The Magic of B Roll
The magic of painting pictures (B Roll) over a subject talking to camera hit me recently. I was working on a project with Pencalenick School, Truro. It consisted of three days of filming, followed by five editing.
The initial brief was to produce five short videos for the school website of senior teachers speaking about their particular curriculum and assessment responsibilities. “Simple,” “clear” and “jargon-free” were the watch words. It was anything but simple on the day, as the infamous “bloopers” video that I compiled demonstrated. But that’s obviously not available for public consumption.
Each of the five videos centre around a list of common questions drawn up by Helen Campbell the Head teacher and are answered by the five teachers. The whole purpose of the project was to make it easier for the parents of the pupils to gain a greater access to and understanding of important information on the school website. “Why read pages of text on a computer screen when you can watch a video in stead?”
The content of the interviews was excellent as you can see from this very raw, rough cut of Assistant Head teacher, Ali Russell. She speaks in very broad strokes about Pencalenick School’s curriculum. Now, this may not be the most scintillating of topics for most people, but is vital for the parents of the children at Pencalenick School.
I managed to inter cut between the two camera angles and edit the sync. as best I could. I also applied the occasional morph cut. But in reality you need more than a talking head and so we extended the brief with the aim of spicing things up and breaking the monologue down. Cue B Roll!
ROUGH CUT: A TALKING HEAD
“So what is B roll footage?” Well, it is defined as the additional footage (usually filmed at a later stage) which is superimposed at key points on top of the “A roll” footage of the interviewee. B roll can really enhance a project if used judiciously and creatively and not just as wallpaper”
1. Great B roll should illustrate and emphasise what the character says in a beautiful way. So, in the video below, you’ll see two types of association between what Ali said and the illustrative B roll footage. The first is primary association. When our subject mentions a suitcase being packed and unpacked, the viewer sees a suitcase being taken around the school and being filled with simple artefacts from the lessons filmed. Secondary associations are more subtle and often missed by the viewer. When Ali talks about two journeys and pathways through the curriculum, B roll of two pupils riding go-karts appear on the screen.
2. B roll is also very useful for the editor to hide visual errors and distractions in the sync; things like jump cuts, bad eye lines, “umms” and “errs” etc. All this correction carried out under the B roll does wonders for the performance of the interviewee and it is common practice in mainstream television, unless the programme is going out live.
3. B roll can also be used to create visual and dramatic space between the sync. Ali is very fast talking Scot. Inserting B roll between the various points that she makes allows the scene to “breathe”. Pace and timing are everything in video.
In short, B roll is all about painting pictures and you need a high ratio per length of the final video. In our example these pictures illustrate and enhance the interview, making the whole video more digestible for the audience. Finding decent locational shots of Pencalenick School was not difficult. The main building and grounds were once an old mansion, and they look stunning. There is also a fascinating history behind them; one that features Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, the American Army general and statesman. But that is another story. The children and teachers of Pencalenick School were, of course, the stars of the videos. They were incredibly patient, helpful and accommodating on the days of the shoot.
My thanks to Helen, her passionate staff and delightful pupils.
Have a look and see how the B roll has enhanced the first talking head video a hundred fold. The non copyright music (www.musicvine.net) selected by Helen, beautifully underscores and ties together the whole edit.
FINAL CUT: A TALKING HEAD PLUS B ROLL