Let’s take a moment and think about how long we spend planning out camera set-ups, lenses and lighting for our scenes. Every creative decision allows you to say something about the story or images you’re portraying on the screen. However, how many of us would be able to say the same level of creativity goes into our B-Roll? Yep, thought so. B-Roll is often an afterthought and can be easily missed out until you’re in post and find you need some specific transition or establishing shots. Kat and Dusan are back to give a shout out to B-Roll and discuss why you should pay more attention to what it can do for you.
First things first…
What is B-Roll?
No, sadly it’s not Brioche Rolls… The easiest way to define B-Roll is first to define your A-Roll. A-Roll is the main footage you are using for your film/series/documentary – for example, it could be a filmed interview. B-Roll is then usually incorporated to help illustrate the points made in your A-Roll. So essentially, B-Roll is supplementary footage to accompany the main body of your project.
Why is it important?!
Well, I’ll tell ya. There’s a lot of different ways you can use B-Roll across different formats and genres, so let’s discuss the ways in which it could benefit your project.
1) To Illustrate Points
Let’s say you’re watching the News, and there’s a segment on plastic affecting the oceans. How often have you been presented with shots of fish entangled in plastic, statistical graphics or a huge shot of a landfill site piled high with plastic? The likelihood is: a lot. This is just one common example of the B-Roll we encounter in our everyday lives, and it’s primary use is to help illustrate the main subject matter of the A-Roll (being the News). Using B-Roll is arguably essential if you’re making a documentary, so keep in mind that wherever you go for interviews or for B-Roll, shoot as much as you can of the surrounding areas and anything significant you encounter as it could be valuable in the edit.
2) To Educate
As mentioned above, when used in the context of a News broadcast or factual content, it can be extremely eye-opening and educational for your viewers. The more remote the location for example, the more important your B-Roll will be to help audiences visualise what you are talking about.
3) To Cover Mistakes
And let’s face it – we all make them. Whether it’s a shaky camera movement, a problem with focus or a disconnect between the sound and the image, when it comes to the edit, you’ll be thankful that you can use some of your B-Roll as a transition to hide the error. For this reason, we advise you capture as much B-Roll as you can if you’re shooting multi-camera, and also take close-ups around your set or of your actors for establishing shots that you might need in the edit.
4) To Make Your Film Visually Compelling
We’ve all sat through some pretty boring programmes I’m sure, so let’s think about why they were boring. In an age where attention spans are at an all-time low, we need to make sure that your film will be watched. Whether it’s by a festival programmer or by an audience on YouTube, you have to give audiences a reason to keep watching. If you’re interviewing someone, a great way to cover cuts in the interview is to hide them under the B-Roll footage. This will also help renew the attention of audiences rather than making them aware of how long they’ve been listening/watching this interview (for example). If you’re filming in one location, you can make it more interesting and help establish the location by inserting some B-Roll of the exterior of your location or of small details around your set.
5) To Incorporate Different Kinds of Footage
If you want to use drone shots or mobile phone footage, B-Roll allows you to incorporate different styles of filming into your piece without it becoming jarring. Your A-Roll will all look similar and match well, so your B-Roll gives you freedom to explore the medium and use other footage you may have taken or acquired from other sources.
6) To Capture Unscripted Moments
You could be capturing things in your B-Roll that you couldn’t script for and you might find something brilliant and spontaneous when re-watching the rushes. It also could be really useful for teaser footage, behind-the-scenes videos and blooper reels (and who doesn’t love bloopers?!) B-Roll is also a great way to update your social media when in production, to keep people interested in your film and to keep crowdfunding patrons up-to-date on the project without giving too much away.
Our Tip: Always Keep All Your Footage
Yep, all of it. Grab a good hard drive (or five) and make sure you’ve got everything backed up. Who knows when you might need it again, so make sure you have it to hand.