B-Roll Footage – Why It’s Important

B-roll is supplementary footage which, while not essential, can make all the difference to the end-product. In simple terms, the primary footage, or A-roll of the film, provides the content, while the B-roll is the glue that binds the content together to create a cohesive and watchable scene.

The B-roll is often referred to as “safety footage” as it can help you out of a sticky situation if you’ve captured moments of A-roll footage which are not up to scratch. Whether there’s a distraction in the background, or a necessary jump cut, your B-roll can help to save the day. B-roll footage might constitute a time-lapse, slow pan or static shot, and while it’s often used to cover up edits, it can also make your end-product more powerful.

Don’t just tell them, show them!

Most videos benefit from footage that gives viewers something extra by supplementing the audio. Even with an engaging storyteller, it is far more beneficial for the audience to see the scene, setting and action of the story itself, rather than just a picture of the speaker.

News programmes are a prime example of B-roll in action. The news reader will introduce the story and B-roll footage will be shown to add the context. Without these complementary visuals the story loses a huge part of its impact. As an example, a fire-fighter could describe what it’s like to battle a fire, but it’s not until the story cuts to the inferno that we understand the complete picture.

There’s always time for B-roll

Often there’s very little time to think about shooting supporting visuals. Time constraints on shoots are always tight and in many cases you might have just a few minutes of A-roll to shoot, so every opportunity you have to grab some B-roll should be taken.

If you’re filming an interview, try and shoot some B-roll footage either immediately before or after the interview. Whether it’s the interviewee acting naturally in their work environment before the interview begins, or some cutaway shots that can be used by the editor if there’s a problem with another shot, the more B-roll you have, the better.

Make the most of your surroundings

B-roll should always relate to the subject matter, but within a topic or theme there’s plenty of scope for a unique angle or an imaginative shot. Variety is all important, so catch as many shots as you can while you have the chance. Try some wide shots, close-ups or maybe even a bird’s-eye view of the event. Shots taken on the move can also help to spice up otherwise static shots.

Another common technique is to capture plenty of B-roll of an interview subject as they go about their day-to-day business. This footage, supplemented by a voice-over, can improve the connection between the audience and the subject.

So, while the industry term B-roll might make this all-important technique sound like a backup plan, B-roll is a pretty big deal. In fact, it takes up the lion’s share of screen time, so not only must you capture it, it’s essential you capture it well.