During pre-production, you'll often begin the search for assets prior to the documentary shoot. These include things like archival images, stock footage, personal photos and so on. This video discusses many specific aspects of searching for material in the public domain; items with a creative commons license; items within stock footage libraries, and more.
- During pre-production, you'll often begin the search for documentary assets. In this case, I'm talking about assets that are not shot by the production crew, things like archival images, stock footage, personal photos, and so on. Certainly, the editor may be in charge of asset gathering in post-production, but well-organized producers often start this process early on. Let's first talk about some archival materials. Many films can benefit from materials that exist in the public domain, which, fortunately, is free.
Public domain works are intellectual property in which there is no current valid copyright holder on the material because exclusive intellectual property rights have been expired, forfeited, or are inapplicable. Most of the time, this means that the material is older. There are quite a few places you can go to find public domain material, and here are a list of a few popular choices. Now, as you search these types of sites, you do need to be careful that what you find is actually public domain.
Most of these sites curate material in various ways, but vetting each and every piece of material for actually being in the public domain is impossible. So think of these sites as a gateway to finding possible public domain material and then do some additional research to make sure that it really is free and clear to use. Another resource I want to mention is Creative Commons. Creative Commons is an American non-profit organization dedicated to making it easier for people to make creative works available for others to use, share, and even modify.
Creative Commons has released several copyright licenses to allow creators to indicate exactly which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of others. And often, those waived rights allow others to obtain the work free of charge. Here's a chart of each of the Creative Commons licenses. As you can see, there are quite a few different Creative Commons licenses, each with different parameters of use. So it can be a great resource, but definitely realize that Creative Commons licenses don't mean that you can just take the material and use it however you like.
You do have to meet certain requirements. Another reminder, though: just as with public domain material, Creative Commons material is sometimes erroneously categorized as Creative Commons. So do your diligence and track down the origin of the material to verify that it really does have a Creative Commons license. Now, beyond public domain and Creative Commons material, you may choose to use images from a stock footage library.
There are quite a few different stock footage libraries, and each has different costs and different rules. Here's a list of just a few popular stock footage libraries. I'd like to briefly go over some of the general basics in terms of stock footage licenses, but just know that if you choose to use stock footage, you'll likely have to do additional research to figure out exactly how you can use the material. Now, there are royalty-free licenses, which allow you to use material for an unlimited number of projects for an unlimited duration worldwide.
Obviously, this grants a lot of versatility and flexibility. There are also rights-managed licenses. Material with this type of license is licensed per project, defined by specifications related to what type of show it's for, how you're going to use it, who the audience is, and how long you need it. The advantage of rights-managed material are that they're often a lot more unique in terms of style and content than royalty-free material.
It also allows you to license for only the uses that you need. With rights-managed material, you may also be able to purchase exclusive rights, which means that the stock library would remove the material from their collection going forward. Usually, each clip within the library will contain a release status, which defines how the item may be used legally based on the permissions granted. For example, there's commercial use, which allows users to use the clips in many different types of commercial or editorial context, including online or broadcast commercials, corporate videos, documentary or journalistic videos, feature length and short films, websites, and more.
There is also editorial use, which has a lot more restrictions. Editorial clips often feature shots with recognizable faces, buildings, or locations, but may not provide model or property releases. Therefore, they may only be used in editorial contexts such as news documentaries or non-fiction shorts. I very much prefer editorial content, though, because it's often much realer and more genuine than commercial content. So for example, in the context of our film, I'd be able to get footage of actual soldiers, rather than actors dressing up as soldiers.
So if I find some old footage from another film, documentary, news footage, or website, then I just need to track down the owners of the footage to determine what their terms might be. It's often just a matter of reaching an agreement through negotiation, making sure that you get all the right property releases signed, and often, a documentary will have an asset budget that allows for the purchase and release rights for copyrighted material. Again, gathering assets is a very important task, and can be done at many different stages of the filmmaking process.
But having a good asset gathering plan at the pre-production phase is a great way to start the process off right and to equipment the editor with a lot of valuable material going into the edit.
- Developing a documentary idea
- Pitching an idea
- Writing a documentary proposal
- Planning and executing the research
- Conducting research and pre-interviews
- Developing pre-production materials
- Gathering non-production assets