Everytime I sit down and start to edit a package I continue to come up short with B-Roll. B-Roll is the supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot in an interview or documentary. When Larry King interviews Bill Clinton, and footage appears of Clinton playing the saxophone on Asenio Hall in 1992, that is b-roll.
B-Roll goes back to the film days of labeling the 16mm film when editing. Around the 1980s when video was on tapes, many editors would label the decks in the edit suite. The A-Deck would contain the main interview and the B-Deck would often include the footage that the editor would use to compliment the interview.
All this is to say the term B-Roll isn’t new.
Today with our digital editing like Final Cut Pro X I like to think of A-Roll as the main track on the timeline. Below it might be some voice over or background music. Above the A-Roll is the B-Roll which can be still images or motion footage that I use to compliment the interview.
Just remember A-Roll is the interview and B-Roll are the images you use to compliment the interview.
General Editing Guidelines
Here are some guides I use when editing my motion package:
- Titles 4 seconds [enough time to read them]
- Still Images 3 – 10 seconds
- Motion Interview 5 – 10 seconds
Keeping the Titles short and simple is key. If it takes longer to read the title slide than 4 seconds really consider changing it.
I like to use the Ken Burns effect which is a type of panning and zooming effect used in video production from still imagery. Here in the photo above you can see the start and end of a pan/zoom that I implemented.
I try and keep images up between 3 – 10 seconds. The only time I am really using 10 seconds is when I must pan across a photo that if I speed it up looks choppy. So the time is also keeping the movement smooth.
The advantage of most of my motion [Video] is it has movement going on in the frame. So this can be much longer if there is decent amount of movement taking place in the shot.
I try to use two cameras when I am interviewing someone. There are a few reasons I do this. First of all having a second angle really helps keep the visual becoming too stale. I can switch between the two angles.
In Final Cut Pro X I combine the two camera angles into a Multicam clip. Now I can choose which video or audio I want to choose. The two cameras are synced off of the audio files on each camera.
I use two types of microphones for the interview. On one camera I use the wireless lavalier Shure FP1 microphone on it with the WL183 (Omnidirectional).
On the second camera I use the shotgun Røde Video Pro microphone. I can later choose one or blend the sound if I choose.
The best sound would be a third choice of using a sound guy with a shotgun up above the person pointed slightly down 45º at their face in front of the subject.
Since I typically work alone I use the second best, which typically is the lavalier. Sometimes I blend the lavalier and the shotgun, but most of the time I prefer the sound from the lavalier for the human voice.
If you are trying to not bore the audience by the same long visual then you need B-Roll. I have never been sitting at my computer using Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere and not not been kicking myself for not shooting enough B-Roll.
The problem is not just the volume of B-Roll but the VARIETY of it.
When you do your interview can impact the quality of your B-Roll. If you start with the interview and the person talks about what is getting ready to happen and then a lot of what they talked about doesn’t happen, then you have little opportunity to get that B-Roll.
After experiencing this a few times I started trying to do the interview at the end of my time shooting and asked the subject to summarize what we had seen that day. Now the B-Roll worked more often than before.
However, in the last scenario I still found that subjects would mention things that I would want to shoot specific B-Roll.
- Try and keep your interview around the present unless you have a lot of B-Roll about the past.
- Have a rough outline of your story before you shoot
- create a list of B-Rolls shots based on what you think you may need
- Shoot the subjects environment
- If they have family photos on the walls or tables get B-Roll. I suggest stills and motion.
- Photograph the home or office from the outside and inside
- Shoot for sound
- If during the interview you hear birds in the background, get some photos of them to drop in to help the audience
- If people are coming in and out of a screen door on a porch, get some motion of someone coming in and out and use it to help the audience with that sound.
- Intro and endings
- Shoot some scene setters to start your package, end it or use as bumps between interviews
- Shoot textures
- Textures make great title slides or backgrounds under the lower third titles to help the text be readable.
- Shoot transitions
- Moving the story along often means the subject will talk about childhood and then when they went to college for example. This might be a great place for showing your subject: getting in their car; getting out; going through a door; walking in a hallway; walking to you or walking away
- Watch TV shows to see how they transition from one scene to another and this can give you more ideas
- Play the interview back right after you do it and listen for all the visual cues that you can think of and write them down. Then go and shoot them.
- Ask the subject for old photos and get copies of them or shoot a copy of them.
I find that for most of my projects where I have an interview that 90% of the work goes into the B-Roll and not the interview.