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B-roll footage plays a huge role in the filmmaking storytelling process. It’s just as important as the main set-up shots in creating a captivating film, but often its not given the consideration your film deserves.
The term B-roll refers to accompanying footage intercut with a main shot in an interview or documentary. So, for example, your interview subject talking to camera may be your A-roll. Any alternative footage, such as cutaways to surroundings or significant places, will be your B-roll. It’s a technique also used in fiction film and commercials. Remember that you want to retain an audience’s engagement as much as possible, and these cutaways will hold their gaze and give meaning to what you’re trying to convey.
Not only does B-roll create a more visually stimulating film, but it’s also referred to as "safety footage". If you’ve got moments that work for audio but not video, perhaps something distracting in the background, or maybe you’ve slipped out of focus, then the B-roll footage can be used to mask the shot. You can also help the editor to shorten verbose answers, or to hide any long pauses, or errs and coughs in the audio track.
The key to B-roll is obtaining a variety of footage that helps tell the story. Most people get lazy and hardly get any.
Ask yourself, what is the B-roll going to be used for? Is it going to be used for a fast-paced film, which you’ll need fast movement and actions, or a much slower and focused film, which you’ll need to get slower movements and more detailed shots? In general, it’s best to get a variety in case you want to change your mind later.
Mix up your angles! Look around for interesting shots that can add variety. Stretch out those legs and move around – get low, high and capture various viewpoints. Get creative and have fun!