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.

Watch: How to Shoot B-Roll

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B-roll Definition

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:

CREAM defines B-roll  •  We’ve got that B-roll!

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.

B-roll Shot List Example  •  Shot List Made in StudioBinder

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 Footage
Documentary trailer for The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters:

Documentary B-roll example

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:

Pour yourself a piping hot cup o' B-roll

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 Footage
The opening/ending wheat field scene from Gladiator:

This B-roll example helped to win best picture 

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 Footage
The establishing shots in Seinfeld:

This is one funky B-roll example

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 Footage
Here’s the trailer for Netflix’s Dating Around:

Reality shows were raised on B-roll

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:

Will you, B-roll, make me the happiest edit ever? 

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.

Up Next

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.

Up Next: Free B-roll Online Websites →
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