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How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

Am I Using B-Roll Right?

I was once taught that B-roll is best cut in 3’s, but in this piece I couldn’t get that to work with the pacing on the dialogue. Does the edit feel forced in this piece?

What other “rules or tips” of editing would help me?

–Brian Wilcox

I don’t believe in “b-roll.”   As a concept, I mean.  “B-roll” is the term commonly applied to that extra stuff we shoot (when there’s time) that we use to patch holes in our edit later.   My problem:  the name “b-roll” implies “not ‘A’ material.” It’s an afterthought.

In a truly great video, there are no afterthoughts.  Every single shot has focus, action and story.  You won’t find any “b-roll” in Gravity or Captain Phillips, for example. But you’ll find a ton of it randomly applied to bad reality TV.  Even if you’re not making Gravity (see it, btw), if your shot is filler, find a way to cut it.

As for the “rule” about using b-roll in 3’s– that’s a new one for me. I’m not a huge fan of rules in general, but I’m really unclear on how this particular rule could be assumed to help tell story or evoke emotion in all videos. Every video is different. I’d continue to trust your instincts and feel for each piece.

Rules aside, here are 5 tips that might improve the editing of this video:

1) Spend as much time planning “b-roll” as you do “a-roll.  What kinds of extra shooting will help your video?  Closeups of hands drumming on the table? Wildlife footage? Slow motion? Something impressionistic? Give yourself time to plan– and to shoot.  Don’t let yourself run out of time to get great shots.

2)  Insist on action in all shots- even “b-roll”. All strong shots have a hero, a beginning, middle and end. Cut the ones that don’t.  And oh yeah…can they tell a story too?

3)  Every shot should have a purpose. How does each shot illustrate the speaker’s point? An image can amplify or conflict with the narrative. It can clarify, make jokes, show action or an emotional response. If a shot isn’t working for the story, cut it.

4) Editing starts with the script. I got lost more than once in your narrator’s words. Can you simplify what he really means by branding? Think about your videos as poetry– even haiku. Fewer words can carry more impact if they’re better crafted, more evocative and surrounded by great images.

5) Edit ruthlessly. The opening 15 seconds is a montage of stunning b-roll images that tell us absolutely nothing. Your speaker could have been talking from frame one (maybe over some of the images) and we could have seen him much sooner. Every frame needs to convey information.

Great looking piece, Brian.  Nice work. If you re-edit, send it along and we’ll add it to the post!

Do you follow me on Twitter? Perhaps you should. 

8 thoughts on “Am I Using B-Roll Right?

  1. I enjoyed the video and the quality of the video was great imo. The only thing that threw me off was that, having not seen the title first, I thought the video was a commercial or advertisement for an incredible restaurant up until he finally mentioned branding.

  2. Brian,

    Nicely shot, but way too many words. The narrative is as painful as a bad sermon.

    I agree with Steve. Edit ruthlessly.

    I also agree with the first comment. I didn't know it was about branding until nearly the second minute. I suggest making the message more obvious at the beginning.

  3. I have zero experience and would like to start a video business and came to this site because I'm trying to learn so I know my comment is not worth very much from a professional perspective with all due respect for the people that know what they are looking at.

    I was captivated by the videos images, narrator and music. I did think it was about a restaurant but when complete message was revealed it connected to the core of where I'm at in my quest so for me the impact was powerful on both levels presentation and content.

    My hope is to make videos like that soon and also to promote people that have that type of meaning and purpose behind their individual, group and business messages.

  4. I am a still photographer of 40+ years, and first dabbled with video in the the Sony Beta tape days of the early 80's, but never pursued video professionally at any level. I have recently decided to once again dabble in video using my Nikon D800. So I came here as a result of a Google search to learn more about good use of B-Roll.

    Obviously, I'll leave the critiques and proper use of B-Roll to the experts, but I will say that the video and color grading in this video is breathtaking, at least to this consumer.

    Cut out the branding stuff and you have a wonderful commercial for a restaurant that I would put on my list of "must visits!" Well done!

    Thanks to the originator and commenters for some lessons and pointers here for me….

  5. Like the others commenting I originally thought it was a fine dinning commercial but then thought maybe a social phych lecture. I considered bailing however I was captivated by the beauty and richness of the imagery. Great visual! Now…. I’m also a beginner and would like to know 1) Did that baby come out of Mama looking like that or did it spend a couple of years salary at the plastic surgeons? 2) do you have an article that will greatly reduce the suck factor in attempting to achieve that level of color and richness? Great site, thanks!

  6. I'm curious what you think, Steve, about where the speaker is looking in this video – not directly at the lens most of the time. Is that supposed to lend credibility – as if the speaker isn't trying too hard to convince the viewer by making direct eye contact. Also, I was very excited about your comment #4 because I am a poet just beginning to venture into film/video.

    • Presumably the speaker was looking at the person asking him questions. If you’re not a trained camera spokes-professional, it’s very difficult to talk down the barrel of a lens the way you would talk to a human being. No eye contact and black emptiness makes most people uncomfortable, and it will show in the finished product. You are correct that where the speaker looks will affect how you feel about him or her (and the video overall). Lots more stuff on this on the blog– Search “interview” or start here.

  7. There is so much to admire in the video visually, but two elements undermine it drastically: the script, and the spokesperson's cadence. The script is overwritten like crazy, trying to make a pretty good point sound like a profound mystery of the ages. Then the spokesperson enunciates very slowly, apparently trying hard to seem like a sage. The combined effect steals from the video that solid ring of truth.
    One of the hardest aspects of video, compared to a memo, white paper, or PowerPoint, is that all video conveys a strong feel. If you get all the technical elements right but the feel is wrong, the video fails to communicate. That's why every video contains an element of risk! To minimize the risk, I ask at every stage: am I telling the truth?
    This script has lovely, even quotable points. "Branding is not saying you are great; it is revealing what you find great." But the restaurant angle and the idea of "losing yourself" struck me as overwrought. I sure would high-five myself if I'd shot those visuals, though!
    Thanks for this example. I learned a lot by watching it.

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