ISSUE NO. 87
Telling a Good Story—The Difference Between A-Roll and B-Roll
The terms “A-roll” and “B-roll” refer to types of footage. They have fundamentally different functions in video production. But what do they mean?
The terms are a holdover from the days of linear editing, when editors would have two rolls of footage to work with in a scene. They would use the two rolls to create transitions between shots. We don’t do it that way anymore, but the language persists, although with slightly different definitions these days.
A-roll is the primary footage. It tells the story and includes the primary audio. If you think of a documentary film or news footage, think of the parts when someone is talking or when critical images are being shown. A-roll drives the video. But it can’t do the job alone. If you had nothing but people talking, the audience would turn away in boredom. You have to interject some breaks and background imagery. You need B-roll.
B-roll is supplemental footage that contains visuals that can support A-roll. It contains establishing shots (the ones that let you know where you are in a story), background imagery, and shots that help visually support what someone in A-roll is talking about. Think of it as moving photography. It complements A-roll and provides a deeper look at a subject to make it more engaging than just having a talking head.
B-roll is most often used as a “cutaway”—footage the video editor can cut away to when they are removing part of A-roll or chopping it up to make a better story. Think of B-roll as beauty shots that make the video more interesting. It is as important as A-roll, even though it might not sound like it.
A skilled editor knows how to mix A and B-roll together to create a better, more engaging story. Both are essential to producing a successful video. Make sure your video team includes time to capture B-roll during production. It’s worth a half day or more of production to capture good B-roll.
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Benefits of B-Roll: Or the Danger of Only Shooting A-Roll
Some production companies trim their production time by
eliminating B-roll. There are a few reasons for this:
Unfortunately, none of these arguments are valid when it comes to telling a good story. Besides, good B-roll can make a video and make editing so much easier.
Here are the benefits of capturing B-roll:
This Month's "In Focus" — Veterans Benefits Administration
“Blast Injuries: Real Wounds. Real People. Real Recovery”
With our focus this month on A & B Roll, we thought it would be nice to take a look back at a video we shot for the Veterans Benefits Administration to better explain this video principle. Video Solutions created a one-hour video that follows four veterans through recovery from a blast injury — Acute Care, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration. The video begins with interviews with all four veterans telling their stories, the A-Roll clips. Their stories were woven together to tell how a wounded Soldier or Marine is treated from the moment of impact through their immediate medical treatment until they return to the United States. This section of the video is cut together with war footage and personal photos for a touch of realism, these are the B-Roll Clips.
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