Survival Kit Part 2

This is the original video activists survival kit published some years ago, it is fairly out of date and should be updated soon but hopefully is still of some use.

Sending footage

The main problem with sending footage is you may not get it back. News rooms are not the most organized of places. Documentary makers don't have it high on there list of priorities and even the alternative media can be fairly slack sometimes. As everybody wants rushes (master tapes) this faces you with a dilemma. Therefore never send rushes unless you are absolutely sure they are wanted.

You should always find out exactly who wants the footage. Write there full name and the full address with a thick pen on the package. Also put your name, address and phone number in smaller writing on the back with 'From:' above it.

You should also ensure you write your name, telephone number and the date the footage was shot on the cassette. You can also write them on the case although this is not as important. It is also worth putting a copyright notice on the tape. Something like (C) John Smith 1998. Putting the event that is on the tape and your full address is also a good idea.

If you are not selling to news it is usual to send a VHS copy first. It is normal to send a tape with only selected pieces of footage on it. Talk to the film maker and try to get an idea of the type of footage they require. It is normal to be paid at lease £50 for this which includes money for a Research Fee and Film Stock. The VHS copy you send should have Burnt-In Timecodes. If you can not do this you may be able to burn in the counter (remember to reset it first). Make sure you include an invoice stating the footage is only to be used for research.

It is also useful to have a Log(List) of what is on the tape (See Logging Tapes). If you are sending to a newsroom a very rough one will do. It may just be a list of the events that occurred and the order they happened. It is however always worth doing it if you have the time. If it is for an archive you will have time to do a more detailed Log. However it is best to send the tape without a log if you do not have time shortly after the event.

If you are sending tapes to a newsroom, or for use in a documentary, you should include a Rate Card and a Contract. This way if they use the footage without agreeing a price you can ask for the price on the card. The tape should be sent in a hard plastic case which can be purchased from a camera shop. Failing this a Jiffy Bag (padded Envelope) should be used. In this case get an oversized one and wrap it around the tape a couple of times.

Selling footage

Selling v. Giving Away (Why sell)

As a video activist giving away footage may seem like a good idea. In practice this is not the case. Firstly if the footage is good enough for TV to use they WILL pay for it. If it is not giving it away will make no difference. It will cost something like £450 for them to send a crew for half a day, so you are acutely saving them money. Bear in mind your footage is likely to be more exiting than most of the stuff on local TV. The rest of the campaign may feel it unfair for you to make money out of it but the reality is that you are unlikely to do more than cover your expenses. Video Cameras are expensive, you have to pay for tape and you will only occasionally sell footage. You may actually find you have to drink and smoke less to support your video habit!

How to present yourself

Presenting yourself as a campaigner is fraught with problems so present yourself as a freelance video journalist. You need to get this clear in your head before you talk to the newsroom. They will want to know and it is in their interest to make you out as a campaigner.

Editors can be very jumpy about using footage they consider may be biased as they can get into trouble from their bosses. There is no hard and fast rule as to what will be accepted as it is up to the individual editor. Many man not accept campaign footage (anything they think is shot by a member of the campaign or any of there friends) on printable.

By saying you are a free lance journalist and charging the going rate for the footage is enough for them to persuade there boss they are not using bias footage. Even if they know you are a campaigner. Lastly TV people are a conservative bunch and find it easier to deal with professionals. By selling footage for the going rate you are acting more professionally and they may feel they can relate to you better. This may even make them more likely to use the footage.

How to sell

Deciding which stations to phone in the UK is fairly strait-forward. The BBC and ITV have regional offices and the rest are centralized. If the footage is good enough BBC/ITV will pass it on the national level. The best thing to do is phone as many stations as possible. If more than one wants it they will arrange transfer between themselves.

Phone up the station and ask to talk to the newsdesk. When you get through ensure you are actually talking to it (you may get bounced around a bit before you actually get through). When you get through ask to speak to the editor.

Tell the editor that you are a Freelance Video Journalist and you have some footage they may be interested in. Describe what happened and the footage you got making it sound as visual and dramatic as possible. Something like:-

"There were about 10 people destroying a Genetic display at the agricultural show, they were grabbing the plants and swinging them over there heads smashing the pots on the ground. Lots of people were watching and the display was totally destroyed"

The editor will ask what time this happened and what it was shot on. The later referees to the format, SVHS, Hi8 or DVC (DVC is what the media call Mini DC).

It is up to you to decide weather to talk about price. If your footage is particularly good it is probably best to wait until they have see it. In this case, even if they ask, you may want to say you wish to wait until they have seen it before you agree. If your footage is not so good it may be worth bringing up the subject. If you are selling to cable/satellite it is probably worth finding out what they pay (which is often £50/minute).

Getting an idea of how much to ask can be difficult. One very affective way of overcoming this problem is to phone up TV stations and ask to talk to there Video Library. When you get through ask if they can send you a rate card. You could say you are an independent film maker making a film on…. (…. being something you think they would have footage on such as a local football stadium). You could aim to get 2/3 of the price on the card but accept 1/2.

Other things you should agree are (in the States this is called the Embargo): -

Rights (Regain)

This is in what regain the footage can be shown in. The country is split into TV regains (i.e. London, South West, Central). Local rights referees to only the regain of the newsroom you are phoning. You can also agree to national (the whole country) or international (or world rights). Simply speaking for national rights you should be able to get twice as much as local rights and world rights should be twice as much as national rights.

How often

Local rights are normally for a day but national and world rights are normally for a number of times (two is normal). If they want longer then charge more.


If the footage is good enough the station may want exclusive rights to it. This means that you are not allowed to sell it to anyone else for the duration of the agreement (i.e. if you have sold rights for one day you can sell it to someone else the day after). You should ask for twice as much for exclusive rights. If you are selling the footage to get it shown to as many people as possible obviously it makes no sense to sell exclusive rights. Even if you are not there are two very good reasons not two. Firstly they will only be wanting to pay for exclusive rights if the footage is particularly desirable. This is a good indication that you should be able to sell it to other people. In the UK there are five TV stations so if you sell it to more than two you stand to make more money. This douse not even include cable and satellite. The other reason is that it will probably have a bad affect on your relationship with the campaigners as they will want the pictures to be shown to as many people as possible.


When footage is used that is not taken by the TV company themselves they will put a strap on the footage. This consists of a title such as ‘Amateur Video’ put on the screen for a few seconds during the news program (documentary do not have straps). The problem here is that there is not really a strap for Independent Video Journalists. If you do not agree on the wording the editor will almost certainly put Campaigners or Protesters Video as the strap. You may be happy with this but it could put you in a difficult position legally (you may be charged as one of the activists by the police). It could also cause problems in the future when trying to sell footage as an independent Journalist. If you are involved with a media (news/ documentary/ film) organization you could try to get something like ‘Pictures supplied by Organization Name’. The best alternative is to go for ‘Amateur Video’, even if it is not accurate it is empowering as it shows that you don’t have to be a professional to get stuff on TV.

Type of program

You should specify that the rates you are talking about are for news. Other types of programs should pay more, and the quality of the program will dictate the price. Remember documentaries may be shown many times in many countries so this should be reflected in the cost of footage. For example Channel 4 in the UK pay £350/minute.

Ownership / Copyright

You should never sign the ownership of any footage over to anyone as it effectively stopping YOU using the footage for what you want. If you do make sure you get loads of dosh for it (at least ten times what you would normally want). The reality is that you will only be asked to sigh ownership over if the footage is amazing (therefore DON’T) or if they think you are an amateur and will go for it for a low price. Even if they wish to sell it on you should go for a percent but keep copyright.


If you are selling to news you won’t get a credit (nobody dose). If you are selling for documentary you should automatically but it is still worth agreeing it (especially if you want an organization as well as yourself credited).


Footage is normally sold by the minute, with the minimum being a minute. After the first minute it is normal to charge by the second. When negotiating a sale the person talking you will assume you are negotiating a price per minute (but this still should to be stated).

The only thing that remains is arranging how to get the tapes to the newsroom (For general information on sending footage see Sending footage). Often they will expect you to get it there yourself. If you manage to persuade them the footage is particularly good they may send a bike to pick it up (don't over exaggerate to much as you may have to deal with the editor at a later date). Although this is fairly dodgy from an environmental point of view (don't believe people who say motorbikes are environmentally friendly) it douse have the advantage that if the editor has already paid for a bike they are more likely to use the footage. Lastly it is always a good idea to arrange how and when the footage will be returned. If they send a bike you should be able to get them to return it by bike within a couple of hours as all they have to do is copy the footage.

Logging Footage

When producing a video you will normally have a lot more footage than you will finally use (10 times is normal). This means that it is not possible to remember exactly where everything is. When editing it is important to be able to find what you want quickly. This means that you must Log the footage which involves writing down a list of what is on the tape. It is particularly useful at the end of editing when you find you need to use a cutaway but can't bring one to mind. It is also worth doing even if you are not going to use the footage immediately as you may have forgotten important details when you get around to logging.

Time codes

To log footage it is important to know how far through the tape you are. Although video recorders have a counter this is inaccurate, especially when the tape is being rewound, fast forwarded, stopped and started repeatedly. This is what you will be doing while logging. On professional VCRs and the more expensive domestic equipment a Timecode is written to each frame of video. There are 25 frames per second, 24 in the States. This Timecode is in the format HH:MM:SS:FF where HH is hour, MM is minute, SS is second and FF is frame. This means when you put the tape in the VCR it can show exactly where you are on the tape, without having to rewind the tape and reset the counter.

When logging tapes you write on the log sheet the start and end Timecode of each clip and a description. A clip can be of any convenient length and douse not have to start where there is a cut in the footage. If there was a shot where someone runs up to a friend and shouts "Run for it" this may be logged as two clips. The first being Someone runs to friends and the second being Someone shouts "Run for it". The length of the clips is a matter of judgment but remember the log is going to be used for selecting footage. Whenever something distinctive happens, or someone new is speaking a new clip is logged. Weather you put what people are saying is also a matter of judgment. You should write anything that sounds useful; you can either write down the full dialog or summaries it. It is also not strictly speaking necessary to log everything, but in practice it is a good idea. This is especially true if someone else is doing the editing or the footage is going into an archive.

Burnt in Time Codes

You do not need access to a VCR which displays time codes to log footage. Even logging with a camcorder with Timecodes displayed on the screen (this can be done with most cameras) is a bad idea as it will wear out the heads. One of the best ways of logging is to use a standard VHS VCR (a jog/shuttle is very useful) and burning the Timecodes onto the tapes. This is done by playing all your rushes (master tapes) on a VCR which can show the time codes on the screen. The output of the VCR is plugging into a VHS VCR and the picture is recorded. As has been said this can be done on most camcorders and a VCR which supports Timecodes should also do this. As well as this being usefully for logging you could also use tapes with burnt in time codes for off line editing.
Logging Sheet
Title: Genetics Action, Blackpool Reel:10 1 of 3
To Description Sound Pict
1 00:10:00:00 00:10:30:00 10 activists run towards building, LS OK OK
2 31:00 35:00 They enter building through ground floor window, LS Zooming into window G VG
3 36:00 57:00 Various shots of activists running through corridors B B
4 58:00 11:01:00 Activist hands office worker leaflet OK OK
5 11:02:00 04:00 Activist talking to office worker, Activist "What do you think of Genetic Engendering", worker "The government say its OK" B G
6     Activists clime out of top floor window onto roof VG G
7     Activists hang banner from roof "Do not swallow", Pan along banner L to R. VB VB
8     Police car arrive, shot from roof down onto car-park, LS from roof OK G

It is very useful to say how good the sound and Picture (Pict) is. In the example VG (Very good), G (Good), OK, B (Bad) and VB (Very Bad) are used, OK meaning usable. Although the To and From column use full Timecodes you may decide not to include frames. You may decide to only write what changes rather than the whole thing. The hour will probably be the same on all clips and there is not really any point of writing the minutes unless they change.

As well as a description of the shot it is often useful to say the type of shot in terms of where it is shot from (i.e. above/below) and how the shot is framed. There are different abbreviations that are used for this but the following is as good as any:-

Extreme Close Up (ECU)

Very Close Up (VCU) or FACE

Big Close UP (BCU)

Close Up (CU)

Medium Close UP (MCU) or CHEST

Medium Shot (MS) or WASTE

3/4 or KNEE

Medium Long Shot (MLS)

Long shot (LS)

Extra Long Shot (ELS)

Lastly it is useful to say what the camera is doing, Zooming in/Out, Tilting Up/Down or panning Left/Right.