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Tips for Using Stock Footage

Stock footage can be an incredible help when producing video clips and longer productions. Hollywood uses it, indie filmmakers use it, and rising YouTube stars use it too, so don't think that reusing stock makes you a lazy artist. In fact, there are highly creative ways to employ stock footage, whether it be for historical purposes, parody, homage, or to achieve a certain effect that you couldn't afford otherwise. Below, we've outlined some common-sense tips for using these handy clips in your next visual work.

Seek Out Believable Footage
First, you need to find clips that look and feel realistic, so that they don't distract from the rest of your project. Stock footage can vary wildly, with some clips that look stilted and poorly staged, and others that would fit in an episode of Planet Earth. 

When selecting footage, consider the subjects, costume choices, location, and broader art direction to make sure that they feel believable to your film's visual world. For example, if you're creating a fantastical narrative, then your stock footage shouldn't feel mundane or use drab colors. Each project is different, so the director must use their best judgment.

Look for Similar Quality and Resolution
Likewise, the quality of your stock footage should not be vastly different from your original clips, unless they're necessary for a specific visual effect (i.e. a VHS tape playing on a TV, or a camera feed on a security system). Before searching for stock clips, find out the find resolution of your video project (i.e. 1080p). Have a conversation about this with your editor and cinematographer. Then, seek out footage that matches your resolution as closely as possible.  

If Possible, Credit the Creator
Though you may have purchased a royalty-free license to use a stock clip as much as you like, it's still good form to cite the original creator in some capacity. It's also safer, because your license may have an attribution rule that you overlooked. All it takes is one line in the "Special Thanks" section of your ending credits. There, you can mention the stock footage company and/or the contributor.  

Don't Overdo It
Similarly, a royalty-free license may entitle you to repeatedly use a stock clip in your movie, but that doesn't mean you should. Your ultimate goal should be creating the best video possible, and that means you can't disrespect your audience by recycling the exact same clip. However, certain situations (i.e. a documentary or news segment) may require you to fill the voiceover time. If you absolutely must reuse a clip, it might be a good idea to tweak it with a subtle filter or play it at a different speed, so feel free to experiment.    

Learn the Licensing Rules
Finally, do your due diligence and read the fine print before using any stock footage. Every license agreement is different, so take time to understand your rights. It's much better to learn about a strange clause in your contract before committing to using the footage, as there might be a situation that prevents you from using a particular clip. Perhaps the stock footage company finds the subject matter inappropriate, or they have certain rules about using their footage internationally. Do your homework first, and save yourself from a headache later.

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