What is B Roll?
B Roll is a film and video production term used to describe supporting or secondary footage that is used by the video editor to cutaway from the primary shot.
For the sake of this article, our primary shot is the video interview.
For most video interview situations, good B Roll is crucial to supporting the narrative and adding visual interest and meaning to the story.
B Roll is primary used by the video editor to support and emphasize what the interviewee is talking about. If our interviewee is talking about preparing a budget, then it would be appropriate to see him or her working at a desk and looking through documents.
However B Roll or supporting footage doesn’t always have to be literal, often images can be more general, like showing a person talking with colleges, walking through a room, or working at a desk.
In practical terms, B Roll is cutaway footage, which allows the video editor to cut the dialogue at will, using the footage to cover the edit points. It also allows the editor to hide unflattering shots, mistakes and imperfections in the dialogue.
Often when an interviewee is nervous, there will be many ums and errs, having B Roll allows these to be removed seamlessly, creating a product that looks and sounds professional.
If you look closely at your nightly television news you will see the constant use of B Roll, It’s the vital ingredient to connect and link scenes together.
Creating the right look and feel
It is important to capture B roll that both suits the style and feel of the program and is appropriate to the target audience.
A fast paced program targeted at a young audience might have whip pans and crash zooms, where as a long form documentary on the other hand may use slow drifting shots.
Planning is key
Well considered B Roll choices can add a lot to a projects production value and it deserves thorough planning.
In pre production it is good practice to produce a shot list for the purpose of capturing B Roll. Create a document in a 2-column layout with the dialog on the left side and the shot descriptions on the right side. It’s not unusual to have a small amount of dialog on the left hand side and a long list of shots on the right.