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What the Heck is B-Roll?

Updated: Feb 6

Author: Cliff Dahlberg


What is B-Roll?


Well, the term, B-Roll actually comes from a time long ago in a galaxy far far away, when people used to shoot and edit using film, not computer technology. You know what film is, right? That stuff with sprockets that went round and round on reels and occasionally caught on fire while you were watching a movie at the movie theater like in ‘Inglorious Basterds’? No?


Film is DANGEROUS

Well, anyway, back then you had something called A-Roll, which was the core content of your story -- interviews with your film subjects and/or the main action you filmed, and then you had B-roll -- extra visuals you shot and edited in to enhance your story and make it flow as seamlessly as possible.


These days, you won't really hear the term A-roll used, but if you're watching a documentary or the doc-style content you see a lot of companies using on social media, the interview sections would be considered the A-roll.


As I'm sure you've noticed, just watching someone talking with no other visuals can get pretty boring pretty fast, so visuals related to the subject, known as, you guessed it -- B-roll -- are often added on top of that footage to spice things up.


Speaking of spices, let’s pull out a tasty cake metaphor.

(Mmmmmmmm, cake!)

Think of A-roll as your basic, unadorned cake that comes out of the oven. This is the main information or message that you want to share with your audience. Fundamental. Necessary. You can’t have cake without … well, the cake part.

Exactly.

But who wants just plain old boring cake? Nobody! To make it really appealing, you need to cover it with frosting. The same is true with your information. You need to spread some sweet visuals over that sometimes dry info you want to share with your viewers. Those sweet visuals are your B-Roll.


And if you’ve watched any baking show - British or otherwise - then you know that one of the secrets to a great cake is a good frosting-to-cake ratio. While frosting is delicious, too much can overwhelm the delicious flavor of the cake that you worked so hard to bake and make the whole thing too sweet. Think of B-Roll the same way. Use it to highlight your information or help tie pieces together visually, but don’t let it overpower your story.


So that’s B-Roll; it’s a piece of cake!

or a whole cake...

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