounds . Film could now be viewed on tape instead it's original plastic-with-sprockets format, and more so, multiple copies could now be made, archived and distributed for new productions.

Today we are at a place in the film business that one could have scarcely imagined in the recent past, with analog video tape giving way to digital formats like DVDs and suddently, hard drives that can house an entire professional film library in the palm of one's hand.

So today we can all be filmmakers; and not just because of the prevalence of camcorders and the like, but because what had been a formally exclusive and professional club is now open to anyone with an idea - that's filmmaking democracy!

This article has been written by an expert working with Mr. Footage, an online distributor of HD Footage.

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