From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
Licensing government video footage

January 28, 2004 12:12 PM

I got an email from a filmmaker asking about how to go about acquiring rights and obtaining archival video footage. I thought my response might be useful for others:

Archival footage can be very expensive - on the order of $40-80 a second, depending on what rights you need (ie. cable, network, dvd, worldwide). But the good news is that you can get a lot of video straight from the government, and it's free. It takes a little longer, so make sure you have enough time in your schedule.

The White House has press briefings, the president's speeches and the vice president's speeches -- usually. If they have video on the whitehouse.gov website, you can be sure you can get it through them. Sometimes the event is through a third party, and you have to get it through them (like, the council on foreign relations, or the VFW, things like that). Likewise, the Pentagon has DOD press briefings, the State Department, etc. Just call up their main numbers, and you'll get funneled to the right place after talking to a couple people.

They all have their own processes for getting video tapes. They usually want letters explaining what you want and what you will use it for. We had no problem getting things from them based on the content of our film. They have internal policies that only allow them to decline use of their video if it is being misrepresented -- like if you were splicing their words together to say something they never said, etc.

A major advantage to this approach is that you get clean video without any "bugs" on it. No CNN logo, or ticker tape at the bottom.

Now, that's the cheapest way. If that fails, then you have to go to CSPAN, or another network (ABC is the best/cheapest) -- which is where it gets expensive. The majority of the nearly non-existent Uncovered budget was spent licensing footage.

More from the archive in Movies, Uncovered.

Licensing government video footage (01.28.2004)

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Jim Gilliam
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