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 visualize the problems or limitations that could come up.”