Industry Report: Documentary
Melanie Rozencwajg • Co-Founder & CEO, Archive Valley
by EDN (European Documentary Network)
EDN spoke to Melanie Rozencwajg, co-founder & CEO of Archive Valley, about her passion for archives and innovation and about the platform
Together with colleague Jhava Chikli, Melanie Rozencwajg has recently co-founded Archive Valley, an international platform that connects content makers with unique footage providers across the whole world. Aside from her work with Archive Valley, Melanie speaks at universities and conferences internationally on archives and innovation. EDN has talked to her.
Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and how you came up with the idea for Archive Valley?
Melanie Rozencwajg: Since an early age I’ve always had an interest in photography and archives. Later, I decided to pursue an academic career in the fields of history and photography. While doing my Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London, in a program combining design and science, I started to explore the outcomes of archives in the digital age and dedicated two years of research and practice on the subject.
After graduating and together with my cofounder Jhava Chikli, we created a tech and design studio in 2010 called ARTCHIVIUMlab whose focus was archives and innovation. It was a very new field at the time!
Over seven years, we had the privilege to collaborate with many renowned museums and heritage brands, helping them to harness the power of their archival collections. While the core of our practice was to create innovative displays aimed at allowing the contemporary public to interact with archival documents, in one project we found ourselves searching for treasure troves of archive material in Russia, China, Argentina, Canada, Israel and more. You can imagine the hours of research such a process required!
We couldn’t believe that all those archive providers scattered all around the world and that unique material was so hard to reach. As content creators, we thought that it would be amazing to have a platform that would connect us directly with unique archive providers across the world. Archive Valley naturally followed as the brainchild of our process at ARTCHIVIUMlab.
Your bio reveals a passion for archive and innovation – how did this passion grow and how do you combine these two themes?
As far as I remember I always had a fascination for archives, as they are permanent evidence of our world. My desire to bridge materials from the past with future technology and hence to find innovative ways to address archives came later.
Jhava and I are probably a pure product of our generation. Apparently our generation - “xennials” we’re called (born between 1977 and 1983) – has the particularity to have experienced an analog childhood and digital adulthood. Once we hit this technological revolution a desire to revisit the analogue in its digital form became an essential part of both our focus and practice.
What does Archive Valley provide to the users and which gaps in the industry are you aiming to bridge with the platform?
Archive Valley gives content creators direct access to footage on a global scale. Our goal is to help content creators - working on everything from television documentaries to VR docs - find the right footage for their productions. Archive Valley connects them directly with the experts working at archive sources across the whole world - sources that often have unique material to offer.
Audiences have become immune to seeing the same footage everyone else has already used. Meanwhile, out there, hundreds of unique collections remain dormant or are only known by a few. We wanted to give them the visibility they deserve. Content creators should all have the privilege of working with unique archive material to create compelling stories that can shape our world with fresh perspectives. This is what we found so fascinating and what drives our team in passionately building and developing Archive Valley.
We also believe the licensing market would benefit from some simplification. Archive Valley is on a mission to make it easy and painless to access unique archives on demand. Our platform aims to simplify that process from search to licensing.
The platform also provides access to a community of archive researchers from across the world. How does this part work and how do you so to say guarantee the quality of the researchers?
With Archive Valley, we have built the first truly international community of professional Archive Researchers and today the community covers more than 50 countries.
Archive Researchers are experts in their field and often have specialized access to archive sources in their local markets or countries. We wanted to celebrate them by giving them a special place in our community, and promoting their skills and special knowledge to our community of producers.
Since we launched in early 2016, Archive Researchers have joined Archive Valley from all over the world and have been hired to help major production companies navigate the process of access and licensing from archives in places where finding and licensing archive material requires specific knowledge, cultural and linguistic skills or networks.
Each Archive Researcher whose profile is visible to users on Archive Valley goes through a rigid vetting process to guarantee that they are professionals and have experience working to international standards. Most if not all of them have a record of finding unique images for major companies, and many of them are available to hire through Archive Valley.
Can you give a concrete example of how a documentary producer could use and benefit from the platform?
The two main functions of our platform so far are the ability to make and follow up on footage requests, and to hire Archive Researchers around the world to clear hard to access material.
With one footage request, a major documentary producer from the US was able to receive unique material from sources worldwide - in Germany, France, Belgium, Russia, the UK, and more - many of which were sources they had never even heard of or thought to contact. With this much choice they were able to rethink some sequences of their project. As they finish their edit, they will be able to order masters directly and follow up on licensing directly through the platform and pay sources on the other side of the world by a simple credit card payment.
Sometimes, however, reaching the needed material is not as easy. Producers on our platform have hired archive researchers in Tunisia, China, India and more to cross borders and access footage from organizations and local media outlets that have difficult processes for outsiders to navigate. Archive Valley handles the legal aspects of hiring and paying Archive Researchers, so the producers could focus on their story and pay easily when the job is done.
What would be your best advice to someone looking for footage and archive clips? How do you navigate the field and the expenses?
Don’t be afraid to go beyond the usual images, the same old stock footage and same sources everyone has already seen. Millions of hours of footage exist all over the world – so it really pays off if you take the chance and try to find them.
Unique images that your audience has never seen empower your storytelling, and sometimes these images shape the stories you tell.
Regarding the expenses and the many layers of complexity often associated with the research and licensing process – it helps, if possible, to first make sure that what you are looking for exists so you can have clear expectations on what you might find. As we’ve seen on our platform, you will often be pleasantly surprised to find material you never even knew existed, but don’t bet your entire production on it.
In terms of expenses, be realistic and always consider the alternatives. Archive costs money because of its rarity - its authentic link to the past. Know what you are willing to spend for this authenticity.
Archive Valley helps producers navigate this process with archive providers who have been identified holding the footage you are looking for, send you footage material for previewing with quotes directly through the platform.
What are the costs involved for producers /creators seeking content through the Archive Valley platform?
During our beta phase - where we’re really focused on building our community of users and getting good feedback to build the next version of our platform - access to the Archive Valley platform and making footage requests is totally free. Of course there are costs related to hiring researchers and licensing footage, but the tool itself is free for the moment.
We are working on putting together subscription packages with extended features for the next version of the platform, so we really are looking for producers to take advantage of the platform being free for now to best learn about their needs and how to shape the paying offers to the market.
What is the business model for Archive Valley and how did you find the funding go from idea to operating platform?
We are working on elaborating different access and service oriented subscription models for each type of partner (Archive Researcher, Content Producer, and Archive Provider) that will deliver the best return on investment for them and best suit their needs, however we will always retain a sort of freemium access with no commitment, where the cost of using the platform can be adapted according to use.
Like most technology start-ups, after working hard on the concept, building the initial community and a prototype, we raised a round of seed funding that is allowing us to build our beta platform and will allow us to develop new features and technology oriented at improving the research process especially for the next version of Archive Valley.
Do you have advice for others who might have a good idea for a tech start-up combining creativity/film and technology? How do you get beyond the initial idea?
Follow your dreams. Practice sports. Be resilient. Talk to experts in your field. The golden rule is “always keep listening to your users.” Be attentive to your users’ needs and comments. The tech-media world is booming right now and there are a lot of exciting opportunities to be seized!
What lies next for you and Archive Valley?
We are already thinking about some exciting AI integrations, something that will totally enhance and transform the research experience of our users and potentially open new possibilities for storytelling in the documentary space and beyond.
Our vision for the next couple of years is to cover all the countries of the world by integrating a wider net of vetted professional archive researchers and archive providers to ensure the variety, but also uniqueness, of footage you can find on Archive Valley. We also strive to continue simplifying the research and licensing process.
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