Member Spotlight: Heather Tanning
Heather Tanning, Senior Manager of Regional Marketing, is a 20-year veteran of intellectual property licensing at Getty Images, a preeminent global visual content creator and marketplace. Heather held positions at Getty Images in the research and licensing divisions prior to leading the film and TV production licensing strategy, which led to the creation of a dedicated licensing team for film and TV content creators devoted to strengthening Getty Images’ relationship with the documentary community. Heather is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in film and television production, where she was the recipient of the Producer’s Award. She is passionate about working directly with content creators to find the most relevant and engaging material for their projects.
IDA: Please tell us a little about yourself and your profession or passion.
Heather Tanning: When I started in the Video Research division at Getty Images, much of the footage was analog. Sourcing the best material for projects meant physically pulling tapes from the video vault and spending long hours searching through content in real-time, which created a unique appreciation of and bond with the material. I became as invested in the artistry and preservation of B-roll content as I had been with narrative works in my college studies. Devoting significant time to looking through multiple 3/4″ tapes for the exact moment a client had requested, and then finding it, was not only incredibly rewarding but made you that much more knowledgeable about the content contained on those tapes. I remember on a number of occasions speaking with producers about the video content they were looking for, and I could visualize the exact shot they needed, knowing I had seen it while conducting a video search for a previous request. The tactile nature of the process and those eureka moments were exciting. After hours of scrolling through content, just as you were convinced that the shot may not exist, you’d find that perfect 10 seconds of twilight over a certain cityscape. You lived for the next great footage discovery! Years later, even with Getty Images’ comprehensive online video collection, I still love the challenge of hunting for nondigitized material in the archives. The possibility of finding a gem or hidden piece of previously undiscovered content is always special to me.
IDA: When did you first start working with Getty Images?
HT: I started working for Getty Images upon graduating from college. I was hired based on my editing skills and knowledge of photography and video production as it related to composition and cinematography. I understood the cinematic techniques and vernacular of the business, so it was a perfect fit. I initially started in the New York office before quickly transitioning to Los Angeles. The stunning aerial footage of Los Angeles that I often presented to clients in no short way influenced my decision to move. Visuals are powerful tools. My move is evidence of that. I could see the vibrancy of Los Angeles in that content, and I wanted to explore what it was like to be a part of that energy. It proved to be a great move as it further expanded my knowledge of the business and my appreciation of the content, and is where I met many of the colleagues I am still working with today.
IDA: Tell us a little about Getty Images. What are some of the archives that you are excited about?
HT: It’s incredible to think the collection has now grown to over 23 million online video clips and millions of hours of offline content through our archive and our partner archives. Getty Images pioneered the content partner model. We now serve as the distribution partner for more than 310 leading media companies, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios, NBC News Archives, Paramount Pictures, Kyodo News, ITN, and BBC Studios. It has been exciting to explore the digitized and nondigitized video content from these iconic collections. It brings me right back to my early days at Getty Images, hunting for hidden treasure. While the content found in these media institutions is significant, I have a special appreciation for the home movies and found footage we also represent, such as Harold Anderson’s 16mm footage of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, filmed between 1948 and 1952. It’s the only known footage to exist of Greenwood’s rebirth following the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. I had the privilege of speaking with Harold Anderson’s daughters in 2020 when they uncovered a lost reel of film in the back of a closet. Seeing previously unknown content and learning about the filmmaker through his family was an incredible experience. I truly admire the innovators who had the foresight to capture everyday life at a time when doing so wasn’t easy or inexpensive. Discovering this content allowed us to share the rebirth of Greenwood through an insider POV. Reexploring history through a new lens of identity is exactly what archival content can do for creators; it can reframe a moment in history through a new perspective, reexamining the cultural significance for a new audience and redefining the historical importance for those who thought they understood the whole picture.
IDA: Are there any opportunities at Getty Images that our filmmakers should know about?
HT: Recently, we’ve created a production licensing team devoted to working specifically with content creators in the film and TV space focusing on documentary and factual production. By having this specialized team in place, which consists of licensing specialists and offline footage experts, our goal is to make content licensing affordable, accessible, and efficient for all filmmakers and their projects. We want to be a creative partner and see projects through from ideation to the final cut. Licensed video content is so often included in the postproduction conversations, but Getty Images can truly be a place of inspiration, where the content can help create, craft, and complete any production. We want to see productions get the greenlight. Therefore, we make it a priority to provide clean, hi-res material for pitching purposes to content creators. Getty Images approaches projects as a partner first—let’s have a frank discussion about access concerns, budgetary constraints, the difficulties of locating specific material, etc. We want to help documentarians realize their visions. It goes back to many of us being from the film and TV industry ourselves, understanding the unique challenges, and having a profound respect for the process. Our archivists often work on projects where a content creator is looking to replace material they found online once they discover it cannot be licensed. Now, with this production licensing team in place, we’re positioned to help from proof-of-concept to premiere. Even if Getty Images isn’t part of the final project, starting with us provides access to people, tools, and resources that can get you to the next phase and provide additional direction and inspiration for any project.
IDA: Lastly, is there anything you would like to share with our members?
HT: Getty Images needs content creators and their ideas to allow us to continue to uncover culturally significant content hidden in the archives. It’s from filmmaker requests that we uncover important, previously unseen content. Starting your search with us offers you the opportunity to search multiple archives simultaneously, and the possibility of what awaits is exciting. We want to collaborate as much as we can with documentarians to ensure such content is best utilized. We are inspired by the artistry that can be made in concert with the content we represent, as it is one of the most rewarding aspects of our profession. Seeing our content used in a documentary or our name in the scroll at the end of a film gives me that same feeling I had when finding the perfect 10 seconds of content on those 3/4″ tapes, nearly two decades ago. I’m always searching for more of that.