If you’re relatively new to video production, you may have heard the term “b-roll” but may not fully understand what it is and how to make the most of it. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
B-roll footage is an essential part of any film project and something we love experimenting with at our video production company in Manchester. This blog post will shed some light on what b-roll is and how to use it to take your filmmaking to the next level.
What is b-roll footage?
Simply put, B-roll is the video footage used to support the main content of video production. It usually contains shots of people, objects, or locations that complement the primary footage. Although some refer to it as “filler”, don’t let that fool you – this hardly means it’s unimportant. Let’s go over a few reasons why.
Secondary footage has many uses, both practical and creative. For example, b-roll can be an invaluable tool for editing. It offers many editing options when cutting up a video and can save you a severe headache when using only the main footage doesn’t do the trick. It can also come in handy when creating transitions between the scenes.
Another great practical reason to use b-roll in your production is to pace your video. Take an interview, for example: having the interviewee talk without breaks can make for a good podcast but leaves much to be desired in filmmaking. Not to mention that a constant stream of rich information can quickly turn from fascinating to overwhelming.
On the other hand, even short pauses in audio, with a continuous shot at the subject… Let’s just say it’s awkward for everyone.
But when you cut away to secondary footage, you can let the voiceover or dialogue cease for a second or two. Leave it running for a few moments to let an important line sink in. Or, let some b-roll footage take centre stage for a bit longer to give your viewer time to breathe and digest the information.
On the creative side, b-roll once again gives you more flexibility over the final look and feel of the movie. While cutaway footage may not have much substance on its own, it can significantly impact storytelling.
When properly thought out, supplemental footage can provide greater context to the scene, extending beyond what’s visible on screen. For example, a promotional video introducing new facilities at a theme park can include main footage of a manager discussing the details. B-roll can take this shot from simply talking about how fun the new rides are to showing their journey from construction to happy/screaming customers.
But using b-roll footage in this way is helpful not only because it gives the viewer extra visual information – it also makes the whole video more engaging. It’s no coincidence that b-roll is often used by creators on YouTube, where engagement is key, even by beginners in video editing. Cutaway footage breaks up the otherwise stale scene of someone talking to the camera for 10 minutes. It uses fresh, relevant imagery to engage viewers and give them a better experience.
What is the difference between a-roll and b-roll?
Now that you know what b-roll is, you might have arrived at the answer yourself: the primary difference between a-roll and b-roll footage is their content. A-roll footage is typically the main content of the video, containing the most important messages and visuals. B-roll footage is then added to support and complement the primary shot.
Some commonly used types of b-roll you might recognise are establishing shots of the location, cutaway shots, and stock footage.
How to shoot and edit a b-roll footage
Now that we’ve gone over some b-roll magic, let’s look into some best practices for capturing and editing solid b-roll.
How to shoot b-roll footage:
- More is more. Don’t hold back when recording secondary shots and cutaways – you won’t regret it. While looking through lots of footage might be frustrating, it’s much better than finding out you don’t have enough once the shooting period is over.
- Have a plan. Having a plan for your project is the key to success (we recommend investing some time into storyboarding, too). Extend that approach to your b-roll and make a list of shots you want to take.
- Establish the subject. Avoid simply shooting what’s around you on set when capturing b-roll. As with your main footage, choose the main subject and shoot it from different angles and focal lengths.
- Be creative. B-roll has the power to really elevate your project, so don’t be too afraid to experiment. Play around with different positions, frame rates, close-up shots, and subjects. You might not use everything you capture, but you might also take your film to the next level.
How to edit b-roll footage:
- Hide awkward transitions. As we’ve mentioned, b-roll is a fantastic tool for smooth transitions and pacing of the video.
- Enhance the a-roll. Use b-roll to highlight the message, tone, or atmosphere you strive for in a shot. Let it set the scene and do some of the narrative heavy lifting.
- Add music. Use sound design to further refine the message and tone you want to portray.
B-roll is a fantastic tool for both practical tasks like transitions and creative ones, like setting the tone for a scene. When used correctly, it can help create a captivating video that tells the story in a visually engaging way.
Plan your b-roll footage, overshoot freely, and take some creative liberties, and you’ll be well on your way to making your project an enchanting experience.