In my post about successful storytelling I gave you some keys on how to tell a good story. In this post I want to give you a tool that I use to add depth to the storytelling in my videos. It’s all about that cinematic b-roll.
You’ve probably heard other cinematographers or YouTubers talk about b-roll. But what exactly is b-roll? Is there such thing as a-roll?
We don’t really talk about a-roll anymore, however a-roll does indeed exist just like b-roll. The two of them play different roles when telling a story through video. A-roll is your main footage. The a-roll should be the backbone in telling the story. B-roll on the other hand should be used to supplement the a-roll to add depth and context to your a-roll. The aim of the b-roll should always be to support the a-roll.
Used in vlogs
In many vlogs however, b-roll is mostly used to break up the vlogging part of the video. A cinematic b-roll sequence can be very effective if used correctly. Nonetheless; if the b-roll is just cinematic and doesn’t add to the story of the a-roll, you may find peoples reactions not to be as positive as anticipated.
It’s really tempting to show off your cinematic sequence skills when you start to get the hang of it. And I think a lot of people getting into cinematography these days find that a cinematic sequence is what sparked our interest in the first place. We see the smooth footage being linked with crazy in camera transitions, and we want to be just as good as the big guys.
We should however try and apply this one rule when using b-roll in vlogs; no b-roll if it’s not linked to the a-roll. If we follow this rule, our videos will be far better just because our storytelling will be far better.
What to think about when shooting b-roll
There are loads of great videos on how you can shoot great b-roll on YouTube. I just want to leave you with a few pointers to get you started.
You are building depth and context
Let’s illustrate this point with an example. You are telling a story about camping with your kids. You’ve got great a-roll of yourself sitting by the fire telling the story of how your first day camping has been. Now the b-roll should help build the mood; a few clips of setting up camp, cooking dinner, playing at the nearby creek and tucking in the kids will help you show your viewers just how fun and cozy this experience has been.
Always make sure that your b-roll adds to and supports the story you are telling.
You want to plan how you link your clips together
To get the most cinematic b-roll, you want to think about how you link your clips together as you shoot. I try to think about making sure that movement in the footage follows the same direction throughout the clips that I want to be part of the same b-roll sequence. That way I’m sure I don’t make my viewers seasick, and it’s easier for me to link all my clips together when editing.
If you want to do some of those smooth in camera transitions, you have to think about which clips are going to follow each other in order to be able to get the smoothest transitions between them. Check out Daniel Schiffer on YouTube for inspiration. However, do remember that it’s not a transition contest. You are merely trying to tell a story right? Anything that distracts from telling the story should be dropped from the b-roll.
Your sequence shouldn’t be too long
I don’t think cinematic sequences in videos should be more than 60 seconds long, in most cases 15 seconds are more than enough. Remember that it’s all about keeping the viewers interest. You want them to want to know what’s next. If you bomb them with a two minutes b-roll sequence full of wack transitions, they will loose interest no matter how beautiful, epic and cinematic your b-roll is.
Practice telling a story with only b-roll
I’ve found that a great way to improve my b-roll is practicing telling the whole story with just b-roll. The idea is that if I’m able to tell the whole story with as few clips as possible, then I will be able to make a great b-roll sequence to support my a-roll as well. I’ll give you a couple of examples of b-roll sequences I have shot for practice.
The first one is telling the story about an evening of solitude by the lake.
The second one is telling the story about a solo photoshoot in the nearby forest.
A bonus with practicing this way is that you can make great little videos for Instagram out of the sequences. So what are you waiting for? Get out and up your game!
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