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What is B-roll?

What is B-roll? The term ‘B-roll’ comes from the world of film where editors used to use an ‘A’ and a ‘B roll’ of identical footage, before the digital age changed everything.  It is alternative footage intercut with the main shot.  B-roll shots are similar to cutaways in that they help break up static interviews.

In the television news world B-roll is around 6-8 minutes of roughly edited video footage which is used to illustrate a news story. It is shot in a news style and given to news broadcasters free of cost or copyright. See below for an example of B-roll we have produced.

Why would you give something for nothing?

TV news reports need to have visuals and it is provided in the hope it persuades producers to take your PR generated story.

TV news editors choose between dozens of stories on a daily basis and the deciding factor between a story making it on air, or not, often boils down to one thing: compelling footage.

Good broadcast PR is about making life easier for journalists, especially in these constrained times when newsrooms have less resources, and that’s what B-roll does. It gives the journalist ready-made, free pictures, on a plate.

Broadcasters are servicing viewers on many different platforms including mobile and social. Video has become more prominent, meaning their teams don’t have the time or money to film new footage for every story. This presents PR practitioners with an opportunity.

To ensure that your footage is of use to broadcasters and ultimately makes it on air or online, B-roll needs to be shot in a particular style. We have two golden rules that we follow and advise clients to do the same.

The golden rules of B-roll
Rule 1 – shoot the B-roll footage in a news style.

News style means simple, static and functional shots that can be edited together into a sequence that normally includes at least a wide, a medium and a close-up, just imagine that you are watching a news segment. It cannot look too glossy or highly polished. The footage needs to be able to blend seamlessly in with any other pictures the broadcaster has filmed themselves.

We keep each shot long so the B-roll looks like raw footage, not something that has been edited. We would include a variety of shots, so different broadcasters can each edit something different. Each section is carefully grouped together and carefully labelled to divide the footage up. We put black ‘slates ‘on which explain what each segment is about and put the most useful or most visual pictures at the beginning of the B-roll and any interview clips we film towards the end.

Rule 2 – include footage that broadcasters can’t easily film for themselves.

Obvious stock footage broadcasters don’t need, as they can get that material easily from their own library, or shoot quickly in 20 minutes. What they do want is material that is hard to access, such as filming in a food factory or a pharmaceutical lab for example or footage that takes a long time to capture like aerials.

Broadcasters still want to film their own footage and conduct interviews themselves but sometimes it just isn’t possible. So we recommend filming sound bites with spokespeople and including them in the B-roll.

It is a good way of show-casing your spokesperson to broadcasters and might encourage them to book their own interview.

It also helps you to try out and provide ‘on the go’ media training for your spokesperson and help them with the key messages. If your spokesperson is in demand, but with limited availability (or willingness) to do interviews, broadcasters may well use the clips anyway.

Senior editors and producers will deny using B-roll, but in our experience the journalists at the coal-face,  under pressure in the newsroom and  edit suites will always be grateful for the offer of suitable footage.

So if your client is one who has their eye on TV coverage, give them the best possible chance and suggest B-roll.

But let’s face it, you could have the most perfectly shot and edited B-roll in the world, but without context of what it is about, broadcasters aren’t going to use it.

Don’t forget to provide a shot list and a broadcast friendly, short press release that a busy producer could re-write. That will mean  the story can be broadcast immediately.

With some of these basic tips and tricks, B-roll can become a fantastic tool to secure news coverage for your next campaign, event or activity.

At Shout! Communications we film all sorts too, not just B-roll. We can support you with, corporate video, social media videos, online news packages and many more.

If you’re interested in getting footage that’s a bit more specific for an upcoming campaign or for a quote – get in touch by calling 020 7240 7373, or emailing hello@shoutcommunications.co.uk

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