B-roll is so important to your project as a whole, but what is it exactly?
Back in the day, editors used to use cast-off pieces of film to splice into the middle of scenes in order to either give it more depth or to help aid pacing. These pieces proved themselves to be useful.
Eventually, directors were shooting some extra things to cut in there if they needed it.
We call that stuff B-roll, but more on that later.
Today I want to talk about the general theory behind B-roll and the ways you can shoot it so it's exciting and cinematic.
So let's begin.
What is B-Roll and How Can You Make Yours Cinematic?
B-roll is the alternative footage to the principal photography—the main shots in your project—and is used to complement the A-roll. Sometimes, B-roll will be written as "B-roll footage, Broll, or B roll."
The difference between A-roll and B-roll
A-roll is usually focused on the characters and the main plot. B-roll is the footage that will work as insert shots, cutaways, and coverage among other things.
As we mentioned in our opening, B-roll was originally founded by directors and editors who needed to create space or conjoin shots that didn't perfectly match. While it is still used that way, B-roll has advanced. Sure, wedding photographers use it to cover guests, and news broadcasts and documentaries use it to show the action that happens while someone delivers the information, but film and TV shows are a little less clinical about it.
We have a whole article on B-roll tips you should check out.
B-roll in film and television
B-roll in film and TV has many more uses and occurs on a much larger scale. See, film and TV shows are shot with different units. The first unit stays with the director and focuses on shots with the actors or main plot points. The second unit shoots almost everything else.
That means things like establishing shots, inserts, and even some close-ups are covered through B-roll.
Think about shots in sitcoms of the city before they cut inside, like on Seinfeld or 30 Rock.
Or even shots that visually symbolize what's going on inside a character, like in the Dog vs. Rabbit scene in Snatch.
B-roll helps your projects come alive.
And sometimes you can sell your B-roll for stock footage. So you might want to look into that to license.
How to get the best and most cinematic B-roll
When you're making a shot list, don't rush your B-roll. So many times we see static, boring shots that double as B-roll. these shots have no energy and can feel out of place in the edit.
If you want more cinematic B-roll, try incorporating movement.
Check out the opening of Field of Dreams.
We start static but eventually get the crane up, pans, and other ways to transition us into the corn.
This movement is cinematic.
But what if you don't have that kind of insane budget?
Then think outside the box.
In Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, we hear a sordid story about Alyssa Jones. Instead of staying on the person telling the story, we use B-roll in a POV shot. The movement of the camera keeps us engaged with the performance, as exposition gets delivered by a character we will never meet again.
If these don't inspire you, let me leave you with one more example of cinematic B-roll.
It's from Mad Max: Fury Road.
These clips show about twenty minutes of the first and second units capturing B-roll for the movie. It's cinematic, gorgeous, and takes a ton of skill. They use the movement of the camera, the subjects, creative angles, and lots of other shots to add style and context to the scene.
What's next? 50+ Camera angles, shots, and movements!
Have you ever been overwhelmed at the possibility of every camera angle, framing, and shot type available as a filmmaker? Us too. So we provided a cheat sheet with definitions for you!
Click for more.