In every storyteller’s post-production journey, there comes a time when it makes more sense to purchase footage from a marketplace instead of shooting it yourself. Perhaps your story is about Uluru in Australia, and you’re in Boca Raton. Or your wedding video is missing a crucial aerial shot of the ocean from a birds-eye perspective. Or maybe the hard drive containing your footage from a protest crashed, and now you’re stuck looking for the proper footage for your documentary.
In these cases (along with myriad others), that’s when you turn to Stock footage to help!
What is Stock Video?
Stock footage (a.k.a. “stock video”) is footage shot with the sole purpose of being licensed to a creator for use in another project. Artists often create stock footage without a specific end project in mind. They try to offer as much universal appeal to buyers as possible. This footage can be as general as an establishing shot of a farm, historical moments, and natural disasters to graphic overlays like light leaks and film grain to viral videos and looping background animations.
Essentially: if it can be licensed and used in a video project, it can be considered stock.
Stock footage is also often called “B-Roll.” B-Roll is a term from the old days of linear film editing when editors would use two rolls of identical footage — an actual A-Roll and a B-Roll — to create transitions between shots. With modern non-linear editing tools, there’s no longer a need for two separate rolls. However, the terms are still used today with slightly different meanings. In current times, B-roll is the supplementary footage that supports the A-Roll. Think of A-Roll as an interview; it’s how the media “tells” the story. B-Roll enhances the A-Roll and “shows” the story visually. For example, the A-Roll narrative talks about residences, and then the B-Roll might show a house. Using B-Roll footage breaks up the monotony to make the production more engaging, making the story come alive.
How Did Stock Video Start?
While using stock video is ubiquitous these days, it wasn’t always this way. Filmmakers used to have to shoot everything they used in their films on their own or with second units. As the years and decades of filmmaking went on, the point of entry into filmmaking remained relatively difficult and expensive. It was primarily just movie studios who kept amassing footage.
However, as tools evolved, Stock Photography was established. Then in the 1980s, Stock Footage companies started to spring up offering footage of various topics. They mastered their footage on film, as well as on Betacam and VHS (these bulky plastic things with tape that you had to “rewind” and work out the “tracking” for you young folks). As these smaller companies acquired sizable footage libraries, larger companies like Branded Entertainment Network (a.k.a. Corbis) and Getty Images bought up the footage for licensing to customers. These companies essentially had a stranglehold on the entire stock footage market until the internet came along and changed that.
During this time, new digital video cameras and camcorders were introduced to the general population. Little by little, the door began to open up for more people to shoot video footage. At the same time, thanks to the good ol’ internet, notable digital marketplaces like DVarchive, iStockphoto, Alamy, Shutterstock, Fotolia, and Pond5 (among many others) launched in the early to mid-2000s. iStock, Shutterstock, Alamy, and Fotolia focused mainly on photos, while DVarchive and Pond5 concentrated primarily on video.
Stock shooters began to upload their digital and digitized media to these marketplaces, which were still mainly filled with people already in the industry. These emerging “microstock*” marketplaces completely disrupted the traditional stock video market by giving artists more control over their work and allowing them to reach customers directly to sell their footage. Pond5 then took it a step further and became the first marketplace to let the artists dictate their prices! (Few notable marketplaces still allow artists to set the licensing price for their work).
The Game-Changing DSLR
Then in 2008, the Canon 5D Mk II came on the scene, and an explosion of stock video and stock videographers began to flood the market with high-quality video. The large sensor and ability to use DSLR lenses allowed for cinema-quality video with the ever-coveted shallow depth of field. All these features were in a small, lightweight package that was relatively affordable for most people. This camera also allowed filmmakers to quickly and easily swap lenses for even more versatility. I can’t stress enough how much the 5D Mk II lowered the entry point for so many filmmakers and content creators.
The 5D also became an additional tool for many big-budget and notable filmmakers, credited in films like 127 Hours, Black Swan, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Mad Max: Fury Road. This camera was so successful that it spawned an entire DSLR filmmaking and accessories industry.
Stock Goes Mainstream
As time progressed, the continual updates in camera technology and the freedom to shoot, upload, and sell your video directly to consumers resulted in astronomical growth for the stock video industry. The sheer number of clips uploaded to stock marketplaces and the proliferation of online shopping increased the market exponentially. Cinematographers, production companies, graphic artists, and other creatives (or anyone with a camera!) can now go out with the explicit intention of shooting video to sell later. They could also repurpose older footage stored on their hard drives and give it a second life.
On the other side of the business, customers also capitalized on the more affordable, easy-to-access videos helping the stock media industry grow to $4.68 billion in 2021. Today you’ll find stock media used in everything from big-budget film productions to YouTube videos and everything in between.
*Microstock is stock content that is lower-priced than traditional agencies, is shot and uploaded by amateurs and hobbyists as well as professionals, and is usually licensed royalty-free. (More on “royalty-free” later).