More Tips On Selling Storm Footage

From Tom Grazulis (

Subject: selling tornado video footage

>All media, worldwide, unlimited term, ONE program: $50 per second.

The suggestion that chase video should be sold for $40-$50 a second compels me to comment on this thread. I could write a small book on the subject, having negotiated a price on more than 200 pieces of footage for the Tornado Video Classics series, and 100 others that were never used. There is both an ideal world and real world of film use fees . Mr. Lisius speaks mostly of an ideal world, and as someone who want to sell video. His best advise is to hold onto the video, at least long enough to talk to someone with experience in the field. I will limit my comments to seven specific points.

1. In the real world, the price paid for any video is a matter of supply and demand, with (in my business) a large dose of respect and ethics thrown in. More than 400 tornadoes and at least 3000 hours of raw chase footage have been captured on video and the supply goes up every year. The demand is not going up, and has probably peaked with the production of The Learning Channel series, the upcoming *Savage Skies* on PBS in early May, National Geographics *Cyclone,* *The Chase,* *Tornado Video Classics III,* Martin's storm spotter and storm chase films, and three lightning specials... all in production at the same time. No similar period of storm-chase related video production is likely to occur again any time soon.

2. The highest price I have been asked to pay for tornado footage was less than half of the $50 per second mentioned. That was for the one-of-a-kind 1933 waterspout/tornado in Cuba in TVC III. Only extremely rare segments can demand that price. In some cases, when only 10 seconds of footage are needed, then perhaps $500 may be appropriate for exactly the perfect piece of video. A Hi-8 tripodded view of a Pampa-like tornado crossing downtown Dallas taken from the roof of a high-rise building might command that kind of price. TV commercials will pay much higher fees than $50/sec, but those deals are so few and far between that they don't belong in this discussion.

3. In the real world, public domain footage exists, and is a drag on the price of commercial stock footage. On The Weather Channel, Dennis Smith, while promoting *Exposures,* stands in front of Bill Gargan's gorgeous Dimmit tornado. That public domain footage is only a small part of the Weather Channels' (and my) library of public domain VORTEX footage. As the NOAA 30-minute VORTEX highlights tape is reproduced and spread, it will probably be used more often in commercial productions.

4. The biggest single factor governing the price paid for video is the producer's budget. At $50 a second, TVC III would have cost $360,000 just to procure the necessary footage. Only television commercials are in that league, where the sky is the limit.

The Weather Channel is probably a cash cow for Landmark Communications, but management has many other concerns, such as shareholders and the money-losing Travel Channel. I suspect that chaser fees are never discussed at high level corporate meetings where overall budgets are set. The very good people at TWC who actually procure video and assemble their productions operate on a limited budget over which they have no control whatsoever. The corporate-level resources at TWC are such that they could probably offer much higher fees, and that idea brings me to the next, and most important point.

5. To suggest that a chaser can get $50 a second for his footage may encourage some novice to take dangerous chances in pursuit of that video. Five minutes translates to $15,000. A newcomer, naive in his or her dealings with the media may somehow link a dangerous core punch with being able to buy a new car, or funding a year in college. For the Weather Channel or any other producer to announce in advance high fees for good chase video would be irresponsible, and they know it. And this is not a bogus argument invented just to keep chaser fees down. Anyone seen as having deep pockets is wide open for liability suits in this country.

6. Competition is always part of the supply/demand equation, and a chasers biggest competition comes from HOME video. Home videographers are often delighted to see long segments of their video on television or in a production, and some ask for no money whatever, and refuse when offered. I always insist on at least some payment, and my payments have always been by the segment, never by the second. The price has always dependent on how badly I needed and wanted it. Many of these videos have already been transmitted by satellite and used without the owners permision all over the world with no fees paid to anyone except the satellite uplink company. In a world where courtrooms are jammed with drug cases, and a single day of a lawyers fees likely exceeds the best video fees, the copyright laws are rendered meaningless, except for the most valuable material. The best advice again is to talk to someone with experience and be very careful who you send video to, how it is sent, and how it is displayed on the screen.

7. Along with the producer's budget, the most important consideration is the QUALITY of the video, which is a combination of video format, composition, steadiness, lighting, sound, and uniqueness of situation. I don't feel Mr. Lisius addressed this to the degree he should have when he was quoting prices. What constituted *good* in 1992 many not be considered *good* today.

I would like to take this opportunity thank to all the chasers for their incredible work. I have and always will try to use your material to best effect and pay as much as I can. This is not an easy way to make a living.

For some people, Roger Edwards may have the right idea. Chase only for the love of chasing. Feast on that smorgasbord. Many people have had the joy of the chase soured by unrealistic expectations of income, upsetting negotiations over the sale price of the video, and sleepless nights caused by rumored copyright violation by some TV station 1000 miles away. It is a rare hobby that pays for itself. For others, the entrepenuerial spirit burns endlessly within. Go for every dime you can get, but just be realistic, like any good businessman, and don't let the potential for cash cloud your good judgement in a chase.

PS: I'd like to see some further discussion here.

Tom Grazulis at The Tornado Project

Return to Storm Chaser Homepage