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Everything a Filmmaker Needs to Know About B-Roll

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

In film and television production, the B-roll is used as secondary footage to supplement the scene and provide visual context to help build the story. Contrary to A-roll, which tells the story, the B-roll allows the filmmaker to show the story.

It consists of additional footage used to complement the primary footage, often providing cutaway shots or close-ups of relevant objects or people. B-roll can add depth to a story and make it more engaging for the viewer. It can also cover up transitions or cuts in the primary footage, helping create a seamless and polished final product. Overall, the B-roll is an essential tool for filmmakers looking to create high-quality and engaging content.

Why Do I Need a B-Roll?

The purpose of the B-roll is to provide context to the story's narrative. It also allows you to add visual interest to the film and the ability to be a creative storyteller, especially with the use of different shots and angles to match the film's tone.

Especially in documentary filmmaking, the B-roll is essential to completing the story. It refers to the footage used to support the main narrative of the documentary. This footage is often used to illustrate what the narrator or interviewee is saying or to provide additional context or background information. B-roll can create a sense of place, show the passage of time, or provide visual interest and variety.

Without b-roll, a documentary can quickly become monotonous and disengaging. It is important to choose the right b-roll that can help to create a cohesive and powerful visual narrative that supports the overall message of the documentary.

Things to Remember When Filming a B-roll

  1. Determine the shots you need to support your main footage. The very first step should be to create a plan of what kind of B-roll footage you want. Remember that the B-roll needs to be relevant to make sense within the scene and support the story, or else a poor B-roll can leave a viewer confused.

  2. Use a tripod or stabilizer to keep your shots steady. You don’t want your b-roll to look sloppy, so utilizing a tripod or stabilizer will allow you to film professional and clean footage.

  3. Make sure your shots are well-lit and properly exposed. Additionally, making sure your b-roll footage is well-lit and properly exposed is crucial. You want the b-roll to match the look and feel of your film, so it is essential that the lighting also matches, or else it will stick out like a sore thumb.

  4. Use a variety of angles and distances to add visual interest. Adding visual interest is the primary purpose of b-roll, so try to incorporate different angles and lenses to ensure that you include various perspectives that fully encompass the scene and message you are trying to send.

  5. Get plenty of footage to choose from in the editing process. The more, the merrier. You always want to have more b-roll than you think you will need. During the editing process, you may not know how much or how little of a specific b-roll you want to use, and it is definitely easier to work with an abundance.

  6. Find where the b-roll is most appropriate. As mentioned, the b-roll must make sense in the film, or the viewer will be confused. Refrain from overloading on the b-roll or skimping on it - you will know how much is enough as you go through the editing process. It should be edited within the main footage and help strengthen the story, create tension, or further illustrate an idea or concept.

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