31st March 2023

Archive footage can really bring your documentary or production alive, injecting slices of real life blending smoothly in to the rest of your finished project. It can prove tricky at times with a lot to take on board, so we thought we’d share some of our top tips to help guide you through the process. 
1. Get clear on the footage you need     
Knowing exactly what footage you need, the duration and how it will blend in really helps you to be clear when researching reels of footage. It’s easy to get caught in a footage wormhole, so having a plan to refer back to helps you stay on track throughout.  
2. Check to see if any licence terms apply 
Find out from the early stages if any rights or licensing terms need to be agreed before you use certain footage. There’s nothing worse than finding out there are costly restrictions or processes you need to go through to use the perfect footage for your project.  
Think about the location of your production, where and how it will be screened, what rights are required by the broadcaster. Thinking ahead on these questions will help make sure you don’t fall in to cloudy waters later on and give you plenty of time to agree any necessary negotiations which may be required. Don’t be put off if there are rights associated with footage, it doesn’t mean this will add complexity or extra workload, bringing on board archive experts will help the process run smoothly. 
3. Start researching to find footage and get an idea of costs 
Now you can start researching to see what footage exists, and any relevant costs associated. Once you start to do this, you can start to get an idea of overall costs, and how the footage can be used in your production and then see if your project is feasible or needs rethinking. 
4. Watch every part of the footage you find, the more footage the better! 
This can take time, yes… but it is definitely worth taking extra time to sit and watch through all the footage you want to use. It’s easy to miss a golden nugget of footage which may make all the difference in your production. Make a note of each part of the footage you want to use, skip or edit and be as detailed as you can.  
Don’t worry if you feel you have too much footage, it’s always worth having more than you need rather than finding yourself short in the final stages. Using longer durations of footage really helps bring your production to life by showing every part of the street scene or crowd scene, using different camera angles, backgrounds carefully edited in to the rest of your material. 
5. Bring in the archive experts 
It’s a good idea to bring on board a well experienced archive researcher to help you. They have great connections and knowledge, make sure you don’t fall foul with any legalities and help the overall process run smoothly and professionally, making sure you have considered every aspect in bringing your project from concept to a stunning visual masterpiece!  
6. Keep paperwork safe and stay organised 
From the start of your project, keep all signed paperwork, agreements and emails in an organised system. You may need to refer back later on, especially if the project is repeated or released on DVD. Keep a record of the clip, license and source associated so you can easily locate, and remember to back up everything!  
7. Be patient 
Finally, be patient and seek help from archive researchers if you find yourself struggling. Sometimes the process can take time, so try to think ahead of time and start the process early on if time allows.  
8. Don’t be shy! 
Sometimes people feel afraid or shy in reaching out and asking the archives for help, but really don’t be afraid! The archivists are the best experts who know the collections inside out and can offer research and guidance to help navigate you through the project from start to finish.  

If you’d like to find out more, or need help locating footage, you can contact us here and one of our team will be in touch.   

Originally published: 02/02/2023