Strike Digital on how to use stock imagery in film production: an Alamy case study

How do you make a trailer for a stage show when it hasn’t been cast or rehearsed yet? Isn’t that like producing content from a vacuous brief? “There’s no such thing,” according to Strike Digital director and producer Rob Kluger who tells us about his innovative and collaborative approach with clients.

Rob began his filmic journey working for multi-Academy Award and BAFTA-winning producer Jeremy Thomas at Recorded Picture Company. Few could ask for better places or producers to cut their teeth with and learn about the complex process of film production. The foundation laid here was undoubtedly sound and it didn’t take long for Rob to develop a title of his own called French Fries on the Golden Front.

The short film, which was released in 2004, is a suspenseful drama that follows an elderly French gentleman who returns to Blackpool to revisit a traumatic event from his past. The film is set at a time when the seaside town was confronting an uncertain future and identity crisis as it faced apparent regeneration in the form of super-casinos.

In a remarkable turn of events, the young and hugely ambitious filmmaker managed to catch the likes of the Olivier Award-winning Tracie Bennett for a project with little promise of financial reward. He even managed to sneak into the BBC canteen VIP area to convince Paul Barber of a role during the filming of an Only Fools and Horses special.

This desire to attain the highest possible production value set the tone of the project as he worked with Quinny Sacks on the ballroom sequences and a soundtrack composed by Gabriel Currington which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with a 30-piece orchestra. 

Unsurprisingly, this passion for high production value had been indoctrinated from his time working with Jeremy Thomas. Rob reminisces: “Jeremy put emphasis on high production value throughout the whole process and this has been my approach for all of the subsequent projects I’ve produced.”

Things start getting a bit theatrical

It was in 2008 when Rob joined international agency AKA, where he started developing a taste for producing theatrical trailers. After successfully managing the video campaign for award-winning musical Hairspray, he developed some pioneering ideas for advertising in a world where social media had only just started to take off: “We did theatre trailers, press night promos and other behind-the-scenes content.” 

The world’s a funny place isn’t it? Behind-the-scenes content used to be reserved for the tail end of a DVD or worse yet, the second DVD. But nowadays, behind-the-scenes content is the bedrock of social media. With newfound access to rich media, we expect to see new content and new perspectives that we couldn’t before. Rob saw this avenue as an exciting opportunity to give people what they wanted to drive engagement and interest in new stage shows. 

After picking up a wealth of experience and a few in-house awards at AKA, Rob set up Strike Digital in 2011 to produce online and broadcast trailers for West End musicals, plays and live acts that would reach a wider audience than regular theatre-goers and tourists. However, he didn’t want to simply provide a literal translation of the stage show. 

Respect the medium

Bauhaus taught us to respect the medium you’re working on; to understand its strengths and weaknesses and to leverage them for your content. This is sometimes why we see film adaptations take on a different direction to its original story. Just because it works well on a stage or in a book, doesn’t mean it’ll work well on video.

Image Credit: Alamy

But that doesn’t mean you totally disregard the original vision either as Rob explains: “While I gladly bring my own direction to a trailer, a critical part of our process is to understand and represent the vision of the director of the actual play or musical we are producing the trailer for. Their influence is the one consistent visual influence across the trailers we produce.” 

So it’s not so much about remaking as it is about retelling. And to ensure consistency across the portfolio, Strike Digital has a nine-step approach so that the transition is successful regardless of content or budget.

Along with the challenge of adapting the stage production, Rob sets out to reach new audiences. In Communications, it’s always more effective conveying your message to a single target audience so that you don’t have to account for varying levels of knowledge. So how does Rob tackle this perennial problem?

“There is a misconception that seasoned theatre-goers have a lower expectation than new audience members,” Rob explains. “They don’t. Perhaps the former may need less persuading; however, there is no reason to lower standards and to do so would run the risk of isolating at least part of this group.” 

You’d think it would be easy to lean on the accessibility of video productions? But Rob warns against this: “There has been criticism that filming a play or musical as if it were a film production is misleading to the audience. This is entirely correct if the translation has been poorly realized which is why our well-established approach protects producers against the common pitfalls of trailer production companies that don’t manage this transition well.”

Supplementing productions with stock content

Quite often, the trailers that Rob produces are done at a point when there isn’t an abundance of content. The play may not have been cast yet let alone rehearsed. With no production to play with, material has to be sourced elsewhere.

 “Stock content must fit into this remit,” Rob tells me. “It’s as important as the picture, sound or any other component. Our stock use varies between the types of trailers that we produce but nearly all require a well-brewed cup of tea and patient dive through the coral reef of imagery available until we find what we’re looking for.”

Breadth and depth seem to be the key here while ensuring the quality matches all other aspects of the production. Rob continues: “Alamy enables Strike to produce these varieties of trailers for producers with all sizes of budgets as it’s an affordable option that doesn’t negate the high production value of trailers that can be produced using this method.”

Ah! The holy grail of unfathomable choice coupled with exceptional quality. But that’s not all; there are also tight deadlines to meet too. So, when faced with a plethora of imagery, how does Rob speed up his search? 

There are many filters that allow us to be specific about the location, viewpoint, resolution and other criteria,” Rob explains. “And the ability to download high resolution stock for our early edits without committing to buy is incredibly helpful and Alamy certainly make this a painless process which is quite unique.” And what about the times Rob gets stuck?

“Our Account Manager Jonathan is also incredibly helpful, patient and kind when we do need to put in a call to discuss rights or need some humanity after a difficult search,” Rob reveals. If it wasn’t for the helping hand, these can be the times that feel like bit of a slog. But Rob’s endless enthusiasm stopped my negativity in its tracks. 

“Everything about filmmaking is a struggle if you don’t enjoy it,” he elucidates. “If you love it, everything about filmmaking is a challenge that you enjoy overcoming and Alamy is certainly a partner you want at your side. I can immediately recall a dozen trailers that strongly benefited from Alamy’s stock visuals.”

Keep your eyes peeled

So what’s next on the horizon for Rob? Is there a new film on the horizon? After working with some of the most celebrated talents of film, television and stage as well as live acts that include Derren Brown and John Bishop, Rob divulges: “I’ve been lucky enough to work and collaborate with so many of my favourite artists on work I’m extremely proud of. I’m very keen this year to continue evolving our trailers and get my next short film into production.”

“I’ve also completed writing the episodes for a two series television drama that I’m currently pitching but a short film allows me the satisfaction to get something to the big screen on a far more favourable timescale.”

We’re very much looking forward to it and Rob won’t need to sneak into any VIP areas this time. Even though a part of me wonders whether he just does that for fun!

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