Where would we be without B-roll – that supporting footage that helps visually demonstrates the theme or thought of a piece and bridges interview bites, ideas and cuts? If you’ve watched the news, you’ve seen B-roll. Here is a funny video called “We Got That B-Roll” that makes fun of B-roll that is often over used in commercials: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SItFvB0Upb8&feature=player_embedded.
In most non-fiction productions, good B-roll is crucial to building a visually exciting and meaningful video. I have been in the unfortunate position of getting into the edit suite and not have enough B-roll footage to cover the cuts. Or, not having enough to cover long, visually uninteresting interviews. I’ve long since learned that whatever B-roll you think you may need, get it and then some.
Before any shoot, I like to think about B-roll possibilities and list them out on the taping itinerary. Locations scout helps tremendously. But even when a scout is not possible, a nice B-roll options list can be created from talking to the interview subjects and other people at the location. I like to list out B-roll possibilities that directly speak to the subject at hand and then list out general shots that will work with the overall theme. For example, if I am taping an interview about creating a family budget, I’ll specifically get a member of the family working on a spread or paying bills. General B-roll might include family interaction like cooking together or walking the dog. Now I have both specific and general shots that will cover whatever is mentioned in the script. For a short 5-minute piece, I’ll get a minimum of 3 topic-specific and 3 generic activities.
As a producer, it is my job to communicate my B-roll wants and needs to the camera operator. Freelance cameraman Matt Martin (www.mattmartin.tv) likes producers to give him as much information as possible about the projects as well as share any specific ideas prior to shooting. That way, he can use the shoot time shooting rather than standing around trying to figure things out. He likes to know the type of project, the length, the style and even the audience. “If the piece is for a younger audience, I may use a lot of snap zooms and whip pans. If it is long form, I may hold the shots longer.” Matt likes to create a visual sequence by starting with an establishing shot, moving in to follow the action and then getting tight, detailed shots. He also likes to know how much time will be covered by the B-roll. “Needing 30 seconds of B-roll is very different from needing 3 minutes.”
Martin adds “A 30-second edit or b-roll cover time may need as many as ten shots to fill the time and tell the story. As a Director of Photography you can capture footage at 7-second intervals and have your producer covered if you have at least twelve clips in the camera. I try to cover my clients by putting heads and tails on the ends of each clip. This is done by adding 5 seconds of static (not moving the camera) at the beginning and ending of each shoot. It’s very important and the editors will love you for it.”
Getting a variety of types of shots is important. I like to get different angles from bird’s eye to worm’s eye views. If I am covering Marine Corps training, following the troops then letting them march out of frame can create the feeling of orderly movement. A nice low angle of boots marching through the mud or an extreme close up of the Sergeant’s mouth barking orders with spittle flying all over can bring the audience into the moment.
Sound is also important. Many times, visual don’t make as much sense without the corresponding audio. What’s a police car tearing down the street without the sound of screeching wheels? A couple of common mistakes are forgetting to turn on the camera mic or talking while the camera is rolling. In some cases, you may want to use a more power microphone to make sure you get strong, clean audio.
Now that the footage, including B-roll is shot, it is time to edit. Having enough varied B-roll will help any edit run smoother. As an editor, Gemal Woods (www.parktriangle.com), feels that you can never have too much B-roll. “Get all the B-roll you can.” He says. “You never know what the creative process will call for in an edit suite.” After that, what he looks for in B-roll is project specific. “If it’s long form, longer shots are good. If I’m working on a promo piece, I’m looking for options over length. In that case, short impactful visuals work well.” Woods, who is also a cameraman, believes some of the best B-roll is spontaneous and urges producers to leave enough time in the schedule to get those unplanned moments.
When you can’t get the B-roll yourself, you can always purchase some from archival footage houses or news outlets. This is particularly helpful in demonstrating things that have happened in the past. But whatever your project, spend some time before going into the edit suite to determine what you need and the best way to get it.
For more b-roll sources and information, visit the B-roll category.