Guerrilla Documentary: Usable Stock Visuals

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Crafting a Story

When you are beginning to construct the story elements of your documentary during post-production you will likely begin to notice spots where you do not have direct cinema footage or B-roll to aid in transitions or topics. On guerilla or ultra low budget documentaries this is common because you simply will not have the money and access to certain types of footage, especially those holding copyrights you would have to pay for. In these spots it is best to try and use a piece of footage that shares the themes of the segment or displays a specific element of it, but is not directly from the event or topic that is being discussed.

The Need for Images

This can seem like a complicated, or even dishonest, proposition, but it is standard in documentary sections. When you are doing your story editing you take all of your interviews and direct footage and you look to find exactly what elements you want to focus on and will portray the ideas and characters you see for your film. You begin constructing them together to make a story arc, which focuses on specific people and events in the story. This can be a historical or news based story, or one that is more subtle and mostly involves you capturing regular happenings. Either way you may want to include an interview piece as part of the story structure that discusses an item or idea that you do not have any image of. In these cases you may be able to get by without putting any type of visual there, but the likelihood is that if they are saying or doing something significant you will want to pair it with an image.

Public Domain

If you cannot get one of the actual event happening you can often use a similar image or video from the public domain. To do this you need to find the specific element of what they are discussing that you want to focus on. From here you just need to seek out images or videos that will pair evenly to this. For example, if you are discussing someone committing arson and then you use a stock image of a fire then the change in topic that they presented will feel much more natural.

Keep Integrity in Mind

This can seem as though you are deceiving your audience, and indeed it can be used to do that. The important thing is to be honest in what you are doing and try not to pass one thing off as an actual document of an event. Try to frame those images differently than the ones that are actually used for event documentation, and go for more historical images that are outside of the time period as the other ones. A great way to do this is to look at public domain news reel and education film footage to pair up with the discussion. Here you can find a parallel between the issue or subject they are talking about and something that happened in a previous era.

The importance here is to find stock images and videos that do not have any copyright on them. These should not be overused, mostly because since they have no rights they are likely used in more than just your film. Try to be original whenever possible, and only use these kinds of things to fill in gaps or cover up interview splicing.

This post is part of the series: Guerilla Documentary

The truth does not always live in the open, so many documentarians head to the underground. Learn about some techniques used in guerilla documentary production.

  1. Guerrilla Documentary: Anonymity Part 1 of 2
  2. Guerrilla Documentary: Anonymity Part 2 of 2
  3. Guerrilla Documentary: Clandestine Footage
  4. Guerrilla Documentary: Hidden Field Cameras
  5. Guerrilla Documentary: Filming Without a Permit
  6. Guerrilla Documentary: Wireless Microphone
  7. Guerrilla Documentary: Using Still Photography
  8. Guerrilla Documentary: Using Your Mobile Phone
  9. Guerrilla Documentary: Entering and Exiting the Premises
  10. Guerrilla Documentary: Usable Stock Visuals
  11. Guerrilla Documentary: Getting Your Releases Early
  12. Guerrilla Documentary: Forget High Definition
  13. Guerrilla Documentary: Hidden Costs
  14. Guerrilla Documentary: Small & Light Cameras
  15. Guerrilla Documentary:Videotaping News Crews
  16. Guerrilla Documentary: Making a Studio in Your Apartment
  17. Guerrilla Documentary: Don’t Turn Off Your Camera
  18. Guerrilla Documentary: Chasing Your Subject
  19. Guerrilla Documentary: Prison Interviews
  20. Guerrilla Documentary: Group Interviews
  21. Guerrilla Documentary: Using Newspaper Clippings
  22. Tips on How to Make a Documentary Film