Video production – using A and B roll

Video production – the differences between A and B roll. Producing a video can be a tricky business, particularly if tech jargon and computer mechanics aren’t your cup of tea. Nonetheless learning how to produce a video is a useful skill for marketing, advertising and improving your brand’s traction. The two concepts you’ll need to get used to are the terms “A roll” and “B roll”. No we’re not talking LPs here, but the two main visual components of any video. Let’s take a look at what these both mean and the differences between the two.

So, what’s the difference?

Let’s start with A roll. To be honest, the term “A roll” is not one that you hear very often these days. Essentially it refers to the main shot of a video. For example in an interview, the shot containing the interviewee would be the A roll. A roll is basically the primary footage and the main focus of the video.  B roll on the other hand, is secondary footage, sometimes known as a cutaway, designed to complement the A roll footage. For instance, in a news interview on education, let’s say with a head teacher, the B roll might be of children in the school playground. It basically helps to make your videos less stiff and monotonous. This is often played with voiceover or commentary from the main footage. In the next paragraph, we will explore further how to exploit B roll footage to your advantage.

Why use B roll footage?

There are a load of reasons to make good use of B roll footage. Here are just some of them:
  • To set the scene. Primary footage including interviews often doesn’t show where something is being filmed from, because it is more often than not focussed on the person rather than the setting. Using B roll like in the example described above is a useful way of providing a sense of location.
  • To give context. As well as the setting, B roll adds context to your video. Let’s consider an example. If you are doing a video report on the current cost of living crisis and how it is affecting families, your B roll might be footage of a supermarket showing increased prices, or, sadly, a foodbank. While your interview or report will provide the main body of the video, B roll will demonstrate what you are explaining in practice.
  • To set the pacing. As we said earlier, a video with just A roll can be rather monotonous and heavy. It can also feel too rushed. Cutting away from the main footage helps to slow things down and make the content more digestible.
  • To hide errors. This is an interesting one. Assuming your video is not a live broadcast, there are bound to be errors in the main footage that you will want to minimise. It’s also likely that you’ll want to cut out parts of the answers. But this can make for a broken video that cuts sharply in places without any distraction. In this way B roll footage can be a great form of misdirection. After all it’s the visuals rather than the audio that look out of place when you remove sections of footage. Cutting away at awkward moments allows your video to run so much smoother and looks more professional.

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