B-roll: What it is and why your video needs it
Updated: Apr 18
B-roll is so synonymous with storytelling that you probably don’t even realize you see it all of the time. Whether you are watching a documentary or the local news, you can guarantee that B-roll is incorporated into the story.
At White Cloud, we use our Canon C200 and R5, GoPros, Edelkrone slider, and Ronin gimbals to capture B-roll from the ground, and our fleet of DJI drones to create cinematic birds-eye views of places and people in time to produce eye-catching images that keep viewers engaged in the story.
What it is and how to spot it.
B-roll is anything that doesn’t involve a talking head, aka a person speaking to the camera or an interviewer behind the camera. An interview-style setup with someone talking to the camera or an interviewer off-camera is known as A-roll, or primary footage. This industry lingo might sound confusing but hang with us.
B-roll includes shots of scenery, reenactments, stock footage, candid activities like walking through a park or fishing on a lake, establishing shots adding context to time and place, closeups of inanimate objects, archived footage, etc. The purpose of B-roll is to provide visual context to your subject matter, setting the time and place, adding emotional triggers and suspense through the use of different shots, angles, camera movements, and lens depths. In summary, when there is a cutaway from the interview scene to something else, that is B-roll.
Why your video will almost always need B-roll.
Unless you are filming a speech or internal company announcement, you will most certainly need and want B-roll in your video. The real magic happens behind the scenes in post-production when B-roll is neatly interwoven into an interview, breaking up long and complex interviews, and virtually erasing the stuff you don't want us to keep, i.e. long pauses, stopping and starting over, rambling, and mental blocks in mid-sentence. Shooting B-roll is where our production team can flex their creative muscle and delight our clients with time-lapses, slow-motion effects, sweeping skylines, musically montages, quick-paced cuts, and more.
Beyond the initial video.
There are endless avenues for your B-roll beyond its original purpose. We strongly encourage our clients to repurpose their videos and unedited footage however they can; whether that is just grabbing a clip from their video to promote watching the longer version, or using an event video to solicit sponsors or donors the following year, further extending the life and consumption of their videos.
When creating your shot list for B-roll, keep these things in mind:
The people, landmarks, things, etc. need to be relevant to the topics discussed by the narrator or interviewees.
Shooting B-roll takes time. What might be mind-numbing to onlookers is necessary for our production team. Plus, multiple angles of the point of interest provide agility in the storytelling process.
Plan ahead. Make sure you know what B-roll you need before filming.
Think about how the B-roll you are filming can be reused for other purposes, like lobby welcome signs and website landing pages.
In most cases, but not all, your production team will shoot the B-roll after the interviews.
Ask yourself if any of the shots are time-sensitive due to time of day or a scheduled event.
If you are filming people not directly involved in the project, you will need to let them know you are filming. Best practice is to have media release forms handy and 'Filming in Progress' signs up to avoid filming anyone who hasn't agreed to be on camera.
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