B-Roll: The Secret Sauce of Any Great Video

Not all videos are created equal. Some are engaging and interesting. Others…not so much.
What is the secret sauce to making a great video? A lot of elements can certainly contribute, such as: good sound, short & sweet length, and a tight script. Yet there is one important element that is often overlooked and I believe is essential to the really great videos.
It’s b-roll. Sometimes called B Roll, Broll, b-roll footage, coverage, or simply “extra shots,” b-roll is the supplemental or alternative video footage that adds visual interest and context to a video. Incorporating b-roll into your video increases the production value and gives it that professional polish.
(Why is it called b-roll? It’s kind of a long-winded explanation that doesn’t matter. Why is a tree called a tree, ya know? Feel free to go find out if you must.)

B-roll makes your video more interesting

Want to make your video more exciting but don’t know where to begin? Adding b-roll, or extra shots, adds a lot. Imagine that you are interviewing a woman about sports cars and during the course of this hypothetical interview, she explains the differences between regular tires and rimmed tires.
This is a perfect time to insert some b-roll! By showing pictures or video of tires over her talking, it creates a much more engaging interview, as opposed to just showing her talking the entire time.
I follow this simple motto: if someone says it, show it. If you say the word “pizza” in your screencast, consider showing an image of pizza. If someone in your video is talking about “interoffice communication,” consider showing stock footage of office workers talking, or take a quick video of your coworkers with your phone. Referencing last night’s high school football game? Show some of that video you still have on your phone.
When placing b-roll into your timeline, simply place it above your interview footage.

B-roll is a great technique for covering up mistakes and tightening the overall edit

As if it’s not enough that b-roll makes your videos engaging, interesting, and polished, using b-roll also is a great technique for cutting out unwanted bits.
Let’s illustrate this with another example. Let’s say you shot a great interview with your CEO but it went on a little too long. There are a million reasons why interviews go on too long and run the risk of being uninteresting. Here are a few of the top offending reasons, in no particular order:

  • Maybe she gets off topic
  • Maybe her explanations go into too much detail, when a shorter answer would suffice
  • Maybe she coughs on camera
  • Maybe she keeps glancing at her watch
  • Maybe she thinks about her answers for too long
  • Etc. etc. etc.

So in this example, you have an overly-long interview with your CEO that you need to trim down. If you’ve ever been in this scenario, you can understand the anxiety. You don’t want to chop it all up in the edit, making it look like you manipulated her answers. However, you don’t want to leave things in that could make her look bad on camera. How can you edit her interview down so she looks great? By using b-roll!
Throwing in some b-roll throughout the interview actually hides your edits within the interview. Here’s how:
1. Edit out all the bad parts of the interview. The coughs. The off-topic tangents. The parts that aren’t relevant.
2. Insert b-roll footage literally on top of the edits.
example of b-roll
Voila! You now have a condensed interview that doesn’t seem like you manipulated or overly edited the interview footage. In our example, your CEO will be pleased that you kept only the best parts. Viewers are so accustomed to seeing b-roll during interviews, they won’t even notice that you made trims and edits during those parts.
Here’s an example I made in Camtasia to show how using b-roll footage can really improve your screencasts.

And here’s how that example looks on a timeline.

Once you’ve become aware of this awesome editing trick technique, you start seeing it everywhere! Interview shows like 60 Minutes, local newscasts, documentaries on Netflix–they all use b-roll to cover up the edits made during interviews.

How to get great b-roll

Okay, now that I’ve fully convinced you of the power of incorporating b-roll into your videos, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how to capture great b-roll footage.

Plan time to shoot b-roll when you are conducting interviews

You already plan everything out before you shoot an interview. You plan who you’re going to interview, you plan your questions in advance, you plan what microphone and camera you’re going to use, you plan where the interviewee is going to sit, you plan on whether the questions will be heard aloud on camera or if the interviewee has to restate the question in their answer, you plan in travel time if it’s at a location, you plan and plan and plan…
So make sure you plan to capture b-roll video!
Put b-roll on your checklist and make it a priority. Ask for time to shoot b-roll after the interview. Since your interviewee is oftentimes a subject matter expert, she may have some good ideas on what to capture. By scheduling it after interview, you have an idea of what to shoot. If she mentions something specific, you can remember to get a shot of it when you capture b-roll.

Capture the environment

Capture footage of the interviewee in her environment and shoot some b-roll. She could be:

  • sitting at her desk
  • walking the hallways at work
  • starting a campfire
  • tracing her hand
  • building a Habitat for Humanity house
  • eating parmesan cheese straight from the shaker
  • kayaking in a river full of electric eels
  • playing Pokemon GO
  • Etc. etc. etc.

The point is, find something relevant to the interview and then have your subject do that thing. Remember that your interviewee has probably never done this before and she might feel a little awkward. A line I always use is, “I know it’s weird to use your computer and pretend like the camera isn’t here, but trust me, it looks great!”
Make sure to also capture additional shots that don’t always include the interviewee, such as:

  • Shots of the location
    • Street sign
    • Office decor
    • Signage
  • Travel shots
  • Screenshots
  • Processes, such as building something or performing steps

Get creative. It helps to try to have fun with the b-roll shooting.

Don’t get caught without great b-roll

Once you get into the habit of shooting b-roll and editing it into your interviews, it will become second nature. You will start grabbing shots all the time and always be looking to capture that great b-roll shot. It can be difficult to remember at first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered video makers editing on their project, who look up and say: “I should have gotten a shot of the building!” or “I should have gotten a shot of his bookshelf!” or “I wish I had a shot of her hands!” They are exasperated because they have no b-roll and now they’re stuck.
Don’t be that exasperated video editor. Make grabbing b-roll footage an agenda item every time you shoot an interview, and do everything you can to remember it! When you’re editing your interview later, you’ll be glad you did. 😉

What makes good b-roll?

Check out this TechSmith Tips video and find out!

Can’t see the embedded video? Watch it on YouTube

David Patton

David Patton is the Media Coordinator for TechSmith. Follow him on Twitter @davidpatton6 Favorite things: Star Wars, iPhone, and Dr. Pepper Personal motto: "If you're at a buffet, be first and fill up your plate." Currently reading: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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