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How to Use Stock Footage

There are a variety of ways to use stock footage in your productions, whether you need archival film of a major historical event, special effects on a budget, or an establishing shot of a distant city. In today's media and entertainment industries, stock footage is used constantly to save time and money, even at the largest Hollywood studios. This footage can be used for news stories, big-budget movies, commercials, documentaries, and virtually any other visual medium you can think of. Below, we've defined the main stock footage types, the best places to find that footage, and how to utilize it in your work.

Types of Stock Footage
There are two main types of stock clips: public domain and copyrighted. Public domain footage is available for anyone to use, and this includes historical archives in the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as free (non-commercial) offerings from sources like Getty Images.

On the other hand, copyrighted stock footage requires the user to pay a fee for licensing rights, and the majority of this content is created by professional videographers. Stock footage houses like Shutterstock offer millions of clips for royalty-free use, which means a filmmaker or news outlet pays a one-time fee and then has the right to employ the clip as many times as they like. 

How Do I Find Quality Stock Footage?
Besides government web archives and places like Shutterstock, we highly recommend the Internet Moving Image Archive. This vast collection of feature films, news programs, animation, and general stock footage is free for anyone to enjoy. However, if you're looking for HD or 4K stock videos, you'll probably have to pay for them. With the democratizing force of the Internet, though, quality stock footage is much more accessible (and affordable) to anyone with a computer. 

Typical Uses of Stock Footage

  • When a particular shot is too expensive to film from scratch, or you don't have the resources (i.e. crew, camera, location) to pull it off. 

  • When it serves the storyline while not being distracting. For example, if you're creating a documentary about food in the 21st century, using some stock clips of farmers and crops can help speed up the production process, without detracting from your vision.

  • When you need an establishing shot, but are actually filming the majority of scenes in a different location. For example, the TV show Friends was actually shot in Los Angeles, but every episode starts out with establishing shots of New York City.

  • When you've already finished the production process and realize that one of your clips is unusable, or you need to fill some extra time. In the news media, any supplemental footage is known as "b-roll", and it can be invaluable when you need an educational or archival clip to illustrate a point.

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