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One of the secrets to a successful film shoot, regardless of topic, industry, product, service or style is b-roll. If you want video that looks professional and better engages an audience you need to be making the most of this not-so-secret secret.

What is B-roll?

B-roll is the film name for any footage that aids in telling your story without being ‘main footage’. Essentially it is the alternative footage that adds context to the main story: this could be establishing shots, cutaways of locations or people that are relevant to the plot or what is being spoken about; or even¬†

The term originates from the early days of film when 16mm was physically cut stuck back together to create an edit (spliced). 16mm would show the cut and early filmmakers wanted to hide this. The solution was to play a second roll of film at the same time and alternate the cuts between them.

The terminology was used in its current context during the 1980s when tape editing became popular. Smooth transitions, like dissolves, couldn’t be done by a single line of tape and so a second tape featuring alternate footage was played simultaneously and switched to. This became the origin of the modern day B-roll.

Why does B-roll matter?

B-roll has two very important purposes:

  • It helps tell the story
  • It hides edits

Using B-roll to tell a story

B-roll is a powerful story telling tool that allows the viewer to visually see what is being talked about. In video it is always better to show as opposed to tell but for promotional video it is often wise to do both. Whilst your main shot is used to move the story forward, explain the product or service, excited an audience, the B-roll adds colour and interest to it by providing context.

Using B-roll well can make for a much more engaging story.

Hiding the edits

One of the reason that B-roll is so important is that it allows the editor to hide edits and avoid sudden jumps. This can be used in almost any context but, as an example, imagine an interview. The subject pauses and hesitates a lot. Switching to different angles of the interview can help cut some of these but switching too regularly between angles looks messy. B-roll covers the main footage, adds to the story and hides any edits allowing the video to continue smoothly.

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