1. Top Tips: why shooting B-roll is essential to a good film

    A persons hand holding a smartphone to film a farmer spraying his crops

    Want to engage with your audience and unlock the potential of your organisation’s storytelling? Then your films need B-roll. The good news is you are closer than you think to getting it because we all have the tech to capture it close at hand.

    What is B-roll?

    B-roll is the visual footage that accompanies an interview or a documentary. It’s the ‘show’ in ‘show and tell’. If done well it can really bring a story to life and it’s what lifts a film to the next level.

    Not only that but it plays a really practical role when it comes to the edit. You use B-roll to cover over any cuts you make to the interview, so you are actually a bit stuck without it.

    The good news is that anyone can shoot B-roll just using your smartphone which is usually close by and is capable of shooting full high definition video footage. You just need to learn a few skills to maximise your chance of success and get the footage looking better than the rest. So here are my top five tips:

    1. Shot List

    One of the best tips I can give you is to know what you want to capture and to write a shot list. This helps focus your mind (excuse the pun) so you capture B-roll that will help tell your story. It’s easy to get carried away and film lovely footage but it might not be relevant to your story.

    2. Allow time

    Don’t let the B-roll be an afterthought, plan out what you want to film and make sure you allow enough time to capture it during the day. It always takes longer than you think so, don’t just allow ten minutes right at the end of the shoot.

    3. Shoot Landscape

    No, not the hills! I mean how you hold your phone or camera. Unless you are shooting specifically for Instagram or Facebook stories then I advise you to hold your camera horizontally. This means your footage will fill the screen and you won’t have those black lines down either side. If you are after a square film then you can crop this later, in the edit.

    4. Hold the shot

    We are all used to taking photos and so the most common mistake when you start to film is that you don’t hold the shot for long enough, this will be really annoying and problematic when it comes to the edit. Aim to hold the shot for 15-20 seconds.

    5. Wide, medium and close

    Shoot a variety of wide, medium and close up views. This is really important as it helps to keep the viewer engaged and adds real depth to your film.

    The wide shots help to set the scene by showing the context of the story. Medium and close views show the individual characters and what they are doing. Try and show the detail by including close ups of hands, eyes and feet.

    Build up your skills

    Composition, lighting, foreground, background, lines, depth of field all play their part too, as these are core photography and filming skills. They all help to make your shot stand out. If you are not a regular reader of our blog then why not go and check out some of our other top tips on these areas?

    With a little knowledge and training you can quickly begin to show your charity’s impact through film and increase your reach.

    and finally….

    Here’s a film we edited for Marie Stopes’ 40th anniversary a few years ago, which is made entirely of B-roll. Footage was sourced from a mixture of field staff, previous professional shoots and then we plugged a few gaps by adding B-roll of our own, (you can also buy B-roll from online libraries if you need to).

    For more details and to register on our Smartphone Filmmaking course please click here.

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