Film B-roll.

In addition to establishing shots, I’ll also want to get secondary footage called “B-roll” – this can be footage of important objects, interesting processes, or stock footage of historical events. B-roll is important for maintaining the visual fluidity of our documentary and ensuring a brisk pace, as it allows me to keep the film visually active even as the audio lingers on one person’s speech.

  • In our documentary, I’d want to collect as much Story-related B-roll as possible – glamorous close-ups  as well as footage of the story in motion.
  • B-roll is especially important if our documentary will make use of extensive voiceover narration. Since I can’t play the narration over interview footage without keeping the audience from hearing what my subject is saying, I’ll usually lay the voiceover over short stretches of B-roll. I can also use B-roll to mask the flaws in interviews that didn’t go perfectly. For instance, if my subject had a coughing fit in the middle of an otherwise great interview, during the editing process, I can cut the coughing fit out, then set the audio of the interview to B-roll footage, masking the cut.

Case Studies

Here are two examples of projects where I utilize that narrative storytelling license. (It’s rather apropos that both happen to involve my daughter who as of this writing just went off to college).

Mixed in America

This is a personal project I’ve been slowly developing over the past two years. I want to tell the stories of biracial people, but do it in such a way where it feels completely like a scripted film. You will never see the interviewee. In fact, I purposefully recorded audio-only interviews with the subjects, thereby requiring all the visuals to be narrative and metaphorical re-enactments. Here’s the trailer for the first episode (still in production).

The Creative Process

This documentary short film was for a commercial client that provides B2C tools and community resources for professional photographers. This was part of the keynote address their new CEO gave at their annual conference that year. In it I interview four, non-photographer artists to talk about the creative process. Interwoven throughout is traditional b-roll, but also a narrative story of a teen girl writing a song she got in a dream.

Documentaries represent one of the most important and significant art forms of this and last century. They have the power to change the world. As makers of this medium, we should always strive to make their impact on the audience all the more powerful.  Utilizing cinematic techniques is one way to do that.

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