What is “B-roll?”
B-roll is the footage essential to visually accompany the story that may be told through audio on the “A-roll,” which is traditionally interviews. If you want a good laugh, this ancient YouTube video “We Got That B-roll” still resonates throughout the industry. (You gotta get all the way to the famous section at :55 where he explains what is NOT b-roll. And he makes a great point. If your shot list is “too specific” or a historical moment, you might need to turn to archival stock footage. More on that in another post.) All laughs aside, there’s nothing worse than getting into the edit room and realizing you don’t have enough b-roll.
How Do You Plan for Great B-roll?
B-roll doesn’t just “happen,” especially if you are shooting on a particularly time-table. My rule of thumb is to shoot three to four scenes of supporting material for every one to three minutes of finished minutes of story. This general works out to a day of shooting b-roll for every day of shooting interviews. By pre-interviewing subjects so you know what they might be referencing during an interview, you can plan to gather relevant b-roll to cover the story. This is called a Shot List, and should identify each scene you need to include in your video. One scene generally requires multiple angles of coverage, such as a wide shot, medium shot, and various tight shots. In addition, on-camera subject(s) also need breaks. So to expect that immediately after wrapping an interview someone will want you and your camera following them around to get b-roll may be unrealistic and stress-inducing.
Scheduling Well for B-roll
Build your budget and schedule so that you give your on camera subject(s) time to decompress—perhaps while the team is picking up an establishing shot that doesn’t require your “talent”. Plan key scenes well in advance: “we’d like to get Sarah hanging out with her school friends—can you invite them all to come to the house at 4PM on the day of our shoot?” And try to work around existing opportunities—“Since you told us you have full office team meetings every Monday at 11AM, can we be a fly on the wall this Monday? And can we get into the room a little in advance to put up a few lights?”
By strategizing in advance, you can ensure you have the optimal footage to tell your video story. For more detailed approaches, check out my courses on LinkedIn Learning. Or feel free to book a meeting with me to discuss your next video project!