Using Stock Footage for a Bigger Budget Effect

Here’s a great tip from William Martell’s blog on how to give a low-budget film a big-budget feel:  Use stock footage. 

In his blog, Martell writes about a writing gig, that ended up going bust, in which the producer was supposedly looking for a script to fit a facilities deal he had.  What’s a facilities deal?  According to Martell, “a facilities deal is a studio that will give you equipment, studio space, standing sets, and often crew in exchange for a cut of the film.  Most of these deals are outside the USA, many in ex-Soviet countries (including Russia) and places like the Philippines and Mexico.  Anywhere where the film biz was booming at one time and now it is not.”   

Martell goes on to explain how he tries to make the most of the sets and  props that the facility has.  He writes:  “One of the issues with any facility deal is that to best use what they have, you need to stretch it. Just like any other backlot, they may have some street sets and some buildings, and then all kinds of cool standing sets on the soundstages. But you need that bit of stock footage of New York to sell that New York Street Set. You need some Paris stock footage to sell the European Street Set. And if you do a little bit of re-dressing and use a piece of Rome stock footage, your story can do a little globe trotting without any real cost.”

So how does using stock footage make a low-budget film look bigger?  Martell explains how he incorporates stock footage into his scripts:  “When you are writing scripts on a budget, you start to look for things that can stretch that budget – so that you can write a script that looks like a big studio film that can still be made on the producer’s budget…You didn’t want the audience to think your $3 million film cost $3 million. You want them to think it cost $100 million. So you learn to keep your eye out for anything that adds production value. I see a film with ‘harvestable’ stock footage, and I remember it. In this case, I was looking for stock footage that had been used at least once before in an inexpensive film – that way I know it’s cheap.” 

Where do you find stock footage?  Martell says that “you want to find great footage from a film that completely flopped. George Lucas isn’t going to sell you footage from STAR WARS (starring Mark Hammill) but you might be able to buy some of that great sci-fi footage from SLIPSTREAM (starring Mark Hammill). The bigger the film flopped, the more likely the producers want to make a buck or two selling someone stock footage…The biggest mistake you can make when thinking of stock footage is to consider material from a film that made money. You need to *only* look at big flops.”

What a great tip for us independent filmmakers who are looking to stretch our budgets!