It’s not often that LA-based Digital Cinema Society President James Mathers makes it to the East Coast for an event. But this past week at B & H’s presentation space, he headed a panel that looked into how stock footage offers income opportunities for cinematographers, as well as trends in production and post that will impact folks as our industry starts to incorporate 4K workflows and beyond.
If you're not familiar with the Digital Cinema Society, that might be because the nonprofit group pulls the majority of its membership from the West Coast. It does boast members from around the world, however, and there’s some hope that more events will take place on the East Coast. Now in its 10th year, DCS functions as a educational cooperative and offers discounts, sponsors seminars and generally helps get the word out on the latest digital trends that would be important to its membership of DPs, editors, producers and tech management.
Mathers was joined by Tom Spota, director of Video Acquisition at Shutterstock, the New York-based stock photo/video agency and marketplace (i.e. you can license your footage to them, which they then sell for you); Michael Cioni, the raconteur CEO/co-founder of digital production data wrangling company Light Iron; and Mark Forman, a DP/still photographer who is also a DCS advisory board member. Michel Suissa, manager of workflow solutions at B&H’s Pro division, set up a Sony F55 for a short demo he had put together.
Mark Forman spoke a bit about the issues a freelance photographer and cinematographer faces when working in a big busy city like ours. In trying to build up photos for his stock photo portfolio, Forman makes use of every opportunity, he said, which includes working with what's available, including shooting City skylines from his rooftop in various types of weather.
In today's litigious world, stock footage sellers need be conscious of the buildings they are shooting as well as crowds on the street, he noted. If your images separate out one particular building and concentrate on details of the façade for example, a building owner could come after you for infringement. If you are shooting on the streets, Mark said, be careful to either shoot crowds of people or else a totally empty street. If you only have one or two people within the shot you'll asked to provide model releases before you are allowed to post on most stock footage sites.
Shooting at 24p in full 4K resolution was the best way to future proof your footage, Forman said. But making sure you retain 100-percent ownership could be even more crucial to further future proofing your footage, he added.
With a background in production at Fox Sports and Major League Baseball, Tom Spota is not an exec clueless as to how production and the stock market work closely together. Spota has built Shutterstock’s video library to 1.1 million video clips, with some 8000 additional clips coming in to the company’s servers each week.
Spota noted that a huge market exists for stock footage, one that might not be apparent to someone in production looking to expand his or her income opportunities. Shoot extra footage when you’re on a set or out in a unique location, since you can market to small business owners. Shooters who target small businesses are smart, since they turn out to be the big buyers of stock footage in the end.
The vast majority of businesses in the U.S. are considered small in that they have 500 or fewer employees. They don’t typically have the budget to hire ad agencies, so they rely on either freelancers or small in-house departments to create their web advertising, for example.
Shutterstock pours a considerable amount of its budget into developing the capabilities of its site. Search, as you can imagine, is key. Here users can search via an increasing number of criteria, such as color, vectors, and backgrounds. Anyone hoping to license their footage to the site can also find out — after they sign up for a free contributor account — what are the most popular styles of images that are in constant demand. (Spoiler alert: anything with models doing something generic but interesting.)
Shutterstock isn't some virtual, anonymous company either; they have their offices in New York, and will in fact be upping their game by moving into a couple floors of the Empire State building by January.
Did you know that YouTube can play back 4K video? While the pickings are still paltry, that’s the future said Michael Cioni, who moved here this past winter to open the East Coast offices of Light Iron, his successful post and production operation. Light Iron makes roll on carts for production that include RAW backup, LUT application (so that DPs, directors and others can check each take), and burning of DVDs for review.
Michael Cioni is gaining a rep for his penchant for making any of his chances to speak into learning opportunities for those attending. Luckily he’s good at it, and so kept the audience engrossed as he described 4K as “ho hum” (we’ve all already accepted it as a given) and that’s something incredible, since not long ago it was HD resolution that finally became “normal” after a decade and a half of development.
Meanwhile, RED’s new Dragon sensor is delivering 6K, Cioni noted, while their RedRay device is the first to plug and play device to deliver 4K to 4K monitors and projectors.
So how do you future-proof anything you shoot? It’s not only important to shoot in 4K, but making sure you record in RAW, and not a compressed format of any kind, is key. “Otherwise you are baking-in limits to your footage that can never be regained,” said Cioni. Another tip? Never place your video black at zero, as this is another limit that can hold the value of your footage back at some point in the future.
B&H’s Michel Suissa did a quick demo with the Sony F55, panning around the room as he shot a few 4K takes. His proof of concept? A simple Mac Pro setup running Assimilate's color-grading software was able to immediately ingest the massive files and play them back immediately. No sitting and waiting for lengthy transcodes as was necessary even a few years ago.
This really is, as Michael Cioni said, a golden age for cinema production.