Liven up video with B-roll footage

‘Talking head’ videos can quite quickly get a bit boring, which is reason enough to use cutaway shots. This means that instead of staring at an interviewee’s face, we hear their voice while watching more interesting action — what we call the B-roll footage — that is relevant to what they are talking about.

For the nerds out there, the term B-roll comes from the pre-linear film editing days, when two separate rolls of film were used to create effects such as fades. When linear editing came in, the rolls were replaced with tape decks – but the term ‘B-roll’ stuck and became associated with the footage extraneous to the main interview or subject of the film.

Besides breaking the monotony of watching someone talk, B-roll has two other important advantages in corporate video; both of which will help you use video more effectively to get your B2B marketing message across.

1. B-roll simplifies editing
In the world of corporate video, especially for video case studies, you often have interviewees who aren’t used to being on camera — so you may need multiple takes to capture what you need. Even when that isn’t the case, it’s highly unlikely that the person you’re interviewing will deliver their lines word-perfect every time. They might stutter, give an answer they don’t like, or sneeze.

All of which means: your footage will contain lots of unusable takes among the good ones. Editing these out can make your interviewee look jerky, and that’s where B-roll comes in. Because the interviewee isn’t on screen during a cutaway shot, you can make any edits without affecting the look of the finished video. Besides cutting out poor takes, you can cut out parts of a good take, even words from a single sentence, to keep your video short and snappy.

Get some tips on preparing video interviewees in our free ebook.

2. B-roll adds to the story
Done right, B-roll isn’t just relevant to your story in terms of subject matter, but conveys the character of people and places, or the emotion involved in a scenario being described. When writing, we use the principle: ‘show rather than tell’ (eg, don’t claim to be innovative; give examples that show your innovation). One of the reasons that video is so powerful is that you literally can show things, rather than (or in addition to) telling your audience about them.

For example: take this B2B video we produced for Lightspeed.

It’s about a modern, trendy restaurant. The B-roll footage helps to convey this character – you see cutaway shots of the hustle and bustle of London, the smart interior and lighting, and the sense of sophistication that pervades the place. And of course you get to see Lightspeed’s software in action. The B-roll doesn’t just make the video look nice; it actively supports the B2B marketing job your video is trying to do.

Getting your own B-roll
There are two ways to get B-roll footage:
• You can purchase stock footage from sites such as iStock or Shutterstock.
• You can have your camera crew shoot it.

Both have their advantages:
Shooting your own B-roll footage allows you to include your interviewees in the footage if relevant — to see them in action. And if you’ve already paid for a crew to be on location for the day, there may be no additional cost, or only a small one.

Stock footage, on the other hand, can give you shots that are difficult to get yourself, like a time-lapse or the view from a helicopter. And if your video logistics call for a special trip to film B-roll, stock footage may be cheaper.

Planning for B-roll
Whatever you decide to do, it’s worth making sure that you plan a B-roll shot list before spending any time collecting it.

Consider the people you’re interviewing, and what they’ll be talking about. What might you want for your cutaway shots? Note your ideas down so you can use time (and budget) effectively in capturing (or buying) all the B-roll footage you need. You can always capture (or buy) other things on the day, if inspiration strikes. And besides saving time and money up front, your video editor won’t have to spend hours sifting through useless footage.

See 3 more tips for corporate video shoots here.

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