As a video autodidact I have never come across the term.
Originating from the world of film (from a B camera) these were the long distance/ alternative angle/ hand shots used to give context and complement the narrative but also to use when covering zooms or camera angle cuts from the main or A camera.
Boyechko states “If your interview footage is your A-Roll, then most everything else is relegated to B-Roll duty. But B-Roll is what makes up the bulk of the visuals in a video, so despite the inferior name, B-Roll is a big deal”(Boyechko, 2014).
(Artis, 2015 ) says” Often, I’ll try to grab some B-roll, immediately before and after the interview, of the subject doing whatever they would naturally do in the environment”.
However, Ron Dawson says “Wait ’til after the interviews [because] the people interviewed will say certain things that may inspire the kind of b-roll you’ll want to shoot”. (Dawson, 2011)
Boyecheko from the same reference offers terrific advice
Start with your wide lens. When you arrive at your location, before you meet your subject, quickly shoot the exterior with a tilt or pan, or a diagonal combination of a pan and tilt.
Shoot entrances & exits. When you shoot your subject walking or moving — e.g., as they walk into your location, let them enter and exit the frame without following them with the camera.
Capture comings & goings in one clip. You can get a shot of the subject coming towards you andwalking away from you, even with the subject walking in and out of the frame. After they walk past you, quickly pan your camera to a position ahead of the subject; then shoot them entering the frame.
Lens changes take up valuable shooting time. So while you still have your wide lens on, shoot all your wide shots, including a pan/tilt establishing the inside of your location, a shot above the shoulder, a low shot looking up at the subject, and a wide slider shot (if you have a slider).
Find a foreground. When you change to your zoom lens, take a couple more slider shots. Find a foreground like a doorframe, or any out-of-focus foreground, to slide into a “reveal” shot.
Do background checks. Always consider your background when framing a shot. When you focus on an object or your subject, think about how you could move the camera to showcase a better background (even if it’s blurry). Avoid bright windows, and try to shoot your subject with a lot of space behind them, to increase the depth of field.
Compose with layers. Similarly, when you can, try to shoot with multiple layers in your frame, including a foreground and background.
Make moving pictures. After framing your shot, take a moment to “move into” the image. You can do this with a tilt or pan into your subject, with a tripod, or you can move into your subject from out-of-focus to in-focus. This definitely helps with editing. And when you’re handheld or on a monopod, you can move your body slowly to create slight camera motion.
Blur for focus. Just like in your slider shots, shooting with a deliberate blurry foreground helps the viewer focus on the subject, and creates a nice distant perspective of us looking into an intimate moment.
Try to avoid conversation with your subject. For B-Roll that will go over an interview audio, it’s easier to use shots of your subject when they’re not moving their mouth talking to you.
Add angles. After you think you’ve got your primary shots, look around for interesting shots or angles that can add variety. For example, with a monopod, you can establish really high angle shots, or turn the monopod upside down for low shots, and later flip it in post-production. Make sure to get at least 5 seconds per shot, preferably longer, before moving on.
Shoot first (ask questions later). Most importantly, if you spot anything happening that you may not get a chance to shoot again, quickly focus and shoot it for at least 4-5 seconds without adjusting camera exposure or focal length, to make sure you get the shot without considering the ideal aesthetic. Then if you have more time, adjust the camera settings and shoot again. The last thing you want is an important moment becoming unusable because you’re moving, zooming, or adjusting exposure or white balance while recording.
Combine the ingredients, mix together, and serve. Once you start laying down B-Roll in your edit, you’ll want to build sequences of your different shots and angles, and go back to the interview shot as a transition between sequences and locations. A typical edit would look like this: wide interior pan, medium shot looking up at subject, over-the-shoulder close-up of hands at work, interview shot, and then new sequence. Whenever your subject is talking about really deep stuff, and you want your viewers to pay attention, use B-Roll without a lot of action, or better yet, close-ups of the subject’s face for that deep, introspective look. Add music, export, share, and then go eat an ice cream cone, you deserve it.”
Demonstration video (Slavik Boyechko, 2014) demonstrating these points.
“The B-roll is the showing of the story as opposed to the telling of the story ‘. Artis continues “A soldier could tell us what it’s like to be in combat, but when we cut in a shot of explosions and a chaotic firefight, his story takes on real human meaning”
Continuing he advises “think of ways to have subjects demonstrate the subject matter. If he’s a chef, show him cooking. If she’s a vet, show her treating an animal. Show us the A-roll… the action of your story”.
He says “the best-case scenario is to schedule some separate or additional time to follow your subject and shoot action shots. If you arrange this with them ahead of time, you’ll be able to determine the most appropriate and visual activities and events to capture for your project”.
Artis points to what he describes as the b’bedroom b-roll’ bedroom alludes to the observation you can cook you some additional shots anywhere or even in your bedroom.
Shots might include extreme close ups, POV shots, and still life shots.
Ron Dawson says “Wait ’til after the interviews [because] the people interviewed will say certain things that may inspire the kind of b-roll you’ll want to shoot”. (Dawson, 2011)
Helpfully he explains “Coverage is the process of getting all the necessary shots and angles in a film. In scripted narrative films, it relates to making sure you get all the shots needed for any particular scene.
For a documentary style video where b-roll is used, it can refer to getting enough b-roll to keep your video interesting. Or getting the important shots needed to properly “illustrate” what’s being said.
Cut-aways are shots of the interviewee’s environment that you can cut to while he or she it talking. This is a great technique to use if you need to hide jump cuts. “Examples of cut-aways include awards on a shelf, family pictures on a desk, their hands as they talk, someone else in the room who’s listening and reacting to what the person is saying, etc.
Finally he says ” get b-roll of the people you’re interviewing. If it’s a corporate video, show them in their work environment. If it’s a testimonial for a product, show them using the product. If it’s an interview for a wedding film, show them interacting with the bride and groom. These are “characters” in the story. Show them.
LP-I wish I had come across boyechko advice sooner. It is really, really useful.
Artis, A. (2015) The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production,. Available at: http://masteringfilm.com/your-b-roll-is-your-a-roll/on December 12 2015 (Accessed: 12 December 2015).
Boyechko, S. (2014) How to shoot b-roll. Available at: http://transom.org/2014/how-to-shoot-b-roll/ (Accessed: 27 April 2016).