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how to know what is B-Roll

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Bryce Moose
how to know what is B-Roll
on Nov 2, 2015 at 7:03:45 pm


I am struggling to understand what B-Roll is if you are creating a documentary where the focus an artist painting. I'm creating one where I am documenting an artist painting a mural. Are all the shots of the artist painting the mural b-roll or are shots of the artist showing her other art projects that aren't related to the mural b-roll?

someone else told me b-roll is only when you have shots you need to show during a voice over.

When I took film in college I was told b-roll was shots not pertaining the main focus of the film.

As you can see there are three different opinions on what b-roll is. So which is correct?


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Todd Terry
Re: how to know what is B-Roll
on Nov 2, 2015 at 7:25:46 pm
Last Edited By Todd Terry on Nov 2, 2015 at 7:28:44 pm

Well... firstly I hate the term "B roll" for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is just not applicable to the way things are done today and hw editing works. Secondly, it sort of has a "of lesser importance" feel to it, which is certainly not the case.

So to answer "What is "B Roll" we have to look back at history a little bit...

Firstly in the days of physical editing of film stock, after a rough cut was done on an answer print, the real negative was then match cut frame by frame following the edited version as an exact guide. The negative was cut into two reels, the "A roll" and the "B roll." This was done because if only one reel was used, the splice marks would show up on the print... but by editing onto two rolls (with black leader in between) the the splice marks would not show. So, shots alternated back and forth between the two. the A Roll and B Roll had no difference as to content or importance... just sequence. Shots 1, 3, 5, etc were on the A Roll, and shots 2, 4, 6 were on the B Roll.

Now... flash forward to the news business (when newsgathering still happened on film)... Interviews were cut together on one reel, and any cover video was played off a second reel to avoid interrupting/damaging the magnetic stripe that was the soundtrack on the first reel. This cover video was the B Roll.

Flash forward again to the electronic newsgathering age, and the term still stuck... and that's what a couple of generations have called cover video, without even knowing why they were calling it "B Roll."

So you can consider the term B-roll in one of two ways... you can either consider it to be any images which are used to cover part of an on-camera interview. OR, you can take that a little farther and use it to refer to any footage that is not a talking-head-on-camera person.

Or... you can just not use that term at all. You do still hear it, largely by old news people who just still say it, or don't know any better. To me it is akin to say someone is going out to "film" something, when they have never touched actual film in their life. Today that is being replaced a bit by people staying "I was videotaping something..." when there is actually no tape involved at all.

The bottom line is that is really doesn't matter. It's a bit of an antiquated term, and in the strictest sense doesn't really apply to the way we do things.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mark Suszko
Re: how to know what is B-Roll
on Nov 2, 2015 at 10:49:41 pm

Depending on the age of the person I'm talking to, and if they have a press/ENG background, I will call it B-roll or "cut-aways". For the original poster's question, think of all your extra footage that is not an interview as "cut-aways', since that's what you'll be doing with it.

Also, this clip is mandatory when discussing the topic of b-roll:

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