Today on the show we have the Stock Footage Yoda James Forsher. James has nearly forty years of experience in producing, writing, and directing documentaries and television commercials. Forsher's productions, ranging from half-hour shows to feature-length documentaries, have aired on the Discovery Channel, The Movie Channel, Cinemax, A & E, and PBS.
Forsher's productions range from this year's hour-long show Elvis and the Girl from Vienna back to his 1977 documentary Conrad Hilton: Insight into a Giant. Forsher has also taught film and video production at the college and university level for nearly two decades directed the broadcast program at California State University, East Bay, and has taught communication courses as a Fulbright Scholar in Europe.
His new book Stock Footage + Everything Under the Sun: Using Archival Material to Make Your Good Film Great is the bible of stock footage. It is the only book that gives an overview of the use of archival footage and how it played an expanding and crucial role in documentary and TV films. Readers learn how to research images and clear the rights.
- Part One is an overview of archival footage, reviewing exactly what constitutes archival material and how it fits within the broader history of film and TV production. It also introduces the areas of research and legal parameters to the reader.
- Part Two examines the variety of styles of entertainment programming that use archival footage, including separate sections on network magazine formats, cable reality shows, webisodes, PBS documentaries, feature-length documentaries, and how documentaries can sway public opinion. Each Part offers interviews with experts who give a realistic idea of how they’ve used stock footage in their own work.
- Part Three covers Visual Literacy 101, a short course on how to “read” a film. By looking at only a few seconds of footage, one can deduce some very important facts about the film. This part makes a detective out of any researcher or editor who is determined to find the most authentic setting and context for their film.
- Part Four discusses how to use archival footage, writing a script that includes archival material, editing archival material, negotiating rights and budgeting constraints.
If you ever wanted to know how to get, use or sell stock and archival footage for your film get ready to take notes.
Enjoy my conversation with James Forsher.
Alex Ferrari 1:51
Today on the show, we have author and filmmaker, James Forsher. And he is the author of a new book called stock footage, everything under the sun, using archival material to make your good film Great. Now I've talked a little bit about stock footage in the past on the show. And it is a very powerful, powerful tool that you can put in your toolbox when making your films, your web series your content in general. And it is a lot of misinformation out there about what can you use what's fair use? What Where can you get good stock footage for an affordable price and all these kind of things and then the rights to each one and where you could do them. And also how you can generate a passive revenue stream by creating your own stock footage and selling it like our sponsor black box helps us out do so well. So there's so many things about stock footage, especially for young filmmakers and filmmakers just starting out to understand where stock footage is. And basically anybody in the film business to understand where stock footage is. And James and I go deep into what stock footage is, how can we use it, and how we can make our films better. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with James Forsher. I'd like to welcome to the show, James Forsher, man, how you doing?
James Forsher 3:06
Alex Ferrari 3:07
Thank you so much for doing the show. I really appreciate it.
James Forsher 3:10
Well, my pleasure. I'm glad to talk about all things archival material.
Alex Ferrari 3:14
Well, there is a ton I want to know about stock footage and about archival and all that kind of stuff. But before we get into it first, can you tell me a little bit about how you got into the business?
James Forsher 3:24
Um, I got in the business a couple of different ways. One is my mom was Elvis Presley Secretary from 1956 to 61. And then she awesome. Amanda Zucker, the second, who was the grandson of the founder of paramount and so they produce shows together. So I was kind of born to this whole environment, which was a plus and a minus. Because I saw the greatest things about the industry. I saw the worst things about the industry. I'm in college, they gave me a couple of interviews they had done with people that had just gone stealth and they didn't want to deal with it. And but for me, I thought as a Career Builder, if I want to get in this business, they were great. So one was an interview with Conrad Hilton. And so I finished my senior year at the University of California, Santa Cruz and aired on TV. So that was my first credit and I hadn't even graduated yet. And then the second was an interview with Zuko, who started Paramount Studios, and he kind of a life history of the film industry, actually was my first film I spent about a year year and a half kind of learning how to make a film making that and that's what introduced me to archival material.
Alex Ferrari 4:33
Very cool. Now your book is called stock footage, everything under the sun using archival material to make a good film. Great. It's a lengthy title, but a great one.
James Forsher 4:46
I didn't come up with it. The publisher gwec did I mean it really covers it, I mean, pretty much started stock footage, but there's 25 other chapters but every other type of archival material actually does go Possibly into your film or creative project?
Alex Ferrari 5:03
Well, let's talk about stock footage. Can you explain to the audience what stock footage is? in general?
James Forsher 5:08
Yeah. Anything from the very first film shot like 1893, up to something that was shot this morning, it is now in the closet, because what do you do with it? It covers everything that exists. And so when you're looking for material for a shot, and you don't have a camera, and you can't go run outside and go shoot it, you got to find it from someplace. And that falls under what we call the archival material houses, stock houses. So you're always looking for material, it's always past tense, it gets a little philosophical, but that's kind of what really is going on here.
Alex Ferrari 5:47
Now, and is there a big difference between the term archival footage because when I think archival footage, I'm thinking old black and white, you know, old school stuff, you're not thinking of things that were just shot a day ago?
James Forsher 5:58
Exactly. And that's one of the misconceptions. And one of the reasons I wrote the book, because I had produced for, you know, I mean, for almost 40 years, and I had spent 20 years teaching to, and most of my students 95%. And when I mentioned archival livestock, they would go, but that's great old stuff is public domain. And that's about as far as it went. And it's, that's like one quarter of 1% of 1% majority of it is everything else Gone with the Wind. Well, if you need a shot of flying monkeys, good place to go. And, you know, man on the moon, that's another piece of stock footage. It's all under stock footage. The broader term is archival footage, same thing, but archival material encompasses the whole wide world of existing creative stuff. Graphics, music, sound effects, still photos, newsreels.
Alex Ferrari 6:54
You know, it's massive, it's a massive amount of mass within.
James Forsher 6:58
And so the whole point of the book was a real primer introduction to this massive world in bite sized pieces. So the filmmakers could look at this and go, Oh, God, okay, I can do this. I can get this I can grab this. And suddenly, I think projects become a lot more interesting, because you can put a lot more stuff in it to tell your story.
Alex Ferrari 7:17
So you mentioned Gone with the Wind, which I think you meant Wizard of Oz, because I don't remember flying monkeys and Gone with the Wind. Oh, no. They should go with the winners and other Philby flying monkeys in you know? Yeah. So how would you? So then how would you go about, you know, calling MGM up and going, Hey, I would like to get a scene from Gone with the Wind for my dock or for my narrative feature that I want to playing in the background or something along those lines? How would you go about because I will talk a little bit about more of the standard stock footage, like go into a stock footage files and things like that. But for films I'm really curious about especially famous ones,
James Forsher 7:55
Famous films are funny little story unto themselves, because you think the studios would be happy to be able to license and make 1,000,002 million, 3 million a year. Some studios are some studios love to have a few million, some studios, oh, they can't be bothered. And they will not license it out unless you're a friend of a friend of a friend. So for example, when I got started back in the early 80s, we needed material from Warner Brothers. And I called the contact I had who was very grouchy and who knows, I don't know if I want to license you I don't want to deal with it. So I called the distributor that I was working with. And I said, Who do you know there? He says, I know the President I said can you call the president? Well, within a week, we had the footage, okay, at a rate of a third of what I could have bargained for. So part of it comes down to just calling the studio, which is all you can do and typically starts with a letter to the legal department. And the other part is if they give you a hard time copy, if you have a distributor, talk to them and find out who knows whom, because that also helps.
Alex Ferrari 8:59
And then licensing fees vary, I'm assuming
James Forsher 9:02
Yes. And let me go back to that last point. I can't stress enough to have a expert clip, licensed person do the work for you. It costs a little extra, it may cost you $502,000 for a typical job, but here's the deal. They already have the relationships in place, they already know the people. So you're buying that expertise without having to beg your distributor to do a favor. They may or may not be able to do so having a clip licensed person and I mentioned some in my book that will help you get through and get the right price because they'll be able to get you the price. They know a sphere.
Alex Ferrari 9:45
So it's a better price than what you could get probably if you just called up directly and they have no relationship with you.
James Forsher 9:51
Yeah, this is Pennywise pound foolish if you really have no money. Yeah, do it yourself and keep your fingers crossed. But if you have some money your budget, you just hire someone to do this part of the job because it really is a full time job unto itself. And these people who do it have done for years, they have relationships, relationships that go back years. And they know the prices. So they're really well worth acquiring.
Alex Ferrari 10:16
I worked on a film, excuse me in a show for Hulu. And I noticed that one of the characters had a image of john Carpenter's the thing, another thing, they live on it. And I asked the director and the producers of that, because I was working with him in post, I'm like, how did you get that? Like, you can't like how he's like, we called up the studio, and we go, Hey, we want to use an image for a T shirt. And it was fairly affordable, like extremely affordable, actually, for what they want. And they're like, yeah, we'll design it, just send us a send it over to us, and we'll approve it, and then just pay us and we're good. That's kind of how it works.
James Forsher 10:53
It can I did a discovery channel special, I needed a minute of walk the dinosaur from many years ago. Yeah, we just called it like it was Disney at the time and or whatnot. Well, that was another film. I called up the owner. And they said, Sure, you know, put it in because it's promotion. So a lot of times people are glad to give away things, let alone get money, if it falls into promoting their item, if it's available at that time.
Alex Ferrari 11:19
And it benefit you more if you're a bigger project, or to get that kind of giveaway stuff as opposed or they'll look at you and go, Oh, they have money so they can I can charge it. So it's a little double edged sword.
James Forsher 11:32
Yeah, well, they go by market. So if you sit there and say, one brother is distributing our feature length film worldwide, they'll say dollar dollar dollar. If you say we're doing a show for Hulu, they'll say half $1. And they'll know what's there and what works.
Alex Ferrari 11:50
Gotcha. Now can you give me a few examples of stock footage being used in successful projects that are like let's say feature films, because we all know Ken Burns, we all know doc documentaries, that's where archival kind of is known to be to make its bones, if you will. But for feature films, I don't I don't know any many of many examples.
James Forsher 12:10
Yeah, well, a lot of feature films use stock footage, it may simply be the scene where the actors walked into a hotel room. There's a TV on his on the television. And that comes from somewhere, you know, so that stock footage. I remember years ago, it was a film called Firestarter, I used to have our film division. And we sold them some 1920s footage we had and then just played in a television scene where she's watching television and going from channel to channel and I was one of the channels. So you know, that's
Alex Ferrari 12:44
And and you'd like to and that was footage that you owned,
James Forsher 12:46
Licensed yet. And so the the deal is what you always have to think of still images, music films, always think of the nasty lawyer will keep you honest. And this will keep making sure you do what you've got to do. You're covering your back, you're covering your back from the nasty lawyer. Also, it even goes beyond the nasty lawyer it can actually be the the trade councils of countries now the short story. years ago, I did a documentary. And we used a clip from a foreign film. And I did library Congress search, which is what everyone should do if they have they think they have a public domain piece of footage. Always request a library of congress research report to put in your errors and emissions report, which is the insurance package you get at the end of the film. And we did it aired on Discovery Channel. In the third year, the final airing, I get a call from a production company from this country or in country and they said you used our fuel illegally, and it's copyrighted, blah, blah, blah. So I said, Well, I think we have a misunderstanding. I sent him my library Congress report, which showed that I had done due diligence in the matter. I got calls every week from them demanding 1000s of dollars that they really wanted, you know, the money and we broke the law, blah, blah, blah. And he actually had the trade mission from that country call me in an edit session. I mean, it really was, wow, nasty stuff. And so finally, you know, I looked at him or told him on a phone call. You know, you I don't know if you're gonna understand this, but you can't get blood out of a turnip. And I hung up on him. I guess he talked to somebody who translated that to him, and they stopped calling. But the thing is, it was weeks worth of very nasty phone calls. And they were right. And I was writing meaning this was their film, but they hadn't properly copyrighted here. So I was able to use it. But it still didn't stop me from being, you know, harangue, I guess you call it.
Alex Ferrari 15:06
So let me ask you that because that's, that's something that's very interesting. And a lot of people kind of get lost in it. copywriting here in the US is one thing. But then there's copyrights in England, there's copyrights in France, there's copyrights all over the place. So if they want to see if a movie is made in the in an Australia, they'll copyright in Australia, but if but if they want to protect it in the US to have to have to copyright it in the US as well, correct?
James Forsher 15:33
Well, nowadays, a copyright. If you've never heard in the US, it's pretty, it's pretty much worldwide at this point. But what what happened was, for many, many years, the majority of time for the feature film history, there were two copyright conventions. It was the Berne Convention, which was Europe and Asia, whatever countries subscribed to it that the US did, US had its own copyright tribunal. And so if you come out here, yes, you would have to go and do a Berne Convention copyright and have the two copyrights. So what you'll find is there were films that were caught red in Europe, returned public domain here, like propolis. And it was a mess. And I think Finally, in the last decade or so, we signed on, and now it's a really is a worldwide convention.
Alex Ferrari 16:25
So So let me talk a little bit about stock footage, or public shaming public domain footage. Because I've had so many questions about this, like the Alfred Hitchcock collection, and Metropolis and Nosferatu and, of course, famously made a night of living dead, which is why it's on every television of every independent movie ever. Because public domain, but films like specifically like the Hitchcock collection, which they has, there's the British Hitchcock films, which is early on, like the lodger in Jamaica in and other things like that. Then they then there's the US version, from what I understand using his films, you could arguably use the British films here as public domain because they went public domain here in the States, but you cannot show it in England or anywhere that's accessible to England. Is that correct? not correct?
James Forsher 17:22
Well, it's a loaded question. And that's the book really talks about this. But in a nutshell, here's the deal. There's clear public domain, there's murky public domain, foreign films, I'd call that murky public domain, because it could have been shown here and they could have copyrighted under a different title. So they've been released overseas and one title and release. Here's another title. When it was released is a big issue. So when it was produced 75 years ago, it falls under the old copyright law, it was produced last 20 years, it pulls into the new one, the old one was 20 years with renewal. The new one is 75 years and 85 years and you know, 5000 years and you might as well consider it.
Alex Ferrari 18:15
Well never gonna see Mickey Mouse is basically never gonna see Steamboat Willie.
James Forsher 18:19
Cities are too powerful. So that's one area you really have to be careful about is is is it really public domain? Because someone says it is I always go by the Library of Congress research report. That's your backup again, think of the nasty attorney. Thank you protecting yourself from that lawsuit. And so if someone tells you it's public domain fine, but go get it for like at least like 10 or $12 per title, get it verified.
Alex Ferrari 18:50
Now if you but if you if you buy let's say one of these films from a library a stock stock House says hey, here's I got a pristine 35 millimeter print of the larger you know, which is and I can I could get it to you digitally or beta SP or Digi bait or whatever. And they tell me Hey, you know, you can play it here in the USB can't played in England. Is that something?
James Forsher 19:17
It's something but you know, think about your sales. I mean, nowadays your sales in the US are not what they were 20 years ago, right? The old days, you had video sales, you better pay cable, you had basic cable syndication, you had all these possibilities to make money now. You basically streaming thrown in and streaming and that pays bubkis. And so really the world is more your market nowadays. And so the dollars have changed. I would check to see if it is available overseas because the US is so small part of the market. I just finished a film sold all over Europe, but we couldn't make a sale here because of these rights issues and they were just too much spensive you,
Alex Ferrari 20:01
Really. So there was just footage that you used in the movie that just,
James Forsher 20:04
Yeah, well, expensive here. We're in Europe, they do it completely differently in Europe, you do a report, you turn it in, and it goes to royalty reports and pays it. We're here you have to license it directly from the music companies.
Alex Ferrari 20:20
Oh, so in other words, so yeah, basically, everybody, basically, you have all the music available to you in Europe. And it just like you just pay in the system, and the system pays them out.
James Forsher 20:30
I mean, every filmmaker in the US wishes that were that way here. But it kills it. I could not show this film. It's a good film. And I couldn't show the film The US because the license fees for the music loan, were probably three times what the most I could have gotten from a Netflix sale. Astronomical.
Alex Ferrari 20:47
Right? So if you wanted a Beatle song, or you want an Elvis song or something like that, you actually lit up the go to who owns the publishing
James Forsher 20:56
And performance right issues. And that's all us. So I did a film about Star Trek years ago in Germany, it was about three years ago. And I wanted to use the Alexander courage theme song. They started at $10,000. But yeah, he really, there's me, I don't know if you guys are chicken, but our documentaries from Netflix 10,000 is kind of not that far from the ballpark that would have barely paid for from
Alex Ferrari 21:25
Is that what is that what Netflix is paying, though?
James Forsher 21:27
Well, if you're lucky, Netflix was taking everything and now they're getting much, much, much easier.
Alex Ferrari 21:32
And then they're just being pickier with and then they're not paying a whole lot anymore.
James Forsher 21:36
Well, we never did pay that much. Remember, Netflix scale kills every cable sale, too. So you know,
Alex Ferrari 21:42
it's, it's the very last, then it's the last last thing you do.
James Forsher 21:47
So back to the book, the whole book, The reason why I wrote the book was to kind of explain all this, because as you kind of hearing, it's really
Alex Ferrari 21:55
It's murky, it's murky as heck.
James Forsher 21:57
And you got to know all the elements and know how to deal with them. And that's what I hopefully accomplished writing this thing.
Alex Ferrari 22:04
Now, where can where can filmmakers find stock footage that they're just looking for? Because now we were talking about archival footage, meaning films and things like that. But there is other kinds of archival footage. There's just stock footage in general, like if you need a aerial of New York City, you can go and find a play, you know, where do people go out and find that stuff?
James Forsher 22:24
Well, you know, I don't know how many students over the years said, let's just go to YouTube and download it. Okay. Let me explain the problem with the I'll just go to YouTube and download it.
Alex Ferrari 22:35
There's a few there's a there's a couple.
James Forsher 22:37
Yeah, I mean, it's it's it's been done. But here's the deal. Again, go back to that nasty attorney who's sitting right back yet. So you downloader from YouTube. You can letter the next week after releases. I'm I'm the nasty attorney, I represent the producer. And you took this producers YouTube copy without permission and showed. Okay, so what do you say? Well, it's public domain, and then the producer will come back and say prove it. So here's the deal. This is why you have archival footage, houses in studios, they write you a letter to license agreement, and they say we own it, or we own these rights. And we give it to you for this fee. So when that nasty attorney calls and you say, Well, I got this from Getty, or Corbis, or whoever, and I paid them two $3,000 for it. And they say they own it, you talk to them about your issues. So it's it's kind of like a legal protection. Exactly. Number two is if you do this, and if you really, you know, shot by shot, you go through it and make sure every shot you have is protected. The end of the day, if you have a film that's going to make some money, you have to have errors and omissions insurance. This is insurance where if someone actually does sue you, they will take care of it. So believe me as a producer, you want errors, omissions insurance, because when you get that nasty phone call where they actually do have some type of legal standing, you say talk to my insurance. And here's the phone number Good luck. And insurance people know how to deal with these people. And so because with insurance has done is they've gone through your script scene by scene and made sure you have protected yourself. So when the call comes they say every scene is licensed. We double checked it, you're wrong.
Alex Ferrari 24:26
So let me ask you about this lovely term called fair use. Yeah. Especially when it comes to documentary. It was I don't think you could do it for narrative but you can you can claim fair use and documentary a lot. Can you explain what fair use is and what are the limitations of fair use when dealing with archival?
James Forsher 24:47
My understanding of fair use is law permits for educational purposes. educating the public educating the audience usage of what is copyrighted material in Very short form. So you can take 10 2030 minutes of something and stick it in and say, well, it's very use, I mean, but if you use a 10 second 22nd clip within an educational environment of people or news reels, for example, TV news, oftentimes you'll see copyright images on your. Yeah, I mean, and they don't worry about because it is covered under the Fair Use protection. Where it gets murky is where Michael Moore does a film that makes $16 million and, or, or Sacha Baron Cohen. And they're saying, well, we're protected by fair use, because it's educational. So this is where you always have to think of that attorney. The attorney goes, Oh, you guys made $50 million last year on that film. And I'm sorry, this is not under fair use. This is entertainment. The success in the commercial market prove this is entertainment and not an educational mission. And there, they try to break that fair use argument. And so what you've got is the lawyers arguing, you're paying $400 an hour for the lawyers to argue the point. So what I always tell filmmakers, and I told all my students throughout the years is, well, we hope you're going to use fair use, I really hope you have a failure in your project, and it doesn't get a penny. Because you actually do make money. No matter how much you think you're protected by this various argument, you may, the commercial success of it may hurt your various protection, because they smell money, and it's worth the settlement effort. So if you've made $50 million on your feature coming after, I'll come after you. And so fairness is a really it's a great thing. And it's for public television, that's a good usage. Only for Hulu, because of the license agreement. You can even call it you know, the, the Alex Ferrari you know, new show, I'm sure you're protected. But Michael Moore, I'm sure those lawyers keep busy.
Alex Ferrari 27:06
And so that so things like because I've seen this a lot on YouTube, where they do these explanation of scenes and movies, and things like that YouTube is constantly hitting people up with copyright issues with that. But as long as you're talking over the footage and explaining it, it's part of fair use, as well, because it's because you are explaining it it is it is a a public explanation educational or just your opinion, which is a big thing and also satire, it you can get away with satire a lot too, because if you look at The Daily Show, you look at any of these late night shows, they'll bust out copyrighted footage, in the middle of you know, from a movie that has nothing to do with anything.
James Forsher 27:53
And yeah, I mean, and there, they may be trying to get away with it on that. So you also have this other issue, which deals with image rights, and exploitation of image rights. So if you show a Coca Cola image, and you sit there say, there it is, here's a Coca Cola image, and it's a worst drink ever made. And you and you sit there and you people drinking it, and throwing up whatever. And then, and it comes from a public domain, Coca Cola commercial. And then you play with it. Make sure you get a call Coca Cola attorneys saying you have tampered with our very tightly controlled image rights of Coca Cola. And so that becomes another area where you may or may not be protected. Yes, it's a fair usage of Yes, the commercial may be considered a public domain commercial that you've used, because it's older than you know, it hasn't been copyrighted or whatever. But if you're demeaning an image, you open yourself up for a potential lawsuit. Well, dirt that exploited themselves during the time they were alive, as a lawyer alive today represent even if they're dead, representing that estate of that James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Chaplin, because they exploited the image when they were alive. Elvis Presley, that estate guarding that image of him makes 10s of millions of dollars a year off the image. And if you do anything with an image that demeans, and they say, hurts that image, you're holding yourself liable for crawling.
Alex Ferrari 29:36
So they said, that's a good example. So I've heard of, you know, people like Chaplin's estate and things like that, because there are a lot of Chaplin movies, Buster Keaton movies that are public domain. Yeah. And arguably, you could just play them in their entirety, but if you do anything else at it, because arguably public domain stuff you could do whatever you want. You know, arguably, but if you're editing in Chaplin with a porno banana so much, is this not going to work? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
James Forsher 30:19
Yeah, that's where the image right comes in. Right? If you do a commercial and you show, you know, what do you think of this cigarette, Charlie? And then you have a shot of Charlie Chaplin smiling and going like that lawsuit? Because you are using human to exploit a commercial product?
Alex Ferrari 30:37
And is that why Disney is so so crazily protective of Steamboat Willie? Because arguably, Steamboat Willie should have been. And for people who are listening who don't know what Steamboat Willie is, it is the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. And the first sound cartoon
James Forsher 30:54
Copyrighted both as a film and also the image right of Mickey Mouse. And so,
Alex Ferrari 31:02
But eventually, it's supposed to go into public domain eventually, with image rights me not. So So in other words, the movie itself would but you could never play it.
James Forsher 31:12
Well, once it legally falls to the public domain. You could use it in your documentary. But if you tried to use Mickey in a commercial, that's explained the image and that's where you get the problems.
Alex Ferrari 31:22
And Disney has a very large legal team. Oh, yeah. And will practice, practice, especially when it comes to their, to their copyrighted images and stuff. It's fascinating. I know. I mean, I stock footage is always it's always been an interesting thing for me, because especially public domain stuff, because you just like, oh, wow, like, you know, you could just grab a whole bunch of Hitchcock's films and and Chaplin films and Buster Keaton films and, and project them on a screen somewhere. And you can, but there is that murkiness that you talk about in the book?
James Forsher 32:00
Yeah, well, you know, you just have to know what you need. And then you have to know how to deal with it. Once you break it down into that one two step, it's not that difficult. You just have to do it. That's the problem. I mean, a lot of people just don't want to deal with it's like, I got enough headaches, just making this film. I don't want to have to sit there and deal with all these lawyers and licenses. Welcome to the adult world, this is what we do. Again, if you have the money, hire the film clip person, because to them, they don't have they don't lose sleep over it, or just been hired to do it. And they do a great job.
Alex Ferrari 32:38
So is that the reason why in every independent film ever made you see the Night of the Living Dead on television? Because it is pretty much solidly copyright free or in public domain?
James Forsher 32:53
Yeah. And, but to even tell you, okay, the more famous example, or just as being this, it's a wonderful life.
Alex Ferrari 33:01
Yeah, that was exactly.
James Forsher 33:02
So it's wonderful. I was it was a commercial failure when it was released. Liberty films folded in 20 years later, which was the length of the old copyright law. No one was around to renew it. And then this, the TV stations in the mid 70s, caught, you know, caught hold it, this may be a pretty good Christmas film. So they all started airing because it was public domain. And they all do and then. So what's so funny is Turner got wind of it, that was public domain, so they colorized it. So suddenly, there was a copyrighted version, the colorized version, and then would have my music clearance people have told me many, many years ago, guess what it's wonderful life is the black woman version is not public domain anymore, I said. And I was hired to go back and copyright all of the music that was in it separately. And if you listen to that film, it's wall to wall music, right? So they, the letter that then her client would send out was not that we own copyright to the film, but we own copyright to all the music to film and therefore we own this film, and you owe us money for arrogant
Alex Ferrari 34:17
facilities. But how do you separate the two? Like, how could you go back and and redo that and
James Forsher 34:26
go through this in the book, but here's the deal. Look at every film as the elements that go into it. So nowadays, for example, if you license a new Star Wars clip, and the studio says, okay, fine, Aleksey, we'll give it to you for 20 $25,000 a minute, which is kind of standard nowadays. 25,000 a minute. Yeah. 20 25,000 Okay, okay, well, okay, fine. I'll do it. You're not done. You've got now all the secondary clearances that go with that. Because, as filmmakers we know, we've got music That's a separate clip as sudo doesn't necessarily own that. And you have the directors clear if you've got to go to the Directors Guild and pay them money, and the Writers Guild will pay the money in every actor that appears in that scene, and with the others, or they just have to take the money and there's a set amount, the actor you have to negotiate the amount and they can say yes or no. No. Many years ago, I did a show on censorship, the movie so Peter Fonda was the host. And there was a scene in there from easy riders. If you remember the film, Easy Rider, the really famous scene in there is where jack nicholson and Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are around a campfire, and they're smoking dope. Yeah, super time check. Nixon smoked a joint, right. I mean, that's the that's the quintessential scene in EZ rider besides the ending. And I need it I want to use that double clip, it was it was part of the story, it was actually banned in the film, and the host of the film was in it, and was friends mostly with jack nicholson. So we call jack Nicholson's Asian, we want to use it and we're paying everyone 1000 a minute. And they come back to a note checked out. So do clip shows, quote, unquote, ELS remember that, and we couldn't use it. And I had to use a completely different scene just didn't work as well. And so you never I mean, these are the complexities you're dealing with every film is broken into the bits and pieces. That's
Alex Ferrari 36:31
insane. Yes. It makes my head hurt thinking about,
James Forsher 36:38
you know, it makes you think twice I'm doing documentaries. Because they're not there a lot of work. You don't make that much money. And you got to deal with the stuff because you don't want to be dealing with the headaches of universal or Sony calling you up and threatening to sue you or
Alex Ferrari 36:56
is it just basically at a certain point is it's just a bully thing that could they have so many resources, they can outspend you a billion to one. And they know it so they're like, Look, we're just gonna bully you until you give us some money basically.
James Forsher 37:10
Exactly. That's what isn't that what law is pretty much not gonna hire the nice attorney that doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. You want to hire a barracuda that's that's got really sharp teeth that can go after people because, you know, in the film business is notorious for that.
Alex Ferrari 37:29
That's, that's ridiculous. Now, there was a movie that I saw. When in my video store days that used it was a unique film, because the entire movie was made of stock footage. Yeah. And it was called atomic cafe. Oh, yeah, sure. You remember atomic cafe? Can you tell the audience a little bit about that that film? Because it's become a cult classic over the
James Forsher 37:49
years? Yeah, well, the theme was that the early 1950s, when the atomic bomb, they were trying to find useful purpose for Besides, you know, destroying cities. And so they came up with all these like, you know, you can drink it as Alexa and it'll be healthy for you. You can survive in a nuclear bomb attack by hiding under the desk. And so this filmmaker, I forget his name, filming put together a whole film of material that was just of their all entertaining, because they're also ridiculous. And he was able to craft an entire feature film out of that. But they were all basically their industrial films, educational films, or government films. It was pretty clear. When it was made, it was very little concern about music. So I'm sure he cleared whatever music was there, if any, are for a very cheap price. And so it was an affordable price. I don't know the audience today, if that were released today, movie theaters, as well, because we're so sophisticated. But yeah, it was a hit because it really was something we could laugh out.
Alex Ferrari 38:58
Right. Now. You also said something about government. Can you please let everybody know, in regards to government footage and government? Anything that the government makes is, to my knowledge, public domain, so any any NASA stuff, anything? Moon Landing, all that stuff is complete public domain? Correct? Yeah.
James Forsher 39:18
Yeah. And what you do, and I mentioned this in the book, how to do it. You assume it may or may not be public domain. And what I mean by that is, they may have music that they licensed in it. That may be copyrighted. So if you're seeing a film, and suddenly they're playing a theme song from a 1960s television show, they may have just licensed it in their producers just as much as we're producers. So that's one thing to be careful about. years ago, I did a a documentary on disasters, and I use the film, a government film about earthquake, the earthquake damage and in the film was like a minute from MGM classic San Francisco, Clark Gable, the whole destruction of San Francisco came from that film. That's not public domain. That's very copyrighted. So if I would have just pulled that out stuck that in my film, I would have gotten a call probably from MGM at some point going, excuse me, you just use a minute. And if I said, Well, I got it from this Government Bill. And they said, We don't care. Yeah, yeah, we licensed it to them 40 years ago, but the point is, you use it. So music, reuse. I mean, those are issues you just have to be aware of. But for the most part, it's much safer to use government films than any other type
Alex Ferrari 40:39
into like any of the NASA footage. Just be careful with I mean, if it's sound by just them talking is fine. But we use Yeah, if you're hearing Neil Armstrong say whatever he says. But when you have music underneath it, that's when it becomes problem. Careful. Yeah. Now there is like something like that, let's say the NASA footage. To find high quality versions of that is also like another because there's a lot of stock footage. Jimmy, you could download, go to archive.org or gov or something like that. Or tube or whatever. Yeah, exactly. in there, it's there for you to download as as a that is public domain, but to have the access to high quality now 2k versions or 4k versions, or even just plain HD versions of this stuff. That's where the stock footage houses really make their money, because I've actually reached out to companies who have let's say, a Natalie dead, let's say they're like, oh, but we have a 35 millimeter print, and it's pristine. And we've transferred it and you know, as opposed to something you could download off a YouTube, it's completely different. Is that where you have to go to find this kind of really high quality version of the stuff?
James Forsher 41:54
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. How do you get to the sources? And well, the government has, you can call the National Archives directly. If it's National Archives. NASA has its own film department. So you do a Google search, find out, you know, if it's in Houston, now, whatever, you go to them directly. If you're going to be going directly to the original source, they may be requesting things from you. So they may request What are you doing? How are you using it? That type information may or may not give it to you. Just because you found the original source doesn't mean you're going to automatically get it, they don't have to give it to you. There's someone there called a bureaucrat, and they decide, you know, this is this is worthy of us giving to them or not. If you're doing a recruitment film for the for the Moscow's because you're not going to get any FBI films from here.
Alex Ferrari 42:53
Correct. And, and years ago, I actually reached out to NASA about stuff and you can't get me there's just a massive amount of just massive amount. Yeah, but the thing, not only that, but then it's like, Okay, if you want it in beta SP it cost this much if you want it in Digi beta. This is years ago. Yeah, well,
James Forsher 43:13
here's the point for all filmmakers to remember now, we've now had about 10 plus years of high def is too high. Well, here's the thing, keep in mind, we have 120 years worth of media 10 years of it has hot is HD, over 100 years of it is not is called STL standard. And you're not going to be getting 16 nine high def, we're 99% of what's out there,
Alex Ferrari 43:50
Unless you go unless you get a 35 millimeter print,
James Forsher 43:53
And then re transferred. Alright. And yeah, at $400 an hour tell us Indian. Yeah. And a lot of this stuff is 16 millimeter, I gotta tell you, taking a 16 millimeter and blowing it up through to high def, oftentimes kind of works against you. Because all the scratches and all the things that come in the 16 prints, you're seeing those ways you didn't want to see them. So SD may actually even be a better way to go because the image is actually going to probably look possibly better. So you have to be careful about that.
Alex Ferrari 44:27
Now, how can filmmakers make money with their own stock footage? Because if I go out, I mean, I live here in Los Angeles and I go out and go to Hollywood Boulevard and have my beautiful red camera and I shoot a whole bunch of stock footage of of Hollywood Boulevard By the way, there's 1000s of that. So anybody living in Los Angeles don't do that. But if you do that, where do I go?
James Forsher 44:49
A couple of places. I mean, the most immediate are Adobe in places like Adobe and Vimeo that have their own stock footage, services built into their offerings. So if you go to Vimeo, they have it. If you go to Adobe, they've got it and you can just upload it. And if anyone takes it, you get a piece of the pie. Footage dotnet is another site to look at possibly, if you have enough stock footage, you can advertise it on footage net. For most filmmakers, the question asked is do I have something that's rare? So you know, shot of dramas Chinese or Mann's Chinese? Please, you got something that really is unique, rare, interesting, and you think some filmmakers around the world would like it, you can call it go to film footage.net look at all the big archive houses, and then contact each of them and say I'd like you to represent and see if any of you like to represent it, and you get, you know, 4050 60% or whatever of the profit if there is a sale.
Alex Ferrari 45:50
So if you live in, if you live in a unique place that there's like, obviously, Los Angeles, I mean, seriously, the shot, the city has been shot a billion times. So every corner of it is somewhere on stock footage or in a film. But if you live in Guam, and or let's say you live in Hawaii, and you saw that volcano blow up a few years. Last year,
James Forsher 46:12
right? This you footage, if you scuba dive, and you're scuba diving and getting some great HD footage. You know, that's a possibility. If your grandfather was an avid 60 millimeter camera, and shot all this stuff on 60 millimeter Can you imagine? And I got some of that stuff in my archives. It's just wonderful material. I've got a shot from the Hindenburg. I was shot as a whole movie. It's great stuff. And that stuff you can actually resell.
Alex Ferrari 46:41
That's That's because because there's no copyright on it. It's and if you own it, it's yours.
James Forsher 46:46
It's yours. So you can actually then consider the copyright.
Alex Ferrari 46:49
Now if you know do you own you own also own like a footage house as well that you license?
James Forsher 46:54
When I did my Paramount documentary back in the mid 70s. Sorry, collecting I went, you know, and then I had a friend, but 19th 1980 or so that was working in Entertainment Tonight. And he knew I had all this old footage and they keep calling me and saying oh, we need this and this and I'd sell to him. I was making all I was making more money selling to Entertainment Tonight bands making producing films. And that's what made me think I really should be doing this as well as making films. I'm enjoying films, but I'm making money selling stock footage. So I started back in the mid 70s doing that now I've got about 5000 titles in my art and my database.
Alex Ferrari 47:37
Nice. And so then people contact you if they want to access you know certain things.
James Forsher 47:42
Well, yeah, I had it for about 20 years as a business. And then I went into academia and stood up because I was doing fine just teaching. But right now it's You know, Friends calling me I need this, I need that I just send it to them. Every year I'm doing one or two films and so I don't have to worry about stock footage because they just go and see what I've gotten. Make sure I have enough for it.
Alex Ferrari 48:03
And is that a fairly high quality or is it all standard def HD?
James Forsher 48:07
Oh, I've got a 700 films. And then the rest is one inch beta and then three quarter inch films meaning and films meaning what we bought, okay, but they're like actual narrative films or reels, government, industrials, educational newsreels, cartoons. Oftentimes, they fit the themes of films I did over the years. So if I was doing films on disasters, I got lots of disasters, I've been war related films, I got lots of war related films. And I'd always get films that were public domain or considered public domain.
Alex Ferrari 48:43
So then once you so basically, as, as you're being a filmmaker, you're gathering a collection of these clips, which then you could resell later, because they become
James Forsher 48:55
more than clips, I would buy the entire films, because it's cheaper for me to buy an entire half hour hour film, license anything from anyone.
Alex Ferrari 49:02
So then when you buy, so Okay, so then so just so I'm clear, so then you would just buy the film, 30 minutes, that's a cartoon of Tom and Jerry, you buy, you know, a bunch of my series of them. That's in the public domain. But once you've got that at a high quality now it's in your archives, and now you can sell
James Forsher 49:20
and the secret is finding a buying it knowing it's in the public domain that's takes a little expertise. Got it and that's where you need to clip clip person to help you.
Alex Ferrari 49:33
Or they call you if you but you don't do that anymore. Now where can where can people buy people find your book?
James Forsher 49:42
I think everywhere at this point is Amazon Of course. It's available on the mwp.com which is the publisher Michael AC productions their site in also any bookstore can order it if they don't have it already on their shelves.
Alex Ferrari 50:00
Very cool. And God website is a website that you have.
James Forsher 50:03
Yeah, there's a website with a book called stock footage book calm. So there's some more information on that. There's also a Facebook page.
Alex Ferrari 50:12
Very cool. And I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?
James Forsher 50:22
Well, first thing I would always advise anyone is if they're in school, look around the classmates and see where you stand compared to them. If you're looking at a class of 30, students, one to two of them will be able to get up into the next level, which is an internship that will lead to a first job. Are you as good? Are you at the top? Or are there 10 people ahead of you, if you're sitting in there, for whatever reason, you're getting a D or C, and there's a person getting an A or A minus, that's telling you one thing right away that the competition just at school is already beating. So just a warning. Second thing is, gotta get an internship, figure out what you're best at editing, shooting, getting coffee, it doesn't matter wherever your best app, because it's again, it's this crazy competitive world always has been worse than ever now. Because there's 5000 film schools, and everybody's turning out Steven Spielberg, of course. So if you're good at whatever your chances, whatever it is, you may not be as interested in it. But your chances of success are greatly increased, than if you're saying, well, I want to be a director, but you know, you have no clue how to direct. So that's number two. Number three is once you get an internship, rule of thumb with internships is you make sure that you do 110% every day, and you leave an internship with one or two people that think you are the best, you're not likely going to get a job at that place. But if you can press one or two people, and they'll let you know that you go to them at the enemy and say, you know, I'm available for work, you have anyone you could send me to, that I can get employed with. And they will then do that. And that's how you kind of break in. And once you broke it in wherever that level is, well, you know, the career change, everything changes so quickly, a year, two or three years from now, who knows? I mean, five years from now, everything maybe virtual reality films, we don't know. So I'm worried about five years from now you worry about getting that first paid job. And that's kind of the sequence I just laid out how you do it. And it's kind of what I've told you. I've had literally had several 1000 students over the last few years. And I tell them the same thing and the ones that listen to me they've got work and once a to listen to me they can they knew better. They're now probably at Walmart reading people or wherever they are, but they're not in the film industry. That's how
Alex Ferrari 52:53
I got my start. I had multiple internships, multiple multiple internships, and I got hired often. Yeah, pa jobs are, you know, running around or out here? You might be the office pa for a little bit of you. I'm sure I'll be the office,
James Forsher 53:07
You're good at it. You You didn't go into work saying I know how to do this. started, I would hire undergrads. super passionate. They always impressed me much more than hiring the grads, graduate students who really thought they knew better than me how to make a film.
Alex Ferrari 53:26
Yes, the ego? Isn't that always amazing?
James Forsher 53:30
Check it at the desk, walk in there. And let everyone think that they are the smartest people in the world. And that you really are getting a lot from them, even if you think they're an idiot.
Alex Ferrari 53:42
Isn't, isn't it? But the thing is when when those egos do walk in the door, the business will sort them out.
James Forsher 53:48
It always does. But it's very quick to tell those people that really think they know what they're doing. Because basically, all my years of running into those people, I'd say, Good luck. And let me know when you sell your personal.
Alex Ferrari 54:01
Yeah, I deal with on a daily basis, dealing with egos and people who have delusions of grandeur. I'm like, dream big, but be real. Exactly. And there has to be a balance between the two. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
James Forsher 54:21
I love reading. So I don't know if there's one book or types of books. I'm a believer that you've got to be a storyteller, that every film you're making at the end of the day, it's not how you're cutting it. It's the story you're telling. So the classics you know you're going back to weathering heights are gone with the winner. books that have really good story structures. I love Michael Connelly. It's a reason there's 30 micro comic books out there because this guy has a really good way of telling the story of itself. Visual, it draws you in. The same thing with the old classics in Dickens. Those were books that you actually saw the story unfold. And so that's why they were so easily taken from the book to the screen. So that's one area. I liked reading about people in the industry, how they succeeded. It's not like I was going to follow their success, but to read books by Goldman and the or whatever, how they actually went from. Nothing to building themselves up to you know, the best in their craft is really you pick up pieces that can help you. And throughout the years, I did a lot of films about Hollywood in Hollywood history, probably about 3035 any from half our features, and I interviewed a lot of people who were kind of in nowadays you consider them the early pioneers. So I interview Nat Levine that Levine remembers Latin Lee, he started Republic studios. He started mascot which became Republic. I interviewed Hal Roach and documentary about him, little rascals, Laurel and Hardy. So those people also kind of I picked up things from them how they succeeded, how they work. My mom's old boss was a guy named Colonel Parker.
Alex Ferrari 56:21
Of course, Elvis,
James Forsher 56:22
An old time I was three on Colonel Parker, which really is very interesting. When Donald Trump got elected, I went wake up, Colonel Parker now is president because Donald Trump is a exact duplicate of Colonel Parker in terms of what Colonel Parker used to call, his philosophy was snowing, he used to snow people. Snow person is a person you can't it's another word for conning people. That's what we've got as a president. This guy knows how and just like Colonel did, how to make people believe something that's not true. And but you're not sure if it's true or not true. And you get confused. Right? And so you know, having grown up with Colonel my whole life till I was in my late 20s. I knew Oh, it was snowing. And so I woke up in November 2016. And we got a snowman as President, this will be interesting.
Alex Ferrari 57:18
He's in Colonel, the colonel Parker. He is one of the main reasons you think that Elvis was as popular as he was. I mean, obviously, Elvis was Elvis. Elvis was an incredible talent. But you needed he you needed that. That gas. He was a fire, but I think Colonel Parker was the gasoline on it that make it a raging fire.
James Forsher 57:38
And he thought that himself. I mean, I've got I remember, my mom used to always tell me stories about telling Colonel Oh, Elvis, the distant Elvis said dad and Colonel said, Yeah, Trudy and, you know, all that if I hadn't taken them off of his plumbing job, and, you know, put them in front of audiences, he'd still be on his plumbing truck. Gotcha. So, you know, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 58:03
Now, what lesson took you the longest to learn, whether in the film business or in life.
James Forsher 58:09
But what I'm still learning is, is I don't know if it's a lesson or just a reality of the business of getting up. You know, after being knocked down, dusting off your self, and then going back and finding one more day. This is a business of notes. The reason it's a business that knows is very simple. It's a lot easier to say no to something. And they say, Yeah, go ahead and do it. You say, go ahead and do it. You're on the line. And so most people are very, very reticent to sit there say, Yeah, go ahead and do that. Okay, I'll help you. Where if you sit there and say, No, you don't have to deal with it, you're not going to have headaches, it's not going to be a failure. And so convincing people to join in a project. And then all the work that's involved in getting a film or television show made, requires a lot of people saying yes, which is not a natural thing in the film business. And that's probably the toughest part to me is is just going okay. What am I gonna do today to avoid what happened yesterday?
Alex Ferrari 59:17
Fair enough. And three of your favorite films of all time.
James Forsher 59:23
Oh, God. Okay. Well, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Okay. That's the top of my list. I show that every year when I was teaching film history, and I never cease to be amazed at what capital was able to do with that film. I know, every word of it. It's still kind of brings me in. Not so much film but filmmaker of Busby Berkeley. I, I've seen every one of his films, and I look at those dance numbers. I mean, the stories are not why you watch them. You look at those and go tell it The hell did he do that?
Alex Ferrari 1:00:02
James Forsher 1:00:03
Yeah, we do all these years later. It's pretty amazing.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:07
It'd be tough to do it today. Honestly, some of you did. It was amazing.
James Forsher 1:00:10
Oh, it's totally amazing. And I I got into documentaries because of an old documentary filmmaker named les blank. And less blank. was great at taking, taking a story, real life in putting it together as an entertainment piece. So not to be confused with Mel Blanc that made funny voices out of
Alex Ferrari 1:00:36
Bugs Bunny. Yes. And then where can people find your work and and stuff? You do?
James Forsher 1:00:42
Um, no clue. But if you go to a force your productions, it's a list of films I've done are some of them. And a lot of those aren't eBay. You know, I, you can buy a lot of my films for very cheap because they're, yeah, they're VHS and DVDs in whatever. So I commercially have nothing available out in the market as of today. In America, Europe, yes, but not here is what I've been producing lately. I can't afford to sell it in America.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:11
And of course, if they want to license any footage, they can contact you.
James Forsher 1:01:16
Plenty of footage from, you know, very cheap to pretty expensive.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:21
Fair enough. James, thank you so much for spending the time with me and dropping some knowledge bombs on the tribe today. I appreciate it. I want to thanks, James for coming by, and really enlightening us on what stock footage is and how we can use it to make our films better. If you want access to anything we talked about in this episode and a link to his book, which I highly, highly recommend. Head over to indiefilmhustle.com/307. And I can't tell you how many times I've used aerial shots, stock footage shots in my work over the years in editorial as well as in narrative work. So definitely check it out and see what it could do for you guys. And if you haven't already, this week, we will be releasing shooting for the mob my new book that is coming out about how I almost made a $20 million film with a mobster and how I was flown around Hollywood and basically the companion piece if you will to Rebel Without a crew, he had a very successful journey. I didn't. It's a really great companion piece to that book. And I also talk a lot about Robert in that book as well. Robert Rodriguez, the author of Rebel Without a crew. So if you want to get access to the book, please head over to indiefilmhustle.com/mob and I'll take you directly to the Amazon page. And if anybody you guys out there who have already read the book, please leave me a good review on Amazon. It really really helps things out a lot. So I truly truly appreciate it guys, as always keep that also going keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.
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- Stock Footage + Everything Under the Sun: Using Archival Material to Make Your Good Film Great
- James Forsher – IMDB
- James Forsher – Rainmakers.tv
- Alex Ferrari's Shooting for the Mob Book- Amazon Link
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Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
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