If you’re not using B-roll in your video editing – you might be missing a trick. B-roll footage is regarded by many video editing professionals as the next step in creating compelling and professional final edits of your content. In this article, we’re going to look at B-roll, along with how to use it effectively in your videos.
What is B-roll?
B-roll is basically the extra footage you film on a shoot that isn’t your main, primary footage (or your “A-roll”). It is secondary to the main footage, and could be background shots or stuff that was filmed while the camera was left filming. Just because it isn’t your primary footage, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to telling a story or creating a compelling video. It can actually add a lot more realism to your story when used correctly.
One example of B-roll in a documentary would be footage of an interviewee actually doing what they’re talking about on camera, while the footage of them telling the actual story or answering an interview question is the A-roll. You don’t even have to film the B-roll yourself, it could be from archive footage especially if you’re interviewing someone who has been in the news or other media. The voiceover from the A-roll can be played over the B-roll footage to create a more compelling piece of content.
What are the main benefits of B-roll?
There are loads of benefits to using B-roll footage. Both to make your video look better and to help with storytelling.
It’s a particularly useful tool for editing as cutting between A and B footage can help mask cuts or mistakes in either of those. When using entirely A-roll footage, there can be continuity issues or problems with editing down without jumps in footage. B-roll can help eliminate this.
For example, if interview dialogue needs to be cut, doing so entirely with A-roll footage can lead to jumps or a final video that doesn’t play well. B-roll can help here and adds extra flexibility when editing.
B-roll can also be useful in editing for transition. You can move seamlessly from one scene to another with B-roll in between, or even out of video entirely to a final cut-scene or text overlay.
Another use for B-roll is to help the pacing of a video.
B-roll can also add context to a video. This is hugely effective in helping improve the narrative of your content. B-roll can be used to help inform the audience and give them additional, useful information which can make the video more compelling or interesting. As discussed, this can be used with interview audio footage from the A-roll to show the location of what is being discussed or the actions of the participants while they’re talking about it. For example, if someone is discussing a woodworking technique, instead of just filming them talking about it, or even performing the technique while talking, B-roll footage of the woodworking can take place while an A-roll explanation is played over it.
B-roll is also hugely effective at creating engagement with your videos. Some experts say it’s the most important part of using B-roll footage. You can break up what many might consider a boring scene with fresh footage. Most documentaries use B-roll extensively. They don’t just film the subject talking, they use engaging B-roll footage to enhance what is being spoken about and make a more enjoyable film.
What are the different types of B-roll that you can use?
B-roll is actually quite a broad term, and there are loads of different types of B-roll footage that can enhance your filmmaking.
You can use B-roll footage to effectively show the location or exterior of where the rest of the action is taking place. Exterior shots are useful for a number of reasons. They make it easy for your audience to understand the context of the situation and know where everything is happening.
They don’t even have to be the real exterior, as many video-editors like to pretend an interview is taking place in a more aesthetic location. For example: BBC’s The Apprentice uses exterior shots of Canary Wharf to imply that’s where boardroom interviews are taking place, when they’re actually filmed elsewhere.
Exterior shots don’t just have to be used at the start of a scene, and can break up a scene throughout, to change tone or for dramatic purposes.
Cutaways and inserts
Cutaways and inserts are used often in fictional narrative work, although not exclusively. Cutaways can be used in editing to improve acting work or add more context for the viewer.
Especially useful for documentaries, reenactment B-roll footage can help provide an example of a story or action for the viewer to relate to.
If you don’t have enough resources to shoot everything yourself, you can use stock footage B-roll to make your video more authentic or imply you’re working with a bigger budget. This footage can be used to fill editing gaps or create a more compelling video without breaking the bank.
B-roll usage tips
One issue with B-roll is you’ll often find you don’t have enough of it. So make sure you film as much as possible. Leave cameras on when you think you don’t need them, and go back over all your footage meticulously to find shots that can work for your film.
While B-roll is called “B” roll, it shouldn’t be thought of as an afterthought or considered secondary to your A-roll. it’s arguably just as important, some might argue even more important than your A-roll.
Make sure you have an effective plan for what you want to capture before filming and don’t skimp on storage space. Film more rather than less.
Get creative with your focal lengths and shutter speeds, try lots of alternatives and build a large roll of footage, way more than you think you might need.
Hopefully, with this article, you’ve seen how useful B-roll can be for your video creation procedures, as well as a few tips to use it effectively.
Andrew Farron works for Fable Studios, a Creative-led boutique video and animation studio that creates tailored brand stories that endure in your audience’s mind. We combine your objectives with audience insights and inspired ideas to create unforgettable productions that tell the unique story of your brand.