Stock footage

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Stock footage, and similarly, archive footage, library pictures and file footage is film or video footage that can be used in other films. Stock footage is beneficial to filmmakers as it saves shooting new material. A single piece of stock footage is called a "stock shot" or a "library shot".[1] Stock footage may have appeared in previous productions but may also be outtakes or footage shot for previous productions and not used. Examples of stock footage which might be utilized are moving images of cities and landmarks, wildlife in their natural environments and historical footage. Suppliers of stock footage may be either rights-managed or royalty-free. Many websites offer direct downloads of clips in various formats.


Stock footage companies began to emerge in the mid-1980s, offering clips mastered on Betacam SP, VHS and film formats. Many of the smaller libraries that specialized in niche topics such as extreme sports, technological or cultural collections were bought out by larger concerns such as Corbis or Getty Images over the next couple of decades.

Movies and television[edit]

Stock footage can be used to integrate news footage or notable figures into a film. For instance, the Academy Award-winning film Forrest Gump used stock footage extensively, modified with computer generated imagery to portray the lead character meeting such historic figures such as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon.

Videographer captures stock footage of a passing train outside Las Vegas: photograph by Patty Mooney.

News programs use film footage from their libraries when more recent images are not available. Such usage is often labeled on-screen with an indication that the footage being shown is file footage.

Television and movies series also often recycle footage taken from previous installments. For instance, the Star Trek franchise kept a large collection of starships, planets, backgrounds and explosions which would appear on a regular basis throughout Star Trek's five series and ten films, being used with minimal alteration. That kept production costs down as models, mattes, and explosions were expensive to create. The advances in computer graphics in the late 1990s and early 2000s helped to significantly reduce the cost of Star Trek's production, and allowed for a much wider variety of shots than previous model and painting based visuals.

Some series, particularly those made for children, such as Power Rangers or Teletubbies, reuse footage that is shown in many episodes.[citation needed] Meant for a young audience, the approach increases viewers' familiarity between shows. This introduces problems such as the requirement to, for example, wear the same clothing and inconsistency can sometimes become a problem. When cleverly filmed it is possible to avoid many of these problems.

Many broadcast shows use stock-footage clips as establishing shots of a particular city, which imply that the show is shot on location when in fact, it may be shot in a backlot studio. One or two establishing shots of an exotic location such as the Great Wall of China, Easter Island or French Polynesia will save production companies the major costs of transporting crew and equipment to those actual locations.

Stock footage is often used in commercials when there is not enough money or time for production. More often than not these commercials are political or issue-oriented in nature. Sometimes it can be used to composite moving images which create the illusion of having on-camera performers appear to be on location. B-roll is also another common term for stock footage and is used in reference to film making.

Stock footage that appears on television screens or monitors shown in movies or television shows is referred to as "playback." In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which was written by and starring Will Ferrell as a San Diego news anchor, the studio purchased archival 1970s clips from San Diego stock footage firm New & Unique Videos. The playback footage of a hurricane featured in Disney's Smart House came from the vaults of the same San Diego firm.[2][citation needed]

Corporate usage[edit]

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, USMC, performs in San Diego, 2011: still shot from stock footage clip.

Companies throughout the world use stock footage in their video productions for in-house meetings, annual conventions, seminars and other events. It has become popular to videotape interviews of CEO's and other VIPs using a green screen backdrop. When the green is keyed out during post-production, stock footage or stock shots are inserted, to impart a particular message.

Public domain[edit]

One of the largest producers of public domain stock footage is the United States government. All videos produced by the United States military, NASA, and other agencies are available for use as stock footage. There are a number of companies that own the copyrights to large libraries of stock footage and charge filmmakers a fee for using it, but they rarely demand royalties. Stock footage comes from a myriad of sources; including the public domain, other movies and television programs, news outlets and purpose-shot stock footage.


HD versus SD[edit]

Betacam SP, VHS and early digital footage was shot in Standard Definition, in 4:3 aspect ratio, whereas the more contemporary format, HD, has a 16:9 aspect ratio, like film. From the earliest days of the emergence of HD, there has been an ongoing controversy about whether HD would dwarf and eventually snuff out SD footage. Many stock-footage companies and producers were concerned that their libraries would become irrelevant.[3]


QuickTime File Format is a popular digital container format now in use for non-linear editing system applications such as Avid, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia, Crowell, 1979. ISBN 978-0690012040
  2. ^
  3. ^ Careless, James (2010-01-06). "Does standard-def stock footage still play in a high-def game?". Digital Video magazine. Archived from the original on 2010-02-10. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  4. ^ WPA Film Library

Further reading[edit]

  • Bernard, S.C. and Rabin, K. Archival Storytelling: A Filmmaker's Guide to Finding, Using, and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music. Focal Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-240-80973-1