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It's All About the B-Roll

A man standing in a field video records the workers harvesting crops.
Image Credit: Tomilee Turner

What's the difference between A-roll and B-roll?

When recording footage, the A-roll creates the foundation of the video. It usually includes soundbites, on-camera statements from an interviewee or speaker that define the central message. These soundbites and a scripted narrative/voice-over make up the A-roll.

B-roll, which comes in many different forms, is used to illustrate the message from the speaker's interview and the details from the scripted voice-over/narrative. B-roll sources are video, photos, graphics, or animation. No matter the form, these all help to visually convey the story, message, product, service, event, training, or promotion.

In most instances, video footage or photos are the primary sources of B-roll for a video. As mentioned before, B-roll helps convey the message from the speaker's interview (soundbite), and it also fills in the gaps (scripted narrative/voiceover) in between the speaker's words. B-roll brings the speaker's words and the whole video to life.

In addition, B-roll is also used to cover up portions of the speaker's presentation (soundbites). For example, after recording the speaker, a video editor may decide not to use all of the speaker's interview. Instead, they will keep the best and most relevant parts of the interview.

During this process, the video editor will select several short soundbites that are edited together (butt edits) to make a seamless, continuous statement (soundtrack). Sometimes these edits are done to remove the speaker's audio mistakes or to remove distracting background audio noises.

When these butt edits occur, the body and face of the speaker will appear to jump around on the screen at the beginning and end of each butt edit. This face and body movement on the video track is called a jump cut. To hide these jump cuts on the video track, the video editor inserts B-roll over the speaker's face to hide these jump cuts on screen.

For example, let's say someone is editing an instructional video on how to fix a tractor motor. A portion of the speaker's interview is composed of several butt edit soundbites. To cover the portion of the interview that has the jump cuts, the video editor uses B-roll video footage of a farm worker repairing the tractor engine. This B-roll is accompanied by the speaker's voice talking about those particular skills needed to fix the engine. The portion of the speaker's interview that doesn't have jump cuts is usually seen on screen without any type of B-roll.

Choosing B-roll for your project

Details from the written script (voice-over/narrative) and interview (soundbite) will dictate the B-roll that is needed.

An example film script where each scene's video and audio components are broken down by timing.
Image Credit: Amanda Chase

Regardless of the type of video project, producers should first develop a written script. This script guides the entire video production process.

Video editing (called post-production), usually starts by selecting the best audio soundbites, then weaving them together into a smooth narration. After the soundtrack (scripted voice-over/narrative) is finished, the editor covers up or fills in the gaps by inserting B-roll (footage, photos, graphics or animation) that complements the narrative or soundtrack.

A video project may rely on different sources of B-roll; this may include video footage or images shot by the video crew, taken by someone else, or purchased from a stock footage company. B-roll such as graphics, logos or animations can also be used to tell the story.

Think outside of the box! Ask interviewees/speakers, field experts, eyewitnesses, and others if they can contribute visuals that will help convey the story visually.

But remember to always obtain and save written permission from the person or agency supplying any visuals that were not created by the video producer. The video producer should credit everyone who supplied extra visuals in the credits at the end of the video.

Examples of B-roll video footage in a news story

Here is a hypothetical example of a news story. A local cattle rancher is interviewed for a soundbite about the lack of precipitation this year and how this is affecting range grass and feed for livestock. This portion of the video (interview/soundbite) is part of the A-roll.

The video footage shot and used for this story is considered the B-roll. Based on the above story details, the videographer may shoot:

  • various shots of the cattle rancher working on his ranch.

  • cattle foraging on the low density grassland.

  • the rancher providing supplemental feed to his cattle.

  • isolated video of the range and lack of grass.

  • a water tank, trough and windmill.

  • various shots of cattle on the range, eating in their pens, or drinking water.

  • family members helping out on the ranch.

  • shots of the heat, sky, sun and barren range.

  • shots of some other animals in the hot sun.

All of these are visuals that may illustrate the points in the interview and narrative.

When should B-roll video footage of the speaker/interviewee be shot?

It is best to shoot B-roll video footage of the interviewee/speaker on the same day as the interview. The interview and B-roll video footage will have uniformity (a consistent look with weather, clothing, sound, and environment). There will be instances when this may be impossible, and a return to location may have to occur to obtain B-roll with the interviewee/speaker. If this is the case, have the interviewee/speaker wear the same clothing they had on during the the interview. If general B-roll (without the interviewee/speaker) is being shot on a different day at the same location, then this is not necessary.

B-roll video footage has many faces

After you've captured B-roll with the interviewee, you'll have to decide what to include in additional B-roll. Use the the voiceover/narrative as a guide. The details of what was said will help you to decide when, how, and where additional B-roll should be shot.

It all depends on the subject matter of the story. Some B-roll video footage may be seasonal, such as when gathering footage of crops on a farm. Some B-roll video footage may depend on weather. For example, if the story is about rain and precipitation, then it's a matter of chance. Some B-roll video footage may have to be planned, staged or re-enacted, such as B-roll for an instructional or an educational video. Some B-roll is documented live (as it is happening), such as a television news story.

The purpose of the video will dictate if there are interviews, testimonials or an on-camera reporter or host; what details are written in the narrative/voice-over; and what B-roll (visuals) will be needed to visually tell the story.

How to shoot B-roll footage

  • Focus on telling the story and gathering the visuals needed to convey your message to your viewers.

  • Shoot more video than you think you will need. It is better to have more video to choose from than not enough.

  • Record a variety of shots taken from different angles. Try to record wide, medium and close-up shots of each subject or scene.

  • While videotaping, think sequentially in your mind. Shoot scenes that fit together!

  • Be creative. Give your viewers different perspectives.

An example of B-roll video footage supporting the soundbites and voice-over/narrative

Below is an example of an educational promotional video for NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences that utilizes soundbites, voice-over/narrative, titles, graphics and B-roll video footage to convey the story.

Examples of B-roll other than video footage in a video

Image Credit: NMSU IMRE Video Unit

Titles, color backgrounds, logos, and graphics can also be considered B-roll. In this project, they were used to cover the beginning of the video.

Image Credit: NMSU IMRE Video Unit

The same was applied in this video introduction. B-roll, including photos, was integrated with titles, color backgrounds, and animated graphics.

Written by Art Ruiloba, NMSU-ACES Video Producer,


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