Executive Decisions: The B-Roll List
By Russ Jolly - published July 2006
One of our regular corporate video gigs over the last couple of
years has been a job editing b-roll segments for local and national
morning talk shows. We work with a PR firm that books travel experts
for appearances on these broadcasts and we edit video of travel
destinations around the world to lend visual support to the on-air
interviews. The footage for these segments is sent to us by advertising
agencies and marketing reps for resort properties around the globe,
and it has been a fascinating experience reviewing the camerawork
of literally hundreds of different shooters. Quite frankly, the
quality of the b-roll footage we've received has ranged from extraordinary
to surprisingly poor.
Our job entails cutting a 60-90 second overview of each location,
and we'll typically feature 4-6 destinations per show. Sometimes
we receive raw footage to work with--often more than an hour of
video including multiple takes of each set up--and sometimes we
receive only a few minutes of footage that has already been edited
as a brief marketing video. A few agencies have sent footage that
was obviously shot by a large crew with professional on-camera talent,
but the majority of the tapes we receive were evidently shot by
a single cameraman, and we've had some fantastic footage come to
us from these solo shooters.
As you might imagine, great footage cuts together easily and makes
for strong b-roll segments. Conversely, poor footage is a challenge
to cut no matter how large a quantity of video is supplied. Producing
and editing these projects has made me much more conscientious about
my own shooting. If you are hired as a freelancer to shoot b-roll,
here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
Once upon a time. Whether we receive 3 minutes
of footage or 90 minutes of footage, every shot on the tape should
tell part of a story. A freelance cameraperson hired to videotape
a resort may not receive explicit instruction as to exactly how
footage is going to be used, but it's safe to assume that the purpose
of the story is to make the property look like an attractive destination.
The best footage I receive helps tell a strong story because it
provides thorough coverage that parallels the experience a guest
would have when visiting the resort for the first time. Though the
footage may have been shot out of sequence, care has been taken
to acquire all the shots necessary to able to edit the story in
a traditional linear format, i.e., beginning with exterior establishing
shots, moving to interior establishing shots, and concluding with
details and items of special interest.
Steady as she goes. A good tripod is worth its
weight in gold. Even the best handheld shooters know when to opt
for camera support. The easiest shots to work with in these property
segments are the smooth, steady pans and pulls like you find on
HGTV or Travel Channel shows. Footage from higher-priced shoots
often employ a jib or steadicam, but single-camera shooters who
use a solid tripod also make cutting these segments a breeze. Unfortunately,
I've received a couple of tapes with handheld footage that was so
shaky it was unusable. I'm glad it wasn't my job to go back to the
resort and tell them why their property wasn't going to appear on
Let it be. Suffice it to say, the camera doesn't
always have to move. Often the best, most usable footage involves
setting up a locked-down camera shot and allowing action within
the frame to provide motion and visual interest. Examples include
waves crashing onto the beach, kayakers paddling across the water,
diners at a restaurant, or shoppers walking through an outdoor marketplace.
The road to nowhere. A random pan or tilt is meaningless.
Know where a shot starts and where a shot ends, and move from Point
A to Point B with purpose. Lengthy moving shots that roam indiscriminately
across a variety of subjects do nothing to help focus a viewer's
attention, and they never make the cut.
It's all in the details. Attention to detail can
make or break a shot. I've seen exterior establishing shots that
were almost perfect-except for the ugly trashcan sitting by the
sidewalk. Or restaurant shots that would have worked if a single
dirty plate hadn't been left on an unoccupied table. Look up from
the viewfinder and take notice of the details within the composition.
Reframe the shot or remove distracting elements before recording.
Manual labor. Turn off auto-focus and take manual
control of the camera's lens. This should be a no brainer, but several
times I have received footage where otherwise-beautiful shots are
ruined because of "focus hunt" by an auto-focus lens,
especially in low-light situations. Sometimes the hunting focus
may be so slight as to not be seen in the camera's viewfinder while
shooting, but the problem definitely shows up full-screen. Focus
manually to alleviate this potential problem.
Ready for my close-up. Properties with intricate
architectural detail or elaborate furnishings can be beautiful,
but sometimes I receive footage of these types of locations where
the shots are all close-ups with no wide or establishing shots to
give context to what we're seeing. It's like filming at an art museum
and shooting extreme close-ups of all the paintings in the room
without including a wide shot of the room in which the paintings
are hanging. To make the close-ups usable, a wide shot is needed
to provide context for how the details fit within the environment.
Russ Jolly is owner of 214 Media: a Dallas Texas video