A long time ago on a website not so far, far away (in fact, it was this website), our very own Cameron taught us how to cover our backsides with B-roll. In the spirit of #gettinglearnt, we decided it was about time to revisit the subject, brush up on key terms, and share some pointers.
The terms “A-roll” and “B-roll” originated back in the day, and it was a way for film editors to differentiate rolls of footage to thread into the projectors and create visual cutaways. Nowadays, A-roll and B-roll is most often associated with interviews and news reporting, although we can broadly break down almost every kind of video into these two categories. Let’s dive into the difference between our As and Bs, followed by some best practices you can put to use for your next video.
B-rollin’ with the homies
A-roll is used to describe any footage of your subject or your main shot. Think of a person being interviewed, or the central action taking place.
B-roll is the supplemental footage used as cutaways in a sequence, and it adds visual meaning to your videos and helps tell a more colorful story. These cutaways often show simultaneous actions taking place outside of the main shot’s vantage point, which establishes the environment and gives the audience more information. Essentially, B-roll makes your videos more interesting to watch than a static shot of your subject.
On top of adding a certain je ne sais quoi to your films, B-roll is also super duper important in the editing process! It often acts as safety footage, allowing your editor flexibility and coverage to disguise jump cuts and fix distracting footage faux pas.
It’s worth noting that B-roll can very well be shots of your subject, too. Say you’re doing a piece on a doctor: you may want to grab some shots of the M.D. putting on gloves or scribbling on a notepad to splice into your edit. Although these have your subject in them, cutting away from the main interview or action with them makes them amazing B-roll opportunities.
See if you can decide which shots in this edit of Gigi Hadid are considered A-roll and which are considered B-roll. (Spoiler alert: the shots of her talking directly to the camera are NOT the B-roll.)
Tips to rock and B-roll
With a little creativity (and a whole lot of planning), even a video crew of one can achieve amazing A- and B-roll coverage. “So how can I become a B-roll badass,” you ask? I’ll tell you!
Make a plan
Pre-production is key. Pinpoint who or what the subject of your video is, and make a list of visuals that would support and enhance your narrative. B-roll may look effortlessly spliced into video edits, but as any filmmaker will tell you, plenty of thought went into those shots!
Variety is the spice of life + videos
Shoot a lot and change it up. Make sure you have plenty of footage to use for coverage later, and keep it interesting! Varying your shots and angles will make for a more complex and appealing edit.
Formalize the organize
No matter how much pre-production you do, you can always count on the unexpected to come up on the day of a shoot. The excitement of being on-set or in the field can sometimes throw you, but remember: organization is paramount. Whether you edit your footage yourself or hand it off to another editor, nobody wants to spend hours rifling through footage to find the perfect piece of B-roll.
Some choose to keep A-roll and B-roll on separate storage cards completely, but you do you, boo! Even if it’s simply jotting down timecodes, make sure you and/or your editor have a way to narrow down the hunt later on.
When in doubt, Dugdale it out
Vimeo all-star Dave Dugdale has been posting awesome tutorials and gear review vids for years now. If you’re ever in a B-roll bind and need some additional words of wisdom, tune into his great guide below.
And there you have it, B-roll badass. Now go forth and conquer your next project with these tips in mind!