How To: Negotiate with Footage Archives and Get the Rights You Need

For the second installment in our regular series featuring expert advice from professionals in the footage/production community, we asked our friends at Global ImageWorks, Jessica Berman-Bogdan and Cathy Carapella,  for some tips on negotiating with footage archives and getting the rights your need. As leaders in both footage licensing and footage research & clearance, Jessica and Cathy are in a unique position to offer insights on this fundamental step in the footage acquisition process. What would you tell someone who has never licensed footage before? 

Global ImageWorks: The best way to negotiate with a footage archive and get the rights you need is for you to know what you need and what you can afford before you approach the archive. If you're a knowledgeable consumer of archival & stock footage, the licensing process will be smooth and straightforward. If you jump into the process without any forethought, information or knowledge, your experience will be less favorable. In 2014 the footage and moving imagery eco-system offers something for everyone at price points that did not exist a decade ago. Do your homework. If you truly have no money, explore the world of microstock and find sources that will license footage for a few dollars. Don't expect to get the money shot, when you have no money.  

FN: What role do rights play in setting a price? 

GIW: When calculating an appropriate licensing fee, the Grant of Rights (GOR) can account for 50% or more of the equation and, typically, the broader the GOR, the higher the license fee. The type of footage you're licensing and how you plan to incorporate the footage into the new work are also key factors. Often the more unique, one-of-a-kind footage will be licensed for a higher fee.

FN: What are the key components of a rights grant? 

GIW: The key components of the rights grant are term, territory and media. The tricky part is defining the "media." At Global ImageWorks, we look at how and where the new work is being viewed or consumed as opposed to the technology that delivers the program. 

FN: Is there a fairly standard set of terms used in the archive business to refer to specific rights or does each archive have its own vocabulary? 

GIW: The language used in the footage-licensing field has become more or less standardized over the past 5 to 7 years. Spend an hour or so on a few different archives' websites and you can learn the terminology of the trade. If you're consistent with your requests, you'll increase the likelihood of producing consistent results.

FN: How do you figure out which rights you need?

GIW: The primary GOR should run parallel to your known distribution. Secondary, more speculative distribution options can be negotiated up front and then exercised at a later time. If you know where the program will air, tell the archive. You never know, you may qualify for a preferred rate that has been pre-negotiated by a broadcaster.

FN: Do all producers want All Media Rights? 

GIW: While footage is licensed by a variety of users who do not request or require broad rights (like museums, corporate videos, educational institutions, public location), most producers of consumer-based programs do ask for all media, worldwide, in perpetuity. Usually, this broad grant of rights is required by broadcasters or distributors. 

FN: How critical is it to clear All Media rights up front?

GIW: It's certainly preferable all around to secure all the required rights up front. Securing all rights up front rather than building in multiple step-up options will usually get you a better overall rate. However, it's not always affordable or feasible to do this, especially if there is no distribution mechanism in place.

FN: What if you can't afford All Media rights?

GIW: If you can't afford to secure all rights up front, it's advisable to discuss licensing options with an archive and have these options included as possible upgrades in the licensing agreement. Options usually have some type of time limitation as to when they can be exercised. It's also helpful to know the costs you'll need to pay to secure additional rights when negotiating with distributors. Narrowing the GOR is another good cost control option. In our experience, oftentimes clients really don't need "theatrical rights," for example. Overall, if you're not required to deliver this broad rights package or if the budget isn't there, don't ask for rights you really don't need. 

FN: What if you need to come back at some later date to clear more rights? Are most archives willing to work with you on this? 

GIW: Most archives are quite pleased when you come back and are willing to negotiate additional licensing fees in good faith. 

FN: Generally speaking, are archives willing to provide the rights you need or are there specific rights or categories of rights that are difficult to clear? 

GIW: Footage archives will almost always grant broad rights if you have the budget to acquire them. If there are complicated third party rights or restricted rights, a license agreement might indicate that you will be required to clear such third party rights as required or necessary.

FN: Are the archives willing to negotiate on price?

GIW: Absolutely! Most archives want to have their footage licensed and want to support the production community. Archives can be flexible but only to a point. Keep in mind there's a range within which archives can operate. If you're outside that range, you need to be able to justify why you should get a reduced fee. 

FN: How do you generally initiate a conversation about price?

GIW: Before the conversation even begins, educate yourself. Visit the archive's website. Don't begin by saying you have no budget. Know what footage they have and how they charge and if the archive has what you want within a price range you can possibly afford. Fill out the archive's request form or send a thorough request. Both parties need to have the same primary information in front of them when they begin the negotiation.

FN: Should you talk about your budget?

GIW: Yes. The requestor is equally responsible for driving the money talks. Know what you want, know what you have to spend and know when you need it. If an archive asks you to recommend a fee - do so thoughtfully. We, at Global ImageWorks, want to make our clients happy with the licensing fees as well as with our footage. If your offer is reasonable and doable, we will accept the offer and move quickly to close the deal.

FN: Is it a good idea to focus your order on one archive? 

GIW: Volume is definitely one way to bring down your costs. 

FN: Are there some best practices you would recommend adopting that tend to lead to better deal making?

GIW: Plan your footage use, costs and schedule in pre-production. Do good research; know who has what content, know what fees to expect and be aware of the other costs you might encounter (i.e. screeners & masters). Know about possible third party rights that will require additional consideration (i.e. music, talent, guilds & unions). Put a plan together for dealing with these in pre-production. Trying to figure this out towards the end of the project can be very stressful. Know that the "best" deal is not always the one with the lowest fee. Consider consulting with or hiring a professional footage researcher or clearance professional.