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4 Considerations When Creating a Video from Archival Footage

May 21, 2019 • Sam Grabel

Did you know that people watch more than 1 billion hours of YouTube per day? Or that video is 1,200% more likely than non-video content to be shared on social media? According to Social Media Today, these stats and others help to underscore the importance of video in marketing and as a tool for companies to reach customers, employees and business partners.

At History Factory, we focus on bringing stories to life through the use of archival footage, oral histories and other content specific and authentic to each client. Here are some things that we’ve learned about using audiovisual archives over the years.

Authentic Footage Takes Time to Find

It’s never as simple as just typing “[Company Name] AND Archival Video” into Google. Good, authentic and usable footage takes time to find.

Footage might be hiding in any number of places—free and easily accessible repositories such as Library of Congress and Archive.org, or licensing warehouses and news outlets such as Getty, Pond5, British Pathé,  Critical Past, CNN and Associated Press. It never hurts to search local historical societies and libraries, too.

More unique footage may be in your company’s archives or storage space, or with former employees or leaders. While you may or may not have assets that are digitized, authentic footage is probably organically produced by your company. And you probably own the rights. This will save you money and time down the road.

Augment With Other Visual Assets

Sometimes you can’t find video cover for what you need. That’s not out of the ordinary when researching very specific companies or industries. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find digitized and usable footage of anything before the mid- to late 1890s. Sometimes you’ll need to find still images to interweave with your footage. These images are actually easier to find than footage—there’s more of them and they’re cheaper.

Depending on the subject of the video, it might be worthwhile to use oral history video footage to help tell the story. Companies often conduct oral histories with key stakeholders, executives and culture carriers in order to preserve their heritage and legacy. These can be a compelling gold mine of information. Again, you might be surprised by what you can find: Oral histories might already be in your company’s archives.

Be Prepared for Sticker Shock

Now it’s time to license. Licenses can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Sometimes, the best clips cost a lot. The best way to avoid sticker shock is to go into it with a clearly defined and reasonable budget. There are ways to save some money in the long run.

Consider digitizing analog assets in your company’s archives. Unlike third-party video, which requires one-time-use licenses from video repositories, your own digitized materials can be used over and over without the need for licensing, because your company owns the footage. It is an investment up front that often results in video assets that can be repurposed for a wide variety of content and used freely in perpetuity.

Clever Editing Techniques

Stitching together old footage with static images can yield a Ken Burns-style documentary—slow-moving and with dull narration.

Start with older footage for a base, and then interweave still images with voice-over narration and/or a dynamic soundtrack. Juxtapose the raw, historical quality of old archival footage against more modern HD footage to highlight the difference in times and evolution of technology. Use animation, interviews and other effects to keep viewers engaged. Above all, have an interesting story to tell.

Navigating and sourcing video from an archives can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it when you produce a video that engages and entertains your audiences in a way that cannot be achieved with static imagery and text. Next time you’re ready to delve into video archives, we’ll be here to help.

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