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The Importance of B-Roll: Painting the Whole Picture

We have a rule here at Big Slate when it comes to any video project – commercial, company overview, event coverage, you name it – OVER SHOOT. This becomes especially true with pick-up shots or B-roll.

We talk about and utilize B-roll a lot. So, we wanted to share our thoughts on the importance of this footage and how it can be best used in your next video. (Roll that beautiful, B-roll blog…

What exactly is B-roll?

people standing inside room while man standing and holding recording camera during daytime getting b-roll

When shooting a video, shots of your primary subject are called A-roll. Therefore, any extra footage you capture in addition to the main subject is referred to as B-roll. “A” comes first, “B” comes second… makes sense, right?

Although B-roll is considered secondary or supplementary footage, it definitely should not be considered secondary in importance. Both are necessary in conveying a powerful message. While A-roll tells the story, B-roll provides necessary context.

No Film School has a great analogy for it. “A-roll is the hotdog and B-roll are the fixins. You have a full meal with just the hotdog, sure, but what kind of freak would eat a plain hotdog?

Don’t be the freak with the plain hot dog.

hands holding hot dog with ketchup and mustard on it for b-roll blog

Types of B-Roll shots

Really, the possibilities are endless in terms of what types of shots make good B-roll. Depending on the type of video, location of the shoot or the client, it can really be anything that adds to the video flow. This could be:

  • Establishing shots of the room, building or outdoors
  • People working on day-to-day activities (on a computer, machine, etc.)
  • Signage
  • Interviewee smiling, nodding, etc.
  • People holding awards, framed photos, etc.

You can see several of these types in this video we created for Helen Ross McNabb Center:

Why is it useful?

Beyond providing context and setting the stage for the primary story, there are many other practical uses for B-roll footage.

It can REALLY help during the editing process. Odds are, you won’t have perfect shots all the time, especially when shooting long-form interviews. It could be as simple as a sneeze that you need to cut out. If you want it to flow better than using a quick-cut to remove the shot, overlaying some related B-roll makes it a much smoother transition that no one will think twice about.  

Will Ferrel as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman sneezing gif for b-roll blog

Speaking of long-form interviews, a video can quickly become pretty dull if you’re just watching someone talk on camera for several minutes. Switching the shot over to some B-roll related to what they’re talking about makes the video much more engaging.

Check out this video we made for Sonny Brooke Stables, and imagine if we just kept the shot on Krystle the whole time… not nearly as fun as watching horse jumping (No offense to Krystle, she’s awesome)!

Make it part of the process.

Now that you have some perspective on the importance of B-roll, make sure it’s integrated into your pre-production process. Consider your primary shot and what supporting visuals could make it stronger. When scouting locations, also consider what pick-up shots and angles you should incorporate into your shot list. Be thorough.

It will definitely take your video to the next level.

If you ever need help with any facet of video production, or have more questions about B-roll, you know who to call.

Big Slate Media Team