Bring your A game to B-roll.

Whether you’re producing a news story or a feature film, get B-roll footage to keep your audience engaged. 

What is B-roll?

The term B-roll originates from the early days of film, when editors inserted supplemental footage or B-roll, into the main footage or A-roll, to hide visible lines where two pieces of film were joined. In modern film and video production, B-roll describes all of the footage in that isn’t the main action. This supplemental footage includes all of the shots that don’t include the principal subjects interacting with each other or talking into the camera. It can come from stock footage, archival footage or photos and second unit crews whose whole job is to capture B-roll shots.

Aunque con el video digital se eliminó el problema del empalme de las películas, los realizadores de videos con y sin guion siguen empleando el material de archivo adicional para definir las escenas, suavizar las transiciones y eliminar momentos o fotogramas no deseados sin tener que desechar toda la toma. “Aunque suene como algo secundario, el material de archivo adicional es lo que crea los matices de la narración visual”, afirma el director y cinematógrafo Hiroshi Hara.

 

Material de archivo adicional en videos guionizados

El material de archivo adicional es imprescindible en los largometrajes de ficción para transmitir la sensación de espacio y tiempo, así como para dotar de significado a la historia. Los planos de contexto, que aparecen al principio de las escenas y muestran las calles de una ciudad o el exterior de un edificio, suelen ser material de archivo adicional, así como otros planos que se alejan de la acción principal. Por ejemplo, si dos personajes se encuentran en la esquina de una calle y uno le dice al otro: “Ese es el banco que quiero robar”, la película puede cambiar a un plano del edificio del banco, sobre la que el otro personaje puede responder “Es imposible” en voz superpuesta. Este tipo de material también ofrece al editor más opciones a la hora de unir varias tomas de una escena.

A person taking B-roll footage

As Hara describes it, B-roll is the icing on the cake, but A-roll footage or principal photography, is the cake itself. “Without the actual cake, there’s nothing to put it on. B-roll is generally whatever shot supports the main footage and the plot line,” Hara says. Filmmakers tend to get B-roll after they get the main footage. Because these shots don’t require a sound person or the principal actors, the filmmaker can save time and money with a second unit or smaller crew.

 

B-roll in documentary video.

B-roll is crucial for news stories and documentary films. Any format that contains a lot of interview footage can benefit from relevant and visually interesting alternative footage. “An interview with a person just stationary and just talking into camera can get pretty boring,” Hara says. “B-roll can enhance that storytelling experience. And you can use it when you need to cut between certain soundbites or shave off time without getting stuck with a jump cut.” (Jump cuts are edits that jump forward or backward in the same shot, which often has a jarring and disorienting effect.) 

 

How to shoot B-roll.

While you’re still in pre-production, keep these tips in mind to capture as much useful extra footage as you can. You’ll thank yourself in post-production.

 

Make a shot list.

With B-roll, as with primary footage, you’ll save yourself time, money and frustration if you make a shot list. Consider the time of day and the season. Consider the equipment you’ll need. “Be specific about what you’re looking for,” Hara says. “Once you have a list it’s much easier to visualise the problems or limitations that could come up.” 

Bird's-eye view photo of tall city buildings

When you shoot a narrative film, go through the script and note possibilities for good establishing shots, cutaways and close-ups. When you make a documentary or other video that involves a lot of footage of talking heads, take good notes about what images you can pair with the dialogue. Also consider how you’d like to shoot that subject matter.

 

Tell a story.

Your main characters aren’t in the shot, but your footage can still tell a story. “Consider your lighting, composition and subject,” suggests director Mike Leonard. “With every shot and especially with B-roll, ask yourself, ‘Is this image telling a story? Is there something in the background or foreground, where the subject is or what the subject is interacting with, that can make this go from just a pretty shot to a powerful image?’” For example, you might include signage or landmarks that tell the viewer where the action happens.

Large group of people walking
Person looking at cityscape

Slow down.

Don’t go to the trouble to set up the perfect shot only to lose patience before you’ve got enough footage. “Whether it’s a stationary shot or there’s camera movement, always count to ten in your head,” Leonard says. The shot has to be long enough that you can cut it to fit the pacing of the dialogue. “The most common beginner’s mistake is to get a beautiful shot with pretty subject matter and great composition, but it’s not long enough,” says Leonard.

 

Experiment with different shots.

B-roll might seem less interesting than principal photography, but it can offer room to play. “It forces you to get creative. After you film the same thing over and over, you realise you can film it from this weird camera angle or use a time-lapse or approach it from a unique perspective, like with a drone or point-of-view camera,” Leonard says.

Sacar el máximo partido a la grabación

Cuanto tengas todo el material sin procesar necesario, practica cortándolo para formar tu historia. Las herramientas de edición como Adobe Premiere Rush facilitan la fusión del material de archivo adicional con el material principal a fin de obtener una historia uniforme. Cuando estés conforme con la edición, prueba a graduar el color de las imágenes para conseguir los tonos adecuados.

 

Si necesitas inspiración, vuelve a ver tus películas favoritas y presta especial atención al material de archivo adicional. Si te gusta alguna toma, anótala y pregúntate qué es lo que te gusta de ella. Intenta aplicar todo lo aprendido a tu próximo proyecto y recuerda que la práctica hace al maestro.

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