Photography: The moving image

Advertising agencies have long used stock images as a creative last resort. However, the image libraries think they can offer more to the creative process than a quick fix, Suzel Pitty writes.

Perceptions often bear little relation to reality. This is certainly true of the stock moving image market, which is doing pretty well despite a less-than-glowing reputation.

Stock footage libraries offer less creative freedom, less choice, are difficult to use and rarely have what art directors are looking for, or so the theory goes. "If you try to cut stock footage with the product it never looks the same, as it's not shot in the same style. In the end, you think it is just easier to shoot it," Russell Ramsey, a creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, argues.

Of course, the footage libraries say the opposite. It's much easier to stock than to shoot, they argue. Luke Beecham, the head of production at, recalls a presentation by one of the big image libraries. "They were intimating that you would buy 30-40 per cent of your commercial as footage and shoot the rest. But from my point of view, that's the tail wagging the dog." For him, there is more to making an ad than assembling images. "There is still the fun and spontaneity of going somewhere and capturing something a bit different," he says.

Ramsey's experience with a famous image source was hardly favourable.

The BBC's libraries, he recalls, were "notoriously difficult, as you just can't use their stock, particularly if you need to get hold of it quickly".

But on 24 June 2004, this all changed when BBC Worldwide launched the BBC Motion Gallery. This provides online access to 10,000 moving images from the BBC and CBS News archives for the first time. Simon Gibbs, its managing director, sees a distinction from other stock footage. "It defines a look, a feel and sense of realism not typical of most stock material," he claims.

"Stock footage is designed for a particular purpose to fill a particular gap, shot to order," he continues, "while creative quality is inherent in broadcast archive. Our stuff is shot for the programme, therefore it tends to be more realistic."

The use is varied, with BBC Wales footage being used by Pepsi-Cola in an ad for Mountain Dew and BBC footage of salmon in Kit Kat's "salmon" by J. Walter Thompson, directed by Peter Cattaneo through Academy.

The Kit Kat ad was a nominee in this year's Focal Awards for Best Use of Stock Footage. A trade association representing commercial film and audiovisual stills and sound libraries across 23 countries, Focal introduced its award scheme this year to recognise the contribution of footage libraries and archive sources to creative media.

In the category of Best Use of Footage in an Advertisement, Publicis won with "park the TV", its aesthetic vision of 50s Americana and "retro cool" for Renault Scenic. Adam Kean, one half of the Publicis creative team (with Alex Taylor), describes the project: "The idea was to have boring daytime TV footage and old films. We thought it would be easy to find but it was quite a painful process."

The pain is in a scarcity of choice, most often for copyright reasons.

"There are not that many pieces that have been passed and are available for use. When we said we wanted a hundred different black-and-white films, they came back with seven. We were quite surprised at how little we could choose from without ringing up Hollywood studios and negotiating with them."

He recalls wanting to use stock footage of The Jerry Springer Show and use shots of the audience clapping. "We would have to get in contact with every member of the audience to get clearance," he says. Footage such as The Jerry Springer Show tends not to be cleared when filmed, whereas natural history footage has obvious potential to be sold on.

But it is not just about awards and Focal is keen to address concerns through stronger links between creatives and the stock libraries. At its footage fair in London on 7 July, Focal introduced a "speed dating" footage fair, with libraries from Getty and Corbis to Images of War and National Geographic showing their best footage in ten minutes and going head to head with the potential clients of 80-90 researchers and producers.

The impetus is for stock footage to be brought into the creative process much earlier, strongly echoed by Nathalie Banaigs at Moving Image Communications.

"My feeling is that ad agencies aren't as creative as I thought they would be in using stock footage. They come to us with a precise idea of what they want, they even send a storyboard most of the time and we have to find the images that match what they want," she says. The ideal would be to discuss the idea and be able to make suggestions for what footage should be used, but "that doesn't appear to happen very often", she complains.

Perhaps big hitters such as Getty and Corbis can lead the way and shift perceptions. Initiatives such as Getty's Big Idea, an investigation into the impact of new methods of film-making, are geared to do just that.

The Big Idea started when Getty teamed up with seven directors and made a 60-second film.

For Getty, the aim was for its stock footage to be an inspirational creative resource, rather than a last-minute solution to a filming problem. Lewis Blackwell, Getty Images' senior vice-president of creative, says: "We need to change people's perceptions. It's amazing how few people in the commercials production space know what's available and what you can do with it."

One such big idea, "the hog hole" from Julian Gibbs, a director at Intro, builds an intriguing dream world using tongue-in-cheek elements of Getty stock.

Gibbs' method of film-making is about creating worlds from different sources: "We augment shoot footage built out of half-a-dozen types of archive material that we have recontexturalised, whether it's a street in the 30s or a time-lapse sky from Nevada. Yes, it's a stylistic way of using footage but it shows a better understanding of its creative potential."

Big Idea is part of an ongoing mission at Getty to creep further upstream in the creative process and to press home the value stock footage can bring. Getty's main rival, Corbis, is thinking along the same lines. Its footage library, Corbis Motion, has launched in New York and will roll out in the UK this year. Giles Howard, its managing director, says that while about 60 per cent of Corbis' revenue is from editorial clients, he expects the commercial world to catch up and soon make the split 50:50.

But it is not just about buying the stock. Howard and his Getty counterpart are delighted to learn of creative sabotage, with ad agencies using search tools to find images for creative brainstorming. It is just the approach that might change perceptions and revamp the way agencies start the creative process.



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