We all feel the pain of the greatest challenges of filmmaking. Outside of actually getting a stellar movie in the can, it can seem impossible to make money or get people to give a shit about your work. Fortunately, both of these concerns can be addressed to some extent with a resource that we all have aplenty: extra footage.
Documentary filmmakers in particular inevitably end up with hours and hours of unused material, but narrative helmers also have deleted scenes, extra takes, scouting footage, and other random shots at their disposal. Here are some ways to put that material to work.
1. License (to chill)
The most obvious way to make money off your footage is to sell or license it. Did you shoot in an interesting or exotic location? Do you have relatively generic but beautiful footage of people doing things that people do? If so, other outlets might want to use your images in their own productions. There are several companies that can act as your go-between.
Two of the big competitors in the stock footage space are Shutterstock and Videoblocks. Shutterstock claims to have paid over $350 million to their contributors. Videoblocks clearly sees this as competition, as they purport to be the “the only stock media marketplace to give 100% of the commission to contributors” and have included a calculator on their contributions page that directly compares their contributors’ earnings to those of Shutterstock contributors.
You may even want to keep the stock footage option in mind from the get-go by shooting extra material that is in demand on these sites. Whichever site you go with, however, make sure you understand their licensing and ownership terms before you provide them with your material.
A shot of pedestrians in Hollywood, available at Shutterstock. What doc filmmaker doesn't have footage like this from somewhere?Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com2. Transform into transmedia
The emergence of transmedia or multi-platform storytelling has given filmmakers a whole new universe in which to use our additional materials. Think of this opportunity as kind of like the “DVD extras” of today. Could extra clips populate an app that builds out the story-world of your film? Or a website that tells the sub-story or back-story of your characters? If you’ve shot hours and hours of documentary interview, but only used 20 minutes, can some of those unused clips become a podcast for audiences who want to go in-depth on the issues?
It may be more work to create this additional material, but it would mean that the time and money you spent shooting the original footage did not go to waste, and it may well extend your overall reach. Transmedia can be particularly powerful if you are trying to build a campaign around your film that runs beyond the life of the film itself; it creates additional platforms to activate people around the issues in your film.
Need some transmedia inspiration? Check out the projects from this year’s Sundance New Frontiers section or the impressive interactive lineup emerging from the National Film Board of Canada. There are even grants, like the TFI New Media Fund, that specifically support these types of projects.
'The Leviathan Project' from the Sundance New Frontiers section
3. Make a short for cash or glory (or both)
There are plenty of outlets looking for short-form content these days, both online and in traditional media, and many of them pay cash. Do you have content that’s not being used in your film, but could be edited into something original that can hold its own? Think about pitching that piece to venerable journalistic institutions like the New York Times Op-Docs or The Guardian. Perhaps your piece is more appropriate for a youth brand like VICE, a lifestyle brand like Refinery29, or a niche site that specializes in cars or cats or whatever it is that you’ve filmed.
Regardless of the appropriate outlet for your short, there are benefits to this approach besides just getting paid. You get a published work, a piece for your reel, and, most importantly, potentially high-profile promotion for the longer film that’s yet to come. It’s almost like someone is paying you to make a trailer. That’s an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.
4. Hype your audience
If the rise of crowdfunding has taught us anything, it's that you can and should start building an audience for your film as early as pre-production. But what do you do to keep them on board and engaged for the months or years during which your film is being completed? This is where your extra footage can come in very, very handy. There are lots of possibilities here, from releasing teaser bits of material over time on Facebook or Twitter, to—if you’re feeling brave—putting raw footage into the cloud and asking fans to edit a scene themselves.
What if your leftovers could paradoxically help you find what is sometimes the most elusive element of all: creative inspiration? If you’re ever feeling stuck on the original project, take some of that extra footage and turn it upside down. Play with it. Make something 100% different than the original project. Who knows? You could come up with something that makes the intended film even more outstanding than what you envisioned in the first place.
What about you? Please share your ingenious ideas for using extra footage (or your experience doing any of the above) in the comments.