To B-Roll or Not to B-Roll

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This email received last week from Tom Guiney of Conviction Films, who came across an article I’d written for Student Filmmakers magazine.

(NOTE: “B-Roll” footage refers to scenes that a filmmaker shoots to use after editing a “talking head” interview.  Often, cuts are made in the interview which would appear jarring – the head appears to jump between cuts after the unnecessary words are cut out.  These jump cuts are covered by “cutaways” to different footage, while the interviewee continues to speak.)

Dear George:

I read this article that you wrote and wanted to say, good work!

What led me to your article is that recently I was wrestling with the lack of good b-roll from one of my shoots. My fault, of course, since I was shooting. Fact is, it was a really challenging situation. Talking head/torso in a small beige office. Its an online promo for a financial planner, just him talking about what he does and how he can help you, the potential client. Absolutely nothing good to look at in his office. Well, almost nothing. Wondering what I could have done differently. Exterior of building was blah, very little signage or branding. And there was way too much A-roll in the script to leave much time for anything else.

Thoughts on that sort of thing? What might you have done?

Tom Guiney

Dear Tom:

After every talking head shoot (well, really, whenever I remember), I tell the subject that I’m going do something a little weird but fun.  I focus in on the subject’s hands and then I tell the subject to imitate me as I describe what I’m doing.  First I put three or four fingers out on one hand and then I slowly count off each finger with my other hand’s index finger. That takes care of any cutaway you need for when a guy says, “First I tell the client…, Second, I arrange for… etc.”  then do some other “hand things” like tenting my fingers, pointing toward the camera, making a sweeping gesture and, of course, anything else you can thing of as a result of having just done the interview.  For instance, if you remember the subject saying something like, “I’m very firm on this.” You should remember to have him make a fist and pounding into his other hand.  As you can see, each of these cutaways can be used (though not too frequently!) to cover a jump cut.

I hope this is helpful.



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