StormStock: ’20 years of Stormy Weather’

Martin Lisius – pictured above ©Prairie Pictures

This year marks the 20th anniversary of StormStock, making it one of the oldest stock footage brands in the world.

20 Years of Stormy Weather
By Martin Lisius

I founded StormStock in 1993 after receiving many requests from TV and film producers who wanted to license my storm footage. They had seen my material in several weather documentaries I had produced.

In the early days, I shot primarily on Betacam SP and delivered sample reels with time code burn to clients on VHS. FedEx was a good partner back then. They were at my office every weekday at 6:00 pm to pick up a bucket of outgoing VHS samplers.

In 1996, I began shooting on Super 35mm partly to prepare for HD, but also for aesthetic reasons. I spend many hours on the road shooting tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning and other incredible weather phenomenon, and it made sense to shoot everything on a premium format. I’ve shot on many cameras, but my favorite has been my Arriflex 35-3 I purchased from my friend Mark Beasley, president and founder at MPS Studios in Dallas. My Arri shoots in rain, snow, hail, blowing dust, and intense heat and keeps on working. It’s almost indestructible and certainly very reliable. And, it shoots beautiful pictures. To make my imagery look even better, I teamed up with Glenn Shank at Video Post and Transfer in Dallas to process my film. I worked closely with him to determine the best film stocks and shooting techniques for my subject. I have to give a lot of credit for the look of my footage to Steve Franko, a fantastic colorist, also at Video Post and Transfer in Dallas (now &Transfer at Farm Truck). It’s always a pleasure to work with Steve who is always right on the money when we do a session together. And, facility manager Terry Hall is always there to make sure we both stay out of trouble.

I’ve been lucky to have shot many “firsts” for StormStock over the years including the first-ever violent class tornado on Super 35mm, the first tornado on 3D, and the only Super 35mm of Hurricane Katrina making landfall. It’s rewarding to forge new territory and do something that’s never been achieved before.

Around 2005, I began shooting HD video alongside my Super 35mm work. I’ve shot with several HD cameras, and even though technology continues to improve, none of them have been able to match the image quality of my Arri 35-3. The Arri material has such a dreamy, beautiful look.

The delivery of sample material on VHS tape actually lasted quite a long time. It was the standard in the industry until around 2004 when there was a gradual shift to DVD. DVD screeners gave way fairly quickly to digital clips. Now, even DVD’s are virtually dead in my office. For a long time, I transferred my Super 35mm footage to HDCAM tape, which was a good format. But now, it is dead too. Everything from samples to masters are digitized, cataloged clips, typically H.264 .mov for samples and ProRes 422 HQ for masters.

Although StormStock has maintained a website since 1997, our first fully automated, sophisticated venture waited until 2011. Clients can now search, preview, purchase, license and download masters 24/7. However, many still prefer to work directly with a human. I listen closely to what a client requires and gather samples for them to view. It’s really a critical step in the creative process, and I like to partner with clients on it. It helps to have a photographic memory. I can recall everything I ever shot and suggest it immediately. A web site cannot do this. I think machines (website servers) have been able to serve a portion of the market with cheap and quick content. But, those who really need the very best footage still want to collaborate with a creative. That’s the StormStock market.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with several top tier ad agencies, TV networks, corporate video producers and feature films. I especially liked working with producer Craig MacGowan (Campbell-Ewald) and director Antoine Fuqua on the Chevy “Storm Chaser” commercial in 1999. I starred star as the storm chaser who drives a Chevy S-10 through flying debris in pursuit of a tornado. We shot the spot in Lancaster, CA for that “Kansas” look and used helicopters and giant effects fans to make it fun. My Super 35mm footage was composited into the commercial for a convincing stormy look. Other StormStock projects of note include “Planet Earth,” “I Survived” and the Academy Award winning “An Inconvenient Truth.”

What’s next? As always, I will continue to improve StormStock in every way I can, with emphasis on image quality. Light, composition and content is what drives me as a cinematographer. It’s the art, the craft, creativity and imagination that count most. It’s something that will always be at the core of everything I do.

Read our Interview with Martin

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