If you’ve ever tried creating videos, then you will at some point have realised that your videos aren’t as good as the ones made by professionals, and you might have struggled to figure out why. Many people, tragically, get discouraged and stop making videos at this point.

There are numerous ‘oh that makes so much sense now’ moments you will discover on your journey through learning video production and a key one that many people skip over is something called B-Roll.

B-Roll is a simple way to take your videos to the next level and start creating video content that looks more professional and has a lasting impact on your audience.

What is B-roll?

Imagine you have finished shooting all of the content for your video, and you are about to start editing. If you look at all of your footage, you can divide it into two broad categories; the first is your main footage or A-Roll. A-Roll is the footage that is mission-critical for your video. Without it, you haven’t got the bare minimum to make your video. If you were making a video about your dog, for example, the A-Roll would be the footage of your dog’s face so that the audience can know what the dog looks like. The second category is B-Roll. It is the footage that is related to your subject that can be used as a sort of ‘filler’. It is all the spare clips that can be used to help fill out a video.

Why would we use B-roll?

B-Roll is used because only using A-Roll can quickly become stagnant. If you interviewed a person and only showed their face for the entire video, it can quickly get visually boring. B-Roll is a way to diversify footage on the screen and keep it interesting and engaging. It is also used in storytelling. Many sitcoms and dramas use B-Roll to identify locations. For example, Seinfeld regularly uses an establishing shot of the apartment to show that the next scene will take place inside that apartment. Movies also use B-Roll to assist storytelling.

Seinfeld B-Rolling with it!

If you love Seinfeld and or slap-bass then this video perfectly illustrates the establishing shot. If not, maybe don’t watch the whole six minutes. 

If you’ve ever watched Gladiator, you’ll remember the scenes of Maximus walking through a field, dragging his fingers through the stalks of wheat. It’s a powerful shot used at both the beginning and end of the movie, and it is B-Roll.

Wheatimus Maximus

A quick reminder of the wheat scene from Gladiator! The B-roll in this scene conjures a sense of family, loss and memory. Not bad for Wheat in the wind!

When to use it in your Content

B-Roll is a powerful tool for filling out your video with supplementary footage, as well as for transitions or establishing scenes. Let’s take transitions as an example. Let’s imagine you interviewed someone who went off topic during the interview. It’s easy enough to clip out the bit where the person got distracted, the audio sounds perfect, but the video visibly jumps at the point where you cut it. This is where B-Roll is incredibly useful. By putting B-roll of what the person is talking about over the interview footage, you can hide that visual jump, and the viewer will be none the wiser. Not only have you hidden the jump, but you have enhanced the video by displaying footage of what the interviewee is talking about, a double win!

Transitions are just one situation where B-Roll is helpful. Anytime you need to diversify the shots on screen to keep the video engaging, provide context to some information with a cutaway, or support your primary footage, B-Roll is an effective tool for doing so.

Summary

The great thing about B-Roll is that it is easy to produce, if you take the time to do it. Dedicating time to film B-Roll, and planning for it in your videos, will ensure that you have all the shots you need, and help you avoid coming up short when it comes to editing. Another neat fact about B-Roll is that it can come from anywhere, it can even be stock footage and doesn’t necessarily require sound. This means that over time, as you film more footage and create more videos, you will steadily build an archive of B-Roll that you can regularly refer to in future projects, meaning that the quality of the B-Roll you use will improve over time as you will start to find perfect B-Roll footage for your project that may have been filmed months, or even years ago!

Once you learn about B-Roll, you’ll start to notice it everywhere. It’s one of those tools that you might not initially think of in filmmaking, but once you hear about it, you will realise just how crucial it can be. Now that you’ve learnt about it, the next thing to do is practice. Get out there and show us what you can make with B-Roll!

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT:

Watch any Netflix crime documentary. When someone is being interviewed, how often does it cut away to a re-enactment, a series of photos or CCTV footage? Does a guilty person look guilty, or has B-roll supported that idea by showing twitching thumbs or a close up of a sweaty forehead! B-roll can help enforce an idea, emotion or notion.