I was channel-surfing last night and stumbled on SUBMERGED, a schlocky Fred Olen Ray movie from 2000 about a hijacked plane that crashes into the ocean, and the attempts to rescue the passengers. If the plot sounds identical to Universal’s cheesy AIRPORT ’77, that’s not surprising. SUBMERGED was built entirely around AIRPORT ’77 stock footage. There’s nothing illegal about it… Fred simply bought/licensed the footage from Universal. What’s surprising is that Universal sees so little value now in their AIRPORT franchise that they’d allow a virtual remake to be made by another studio using their footage.
Stock footage is a wonderful thing, especially if you’re working on a tight budget. I’ve certainly used my share of stock footage over the years, particularly on a low-budget syndicated action series called COBRA, starring Michael Dudikoff, that we wrote & produced for Steve Cannell up in Canada. We had virtually no money… so we relied on stock footage from the vast Cannell library to make our show look bigger than it was. For example, we took an action sequence from the WISEGUY episode…used the same Vancouver location, matched the cars and the wardrobe, and crafted a new sequence using the same footage. To make our scene a bit fresher, we used alternate takes not used in the WISEGUY episode. The new footage and the stock matched perfectly. The trickery was unnoticeable to the untrained eye, or someone unfamiliar with the WISEGUY episode.
For another episode, our hero’s car was trashed…so he drove a Corvette Stingray…which allowed us to use lift several action sequences from Cannell’s series STINGRAY. That was probably our least creative use of stock…on the same level as SUBMERGED. But we saved a huge amount of money and it made us heroes around the Cannell building.
In still another COBRA episode, we used stock footage from an action sequence in RIPTIDE, which used stock footage from an episode of HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK, which used stock footage from a STINGRAY. So our sequence was created from footage patched together from three other series. I remember Steve Cannell watching the sequence in the screening room with a huge grin on his face… he’d never seen stock footage used so well. We looked at it as a challenge…and had a wonderful time.
My favorite use of stock footage was for a two-hour sweeps episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER about a plane crash in a corn field. We used stock footage of a plane crash, and sweeping, overhead shots of the wreckage, from the movie FEARLESS. We then bought out a cornfield in Oxnard, set it aflame, and filled it with scorched airplane wreckage. We also put our actors in the cornfield. Our original footage matched seamlessly with the stock. It gave our episode a scope we never could have managed on our tight budget…and I doubt the average viewer was the least bit aware of our trickery, even if they were among the few who’d seen FEARLESS.
I see stock footage used all the time in feature films and TV shows…mainly because the best stock (mostly explosions, battle sequences, car chases, establishing shots, etc.) gets used over and over again. When it’s used well, the viewer rarely notices. When it’s used badly, it makes whatever you’re watching look like hack work… which, of course, it probably is or they wouldn’t have needed the stock footage in the first place!