That’s the life of a stock filmmaker. You follow your whims across the world, building a portfolio of stunning footage along the way. After editing, you simply upload your clips to the Blackbox Marketplace and wait for your 100% commission checks to roll in.
There’s no catch—thousands of videographers make their living like this. However, capturing random footage on camera does not equate to success in stock. It takes a commitment to the craft and an instinct for shots that sell.
Andreas Hohl, owner of Vader Video, spent years in IT before realizing that he needed a more creative career. He’d shot some footage in his spare time and began selling it through an online marketplace. Since then, Hohl has established himself as a leading contributor, so he teamed up with VideoBlocks to offer advice to new and aspiring stock videographers.
Rule #1: If it’s not fun, don’t do it
Look at it this way—if you don’t have a true passion for the process, then stock video probably isn’t for you.
“If it feels like work, then you’ll suck at it, but if you are consistently striving to improve and having fun, then you could succeed.” says Hohl.
A lot of stock filmmakers start by shooting part-time or as a hobby because they genuinely enjoy capturing footage, whether it be a time-lapse of a desert sky or a friend breakdancing in front of a screen. It’s only after building up a library of clips and steady sales that many contributors fully transition to a career in stock. You can test out the idea, see if you love it, and then decide whether or not to make the leap.
Rule #2: Focus on creativity, not numbers
“This is one of the few industries where you can fly free and experiment,” says Hohl. “The hardest part is not worrying about the numbers game.”
Anyone expecting to make a fortune in stock might want to revisit their motivations. Compiling a critical mass of great footage takes time, and economic success rarely happens overnight.
“It took several years for me to get the number of cuts that I now have. And not all are accepted by stock agencies. But who cares? I don’t. I just keep on keepin’ on,” Hohl explains.
Instead, indie filmmakers should enjoy the freedom and creativity of shooting video. One amazing clip that captures your artistic vision could easily outsell a full library of uninspired footage—and you’ll get the satisfaction that comes from producing work you feel proud of.
“Stock video is one of the most creative things someone can do. Period,” says Hohl.
Rule #3: Develop your eye first
Half of the world’s tourists seem to now carry fancy DSLR cameras with them, often set to automatic and languishing in untrained hands. Top of the line gear cannot compensate for a poorly composed shot, so make sure to spend time developing your artistic eye before spending a lot of money on equipment.
“It’s not the gear that makes one succeed, but rather the person behind the camera,” says Hohl.
Experience in photography and videography is always helpful, but those skills can be taught. Plenty of online tutorials exist for this explicit purpose. The aesthetic aspect is a bit trickier and comes more naturally to some individuals than others.
“When all's said and done, one must have a really good eye in regards to framing and lighting a shot,” Hohl continues. This can be developed through studying the work of filmmakers and photographers that you admire. You’ll gain a sense for the creative elements behind a great shot by researching how it was captured.
Rule #4: Keep track of trends
Like any marketplace, stock footage is a business of supply and demand. Videographers who keep their finger on the pulse of industry trends will reap the profits.
“You can sway the numbers in your favor by paying attention,” Hohl states.
He tries to stay on top of current events and relevant “metaphors” that may emerge. Timely content is usually a big seller. For example, when a solar eclipse occurs, those who make the effort to capture and upload great clips of this celestial phenomena will likely experience a spike in sales during the following weeks (and around future eclipses).
“The biggest challenge is not shooting, lighting, or getting equipment, but rather coming up with original and unique goodies for the buyers,” Hohl says. He encourages videographers to pay attention to major TV commercials, which come from some of the world’s best ad agencies and provide insight into what’s hot in imagery.
Rule #5: Showcase your portfolio
There are many ways to promote your collection of clips. Hohl uses Twitter and Facebook, in addition to a network of websites. He also posts “shorts” to Youtube and Vimeo, usually alongside some sort of valuable information like tips on capturing similar footage.
Year-end recaps and highlight reels are often popular sources of traffic. One well-paced video compilation of your best work can drum up customer interest and also help advertise your services if you wish to work on an assignment.
A growing segment of stock videographers are turning to Instagram for their personal branding. It’s the biggest multimedia platform of the social world and wily contributors are cultivating audiences that number in the thousands. By providing a link to your portfolio on your profile, you can also drive sales to the clips you upload.
Some filmmakers turn to blogs and industry websites for additional exposure. By networking online and in-person, you may be able to get your projects featured on these outlets.
The possibilities in stock are endless, but it takes to drive and creativity to succeed.
“There’s no one looking over your shoulder,” says Hohl.
If you have the internal motivation and a love for video, then you can find a niche in the stock filmmaking world.
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.
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