What is B-Roll footage? Find out the most common uses of B-roll

So…what is B-Roll?

Back in the day when tape decks were around, there were A-Rolls and B-Rolls.  The A-Roll was the main footage where the character was speaking or the reporter was on the scene.  The B-Roll footage was everything else.  The name for this stock footage pretty much stuck.  It was the landscape or people walking in and out of an office or cars driving by.  There is normally no sound on the b-roll. This allows voice-overs to be made over the footage.  It was used a lot when cameras were transitioning from camera to camera to disguise unwanted content or anything that might have distracted the director such as a blip or bad shot. 

Where is B-roll footage mostly used?

The most common and notable use of b-roll is in newscasts.  Imagine a news anchor talking about a story then the film cuts to footage of the story while the anchor is still talking.  That footage is b-roll.  Other great uses are in documentaries and informational videos where the footage cuts to landscapes or other shots that pertain to the film.  It is also a great tool to break up a film from cut to cut so that there are no repeating cuts of the main footage.  It keeps your video more interesting and the attention span of the viewer. 

Today, video gear and software has become more affordable. Not only high class professionals like video editors or producers can now utilize HD stock footage for their needs, anyone familiar with basic editing programs can make video for their website, product, or YouTube channel.  Since the audience is becoming wider, the demand quality royalty free footage has skyrocketed. There will never be enough b-roll footage due to the demand for new, never seen before high quality video clips.

What are the most popular topics for B-roll footage?

The most popular topics of b-roll stock footage are people, nature, science, industrial, and big cities (Groner, 2013).  People are best utilized for in an office setting, playing sports, walking in the streets, or working in a hospital. Basically, doing something related to the video or film.  Nature and big cities, like sunsets and city traffic, are usually seen utilizing time-lapse stock video or aerial stock video. 

Think about going from day to night in a big city or having leaves change in nature.  For scientific films, sometimes molecules or organisms are used to enhance the story.  And finally, industrial b-roll could be best described as an alley during the day or a warehouse at night for criminal investigation stories (Groner, 2013). 

You can actually be inspired by anything around you. Modern b-rolls include demonstrating gadgets, co-working spaces, pets, and kids.  This imagery is very trendy for web-commercials, Kickstarter video and YouTube videos. See the  b-roll samples here

What do you need to shoot B-roll?

You will need decent gear and inspiration.  But here is some additional useful advice:

1) Planning is necessary when shooting b-roll footage. Before filming, scout the location and create an agenda for your shot list. This will ensure you have the right equipment for the job. Then create the intended shot list and shooting schedule.

Tip: A great thing about b-roll, is usually, you do not need audio since it is not the main feature of the film.

2) Consistency of the shots is also important.  You want to keep in mind the lighting should be the same, if not similar, to the rest of your b-roll footage to avoid having to fix the differences in postproduction.  Also, you definitely want to keep all of your shots of reactions and cutaways. It is always better to have extra b-roll stock footage than not enough.

3) Model release forms – If you have any people in your b-roll, they must sign a model release form so their image can legally be used in your video.