What is B-Roll (what it means, where it came from)
Supplemental footage that should be driving home certain creative points in your video’s narrative, is the basic meaning of the term. For example, in an interview, the footage of the talent is called a talking head, and the footage you see play over the interview is that supplemental footage. B-roll could be considered, the “beauty” shots. Say the interview is about a product that your company is developing, the b-roll, would be of that product specifically.
The actual term came from back in the old days when film reels would be used. Back then when editing footage, there were these things called video decks. On each deck, you have a roll of tape so the first deck would be called Roll A, and this roll would be the interview itself. So the second roll or the B-roll was technically a second editing deck.
Think of it this way, the A-roll is all interview content, talking head content. The B-roll is all the supplemental footage, that should be directly connected with what is being said in the interview. However, B-roll can be creative and doesn’t have to be so literal. It’s there to liven up the video, and pique the viewers’ interest, as well as to visually explain the product or service your company is advertising. Simply put, B-roll is footage captured that is above and beyond your interview.
B-roll should always have a purpose. Every shot in a video should have meaning. As Boston video production agency, Skillman Video Groups’, CEO and Creative Director, Christina Skillman says, “Nothing is by accident, all is by design.”
This means that every shot you take, even if it doesn’t make it into the final video, should serve a purpose and launch the video further towards its goal.
It’s important to remember because if a shot does not serve a purpose, multiple things could happen, such as the viewer losing interest, or becoming confused, etc. It’s always better to have a shot that actually makes sense to the viewer, so you keep them engaged.
Steps to Good B-roll
One of the first steps in creating a good b-roll is to have a good pre-production process. You want to talk about who you’re going to interview, as well as where and how you want to shoot the interview.
The other part of the shoot date is going to be shooting that supplemental footage, the b-roll, that should be driving home the key messages in your video content. Try to always get your own proprietary footage taken. This could include footage of employees working in their offices, the making or building of your product, the product being used out in the field, or interactions between you and your client.
What’s the Point
The whole point of b-roll is to bring the video, your company, and your brand to life and make the audience feel like they have a connection to your brand.
Being intentional with the b-roll is not limited to what occurs in the video in terms of action. What’s just as important is how you shoot the b-roll. There are endless possibilities of how to hold a camera and how to move it. For example, a shoulder mount can be shaky, which might not be as attractive as opposed to, say, a Steadicam.
Steadicams are one of the multiple ways to move a camera to get a beautiful shot. They keep the camera steady and make fluid motions so the video is smooth.
Other techniques include sliders or tripods. And each technique should have a purpose when being used. Tripods are stationary whereas sliders move the camera on a level surface, to the side or forward and backward.
You want to be intentional with the technique you use because each one portrays different emotions. Shoulder mounted and shaky could mean something is intense or suspenseful, and a Steadicam could portray calmness.
You want camera movements and angles to assist the visuals not distract from them.
Stock Footage (is it okay to use, in what situations is it ok to use it)
But what if you can’t get the necessary b-roll? You can use stock footage. Many websites sell or license out footage to be used by anyone. Many people think that using stock footage is inauthentic, which is not completely true or false. There are times when you should use it and times when you shouldn’t.
A couple of dos and don’ts of stock footage
Do, use it if it does not make financial sense to send a crew to should the footage you need. An example of this could be oil. If you’re creating a video about oil in general and need footage of an oil rig or wells, it does not make sense to send a crew out into the ocean for footage of an oil rig when there are thousands of clips of exactly what you need that you can download with a click of a button.
Don’t use stock footage if you need footage of a brand-specific product, place, or service. The audience wants to see your brand and your company. Showing them footage that they could potentially see in another company’s video, limits the connection they will have to your brand. This is when the inauthentic piece to stock footage comes in.
Stock footage should be used for extremely general clips. Such as establishing shots that you may not have the resources to get, like the New York Skyline, oil rigs, deserts, etc. If you do not have the time or resources to get a shot, that is when it is acceptable to use stock footage. Again, everything is permissible as long as it is intentional. Whether you use stock footage in your video, or you actually invest to have a crew come and get proprietary footage, there’s a right or wrong answer. It’s only right or wrong, depending on what the intention is for your video.
B-roll is just as important as an interview. There are multiple ways to obtain the b-roll that is right for you, whether it’s using drones, tripods, sliders, or stock footage. It’s what your audience will see and interpret as part of the story, so you want it to impact them in some way. There are always creative ways to get the images that you want to get. Everything in your video communicates something about you, your product, and who you are as an organization.