What is B-roll footage in Film and TV? Furthermore, what is A-roll vs B-roll? Filmmakers of all types, whether they make documentaries, wedding videos, music videos, movies, or television NEED to have a keen understanding of both A-roll and B-roll footage.
So, what does B-roll mean and why is it such a valuable resource for filmmakers? Let’s get into it.
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What is B-roll footage?
B-roll footage, Broll or B roll is any supplemental video that considered to be secondary to your primary footage. B-roll can be gathered with a separate unit, acquired from stock footage, or obtained from any source other than your principal photography.
The term for A-roll vs B-roll originated in the earliest days of Hollywood moviemaking, when principal footage was termed A-roll. An identical roll of film, the B-roll, or B-reel, was used for filler and transitional cuts.
What is B-roll footage?
May be shot by second unit crews.
May be pulled from stock footage libraries.
May not require sound.
Provides supporting imagery and cutaway shots.
Can also be used for establishing shots.
In the digital age of filmmaking, the term A-roll has fallen out of practical use, but the meaning of B-roll remains a term filmmakers should know.
Any question about the meaning of b-roll? This video clears it up:
When creating a shot list, make sure to include both time and plans for shooting B-roll video. When filmmakers don’t consider A-roll vs B-roll during pre-production they’re often left with gaps in their edit.
Truly great filmmakers find a way to combine A-roll and B-roll with careful planning of their shots. They eliminate the need for B-roll video, but that doesn’t mean their team doesn’t still get some extra footage.
Let’s quickly look at examples of B-roll footage in each video category.
B-roll Example Shots
Various uses of B-roll video
B-roll footage is used in a wide variety of video content:
Documentary B-roll Example FootageDocumentary trailer for The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters:
Anytime you see footage from the past, or footage that isn’t a talking head interview, you may safely call that B-roll video.
News Package B-roll Example Footage
B-roll footage for a news package on coffee from CNN:
You’ve watched the news, so you know about half of what you see will be B-roll shots that give you context for the particular topic being covered.
Feature Film B-roll Example FootageThe opening/ending wheat field scene from Gladiator:
This scene features Russell Crowe’s stunt double. It’s some of the most iconic footage in modern film, and a great example of feature film B-roll.
Television B-roll Example FootageThe establishing shots in Seinfeld:
Many sitcoms rely on B-roll footage for transitions and establishing shots because so much is recorded on a soundstage. Filmmakers can capture exterior footage and then use it to signal the scene location.
Reality B-roll Example FootageHere’s the trailer for Netflix’s Dating Around:
Any footage that isn’t part of the actual date and conversation with the participants, you are watching B-roll video. Reality TV relies on B-roll footage for transitions, establishing shots, and covering gaps int he edit.
Wedding Video B-roll Example Footage
Here’s a good example of B-roll in a wedding video:
The majority of this video is B-roll footage, and it’s a good example of how pleasant footage paired with music can convey tone without a huge amount of substance or a particularly profound narrative.
Affordable or FREE B-roll footage
Now you understand the B-roll definition, and the differences between A-roll vs B-roll, but you won’t understand the true value and meaning of B-roll until you use it in one of your projects. Our next post gives you a list of the best places to find FREE and Affordable B-roll footage online.
So if you’re under a time crunch, or don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to fly to Norway to get a shot of an icy Fjord, check out our post.