Cinematographer Robb Crocker, founder of Uberstock and Funnelbox CEO, is a versatile video artist with an impressive range of productions to his credit. With the massive Uberstock footage collection newly available on our site, we caught up with Crocker to find out how he got started in the business of stock-footage production, and to get his advice for other footage contributors.
Shutterstock: How did you get started in film production? When did you start shooting stock footage?
Robb Crocker: I got my start in video production right out of college. I was a film major at the University of Arizona, and always thought I was destined for greatness as a feature-film director. I realized pretty quickly, however, that I wasn't interested in playing the "starving artist" role for the years necessary to make it big (or die trying), so I decided to instead focus on commercial production. After a few years of producing and directing commercials at a couple of TV stations, I started Funnelbox Production Studios.
I led the small Funnelbox team for eight
years, producing and directing commercials for companies like Nike, Microsoft, HP,
and Wacom, before stumbling upon microstock footage. It all happened when
I needed to find some green-screen footage of a cat. While searching high
and low, I stumbled across a microstock site that was
selling footage, and after viewing the library, I
realized it wouldn't be all that difficult for Funnelbox to start contributing,
as well. It took a while to get things set up — we just uploaded a few test
clips from pro-bono shoots we had done a year earlier. The light bulb really went on for me when I
woke up one morning while on vacation to see that we had made $40 overnight
while I was sleeping! From that point on, I was hooked.
We started simple, with minimal crew, using friends and family as talent. One of the first shoots I did specifically for stock was in a field right next to my house, with three adorable sisters who happened to be family friends. There wasn't much footage like that when we first uploaded it, so it sold incredibly well, and to this day, I still consider it one of my favorite shoots. It was just me, a camera, and three girls in a field during the magic hour.
Your portfolio has many strengths, sports and fitness among them. How did you start shooting those subjects?
I was an athlete in high school, and have been a pretty big sports fan my entire life. In looking at the available footage on many stock sites, I realized that there was an opportunity to produce footage for the sports/fitness/athletic niches that hadn't yet been satisfied. What I've found to be one of the keys to producing footage that sells well is to have "authentic looking" models, locations, and action.
With that in mind, I went about choosing the sports and fitness activities I had first-hand knowledge and experience in. Buyers who are purchasing this type of footage generally have an idea about what looks "authentic," so I'm very particular about finding great locations, casting great talent, and, most importantly, directing "real" action. In these shoots, it's especially important that the talent uses proper form. With some activities, like running, you can pretty quickly adjust someone's stride or arm swing to make it look like they have running experience; with other activities, like golf or basketball, this isn't so easy. If your talent doesn't have a great golf swing or jump shot when they arrive, you certainly aren't going to be able to "direct them" to make it look like they do. That’s why, as a director, it's important to be able to discern if they do indeed look "authentic" before you start shooting them.
Funnelbox produces commercials and videos for a number of clients. Do you ever work your stock shoots into your productions, or is that something you do on the side?
95% of the shoots we do for stock are specifically for stock. Occasionally, we will do a shoot in conjunction with a client project though, especially if it's a location that would be extremely difficult to get otherwise, or the subject matter is particularly fun or dynamic. We did a creative piece involving kids in nature a couple of years ago for Wacom, who were a very good client of ours. They had a pretty tight budget, but big ambitions. The opportunity to shoot that type footage seemed like a fun challenge, and again, was a niche that hadn't really been filled on the stock sites, so we agreed to produce their project with a tiny budget. Before shooting, however, we made it clear that we owned all of the footage and could sell it as stock afterwards. It was win-win for both parties. (Watch the finished piece below.)
Do you have any tips for new contributors looking to enter the business? How do you gear your footage toward the customer?
The biggest tip I could give any contributor is to try as much as possible to "shoot what you know." If you love to fly-fish, shoot fly-fishing footage. If you are, or have been, a teacher, produce footage of kids learning. If you race motorcycles, shoot some races. Another tip would be to find an under-served niche. Anytime I see contributors trying to emulate or copy other high-selling footage, I shrug my shoulders and shake my head. No matter how good the copy is, it never sells anywhere near as well as the original. If you want to make good money with stock, you have to think like an original.
That's not to say that because there is already a ton of medical footage, you can't shoot any more. What it does mean, however, is that if you're going to shoot medical footage, you should find a different angle from what's already been done. Like viewing an exam from the point of view of the patient. Try shooting footage with a fish-eye lens, or a tilt-shift lens, or featuring unique looking talent. Buyers are looking for fantastic looking, fresh content. If they bought the original, they are not going to buy a copy of that same clip. You have to offer them something new.
With that in mind, I also spend a lot of time thinking about what potential buyers will be looking for when I shoot. I try to take the perspective of a creative director at an ad agency, or the marketing director at a medium-sized business, or an editor at a production company. What kind of lighting do I think they would want? How much depth of field? What ethnicity of talent? What kind of camera movement? I know the answer to these questions is going to be different for each of these potential buyers, and I also know that I have to make a decision about which buyer I'm going to shoot for each and every time I roll the camera. For instance, the MMA/Fighting footage we shot a few years ago is lit very dramatically, with a lot of camera movement, and generally very limited depth of field. This footage probably won't be used for a small business marketing video, but it absolutely works in a TV spot or dramatic marketing piece. Scion's "Intense Preparation" ad is a great example.
And for even more from Robb, check out Uberstock's full portfolio on Shutterstock, featuring over 5,000 video clips new to the collection. You can also pre-order Robb Crocker's new book, Stock Footage Millionaire, at stockfootagemillionaire.com.
– Interview conducted by Tom Spota