At the Digital Media Licensing Association conference we got to take the pulse of the licensing business and hear from footage research and licensing professionals about the specific challenges we face in our industry and some tips for effective licensing. Though professional archive researchers for the film and TV industry have connections with footage libraries they’ve built over the years, directors are relying more and more on YouTube links, and not all productions have access to professional researchers. A panel discussion led by FOCAL International‘s Mary Egan gave some industry pros a chance to share their thoughts.
“There’s the correct way: get a professional,” said Avery Fox, VICE Media’s Head of Archival. “Then there’s the amateur way, which is more and more the way it’s happening. Everyone has some Google skills. So often edits are already being build with image pulls and YouTube rips. People look at the internet. It’s a nightmare for proper clearance. The average [producer] has the research skill set to acquire, but not necessarily to clear material.”
“50% of the time I have ample time [to clear material],” said award-winning archive researcher and producer Rosemary Rotondi. “The rest of the time, you’re getting frantic phone calls. They’re locking picture and need YouTube stuff cleared. It’s the needle in the haystack.”
“If your project unfolds over time, the research will inform other creative decisions and smart to examine different aspects of the story that they may not have thought of before,” she goes on. “When it’s last minute, there’s only so much you can do on YouTube.”
A few other central themes of the footage licensing panel discussions at DMLA, were the increasing role of online platforms in the production process – especially for quick turnaround formats with young producers at the helm – and how to deal properly with footage sources to meet the legal needs of one’s production.
“For programs on a short timeframe, click-to-buy is crucial sometimes,” Fox said. “Direct-to-social stories are 24-hour productions.” For some applications he thinks click to buy will be a standard. However, “for anything more in depth or obscure, there is no substitution to working with a rep who knows their collection,” he said.
“If you don’t have a professional researcher it’s easier to give the logins to someone and know you won’t be sued,” said Cristina Lombardo, VICE Media’s Head of Rights and Clearances in London, of the utility of the click-to-buy model. “Even vendors that are news heavy are making royalty free selections ready to download.”
However, the click-to-buy model hasn’t completely caught up to the needs of a documentary industry seeing a spike in demand for archive-based films. Working with professional researchers and dealing directly with archive footage vendors seems to be here to stay.
“It makes sense to reach out to us,” said Bobby Dicks, Senior Director of Sales and Licensing at the CNN Collection, “because you never know what is there. We have 400,000 clips on our site, but you’re still missing out on a bunch of stuff. We have millions items in our collection.” From the web perspective he says everything is based on per-clip sales. “It often makes more sense to reach out to us,” he said. We can help you find the best material for your production and we can offer some flexibility in the licensing and price negotiations.”
“Maybe 35%-45% of my work is digital, then I get in touch with reps and get into the deep research” Rotondi said.
Rotondi said she negotiates legal terms for her clients, and can do so because she has years of contacts and is able to work directly with the footage libraries. “I always feel like that’s going to get me the fairest deal,” she said. “I get clients who want to fair use everything, but I really thinks the image needs to match the power of the story. The purity and power of the image should be respected. Licensing is the best option.”
When asked for some advice on how to best approach footage vendors, Dicks said, “Know what you’re looking for. Have some locations and dates. Visuals with accurate metadata help us find the right material.”
“If you give us more time, we will find exactly what you’re looking for,” he adds. “But with time we also take a consultative approach. We can suggest material and be helpful.”