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What Is B-Roll?

As a filmmaker, it can be challenging to capture the right images that convey your story. If you ever find yourself in an inspiration rut, an exciting new shooting location just might be the spark that re-ignites your creative flame!

With Peerspace, you can find thousands of unique and inspiring spaces to help bring your filmmaking ideas to life. All you have to do is contact the Peerspace Concierge Team and plan a tech scout! Even if you have already shot most of your main storyline, a good location can help you capture the supplementary footage you need to fill in the gaps. This type of extra footage is called B-roll.

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But what exactly is B-roll? Getting familiar with this industry terminology and its importance can make the difference between an amateur filmmaker and a professional one.

What is B-roll?

In a film, the primary subject matter is called the A-roll. B-roll, on the other hand, is any footage that is used to supplement the main story. In other words—it is secondary footage that can be cut amidst the primary footage for a variety of storytelling purposes. B-roll can take several forms:

  • Footage of a particular location or the objects within that location to help the viewer get a feel for how someone lives or what someone does.
  • Candid footage of people in their natural element.
  • Shots of actors reenacting a scenario mentioned by someone in the A-roll.
  • Animations or graphics such as charts and maps that visually portray dense information.
  • Archival images that represent memories or significant events from the past.
  • Royalty-Free stock footage pulled from an online library such as Shutterstock.

In all of these examples, B-roll complements ideas brought up in the A-roll by showing rather than simply telling.

The importance of B-roll

Good B-roll can significantly raise the production value of documentaries, feature films, news segments, and television, and can set a professional project apart from an amateur one. When done well, B-roll can help boost the impact of a story, build tension, emphasize a point, and is always an attempt to balance visuals that might otherwise feel empty or stagnant.

For example, let’s say the characters in a film are planning a bank heist. As they go over the complex plan with its many intricate details, the conversation on its own can get confusing and potentially boring for a viewer to follow. A common use of B-roll here is to show the characters doing their individual jobs as described. In addition to providing entertaining visual cues for the audience, this technique also allows the filmmaker to depict two timelines—the brainstorming stage and the execution stage—simultaneously. This way, the audience becomes as familiar with the plan as the film’s characters are. So, when the climax hits and things start to go inevitably wrong, the discord between expectation and reality is all-the-more suspenseful.

B-roll is not only able to add emotional context and set a film’s tone, but it can also help significantly in the editing toom. A good selection of B-roll footage gives flexibility to the editor by filling in potential gaps in the story and covering up any mistakes made in production. It can also allow for smoother and more creative transitions between scenes. The editing possibilities are truly endless!

More than any other genre, however, B-roll is perhaps the most vital in documentary filmmaking. A lot of documentaries rely heavily on interview footage, and without additional visual cues or context, it may be difficult for the audience to fully connect with a subject’s words. By using candid shots, archival footage, or reenactments of what the interview subjects are talking about, your audience won’t simply have to imagine the impact of the story—they’ll be able to see it for themselves.

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How to shoot B-roll

B-roll can be really fun to shoot, but as with any type of filming, it is important to plan ahead. Once you have prepared your A-roll shot list, brainstorm some corresponding B-roll to get an idea of your shooting priorities for each scene. Scouting out your shooting location ahead of time can be a helpful way to get inspiration. It is also a good idea to meet with the art department and discuss the details of production design—you never know what interesting props you may want to capture!

Once filming begins, it is important to capture a variety of different angles. From establishing wide shots to medium shots and close-ups, there is no such thing as shooting too much coverage. Your editor will surely appreciate the diligence.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep your A-roll and B-roll footage consistent. Any discrepancies in lighting, prop placement, or style between shots can easily distract an audience and pull them out of the story.

Time to start shooting!

Experimenting with B-roll can be a rewarding and creative challenge for a filmmaker. It may take some practice and planning, but never underestimate the illustrative power of secondary footage to make or break your film. Plus, honing this attention to detail can even help you become a better storyteller! So, what are you waiting for? Get shooting!

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