Production scheduling for b-roll

There is a mantra you need to memorize when you’re doing any video that’s more than a couple of minutes long: “You cannot have too much b-roll. Whether it’s a three-minute introductory video for someone’s website, a documentary, or a travel program, you cannot have too much b-roll.

Say it with us. You cannot have too much b-roll. You cannot have too much b-roll.

No, we’re not trying to form a cult. Yet. (It’s on our long-range radar for October 2017.) We’re trying to help you, because we really don’t want you to be in a position where you end up saying: “I don’t have enough b-roll! I don’t have enough b-roll!” And it can happen very easily.

The thing about b-roll is, it’s always taken for granted until you need it. When you’re coming up with the video concept, and even when you’re doing the storyboard, you focus on the main shots. The ones where the action happens. The ones where people are saying something important. The ones where key things like a client’s products are being highlighted.

B-roll gets short shrift in these pre-production phases because, for lack of a nicer term, it’s basically used as filler and as concealer. Filler, because you may need it to help transition from scene to scene (think about those generic street shots or aerials of a city at night that pop up between one major indoor scene and the next in TV programs and movies). Concealer, because it may cover what’s known as a jump cut when you’re editing someone speaking on camera. If you show the person saying part of a phrase, then edit out another part and pick up with a later portion, the person’s head will jump around unnaturally. Using b-roll to cover the edit eliminates that problem.

Good b-roll helps set the mood and makes your video flow more smoothly

Good b-roll helps set the mood and makes your video flow more smoothly

You need to include specific time in your production schedule to shoot b-roll. How much time depends on how long the final project will be. When you’re pretty sure your storyboard is complete, it’s time to start looking at it shot by shot and seeing where you may need to shoot b-roll. If you’ve already set up the camera outside a building that’s critical to your travel video, it only makes sense to get several different shots of the building while you’re there.

Don’t just get a few exterior shots from different angles. Really look at the building. Is there some interesting detailing on the façade? Does it have a dome? Gargoyles?

When shooting building exteriors, get extra shots of interesting features for b-roll

When shooting building exteriors, get extra shots of interesting features for b-roll

Is the sunlight playing off the glass windows in an intriguing way? If you’re there at sunrise or sunset, does it have a specific look that would add depth to your video? This last one, by the way, is something that can be determined during location scouting. It’s not just about finding a place, but finding what’s special about that place as it relates to your project.

If certain people play a key part in your video, don’t just get their interview on camera. Show them doing something related to their role in your video. If you’re speaking with a taxi driver, get a few shots of him driving. Get some shots from the front seat as well as the back seat. Get shots of his cab. Get shots of him pulling up to the curb and pulling away from the curb. The elderly woman who’s talking about the past? Get a shot of her sitting on her porch in a rocking chair. Get a shot of her making coffee or tea. Get a shot of her looking through a photo album if she’s talking about people in it (and get an over-the-shoulder shot of her pointing to pictures of specific people while you’re at it).

Lest we get too far afield, this is indeed a post about how to schedule time for shooting b-roll, not a post about how to shoot b-roll. We’re just giving you examples of how many different shots you may need so that you can get a better idea of how and where to spend your time.

If your video involves travel, you really, really need to get more b-roll than you think you’ll need. You may pass by the small town square where there’s still a five-and-dime style sundries store and think: “That’s quaint, but it doesn’t really have much to do with my video.” Think again. You may need to have a shot of something that gives the town square character, and if you don’t think about it until after you’ve returned from the trip, it will be too late. This is one field where being a packrat, in a manner of speaking, is a bonus. Better to have something you don’t need than to need something your don’t have.

The last bit of advice is, always keep your eyes open when shooting b-roll. Yes, you should have a list of shots you need, but be open to shooting more if the opportunity arises. You never know where serendipity will step in and give you the perfect picture to add as a highlight.

Hencar’s process includes scheduling time for b-roll. We’ve had plenty of experience with editing pieces and know exactly what it feels like to wish we had extra video for that special project. Our experience has taught us a lot, and we’ll use it to ensure that you, and your project, don’t come up short when it comes to the having all the video you need.