April has been a busy month. I have been shooting lots and been busy editing. The one thing for the new year that I am trying to focus on more and more is less of the standard “talking head”. I was DP-ing a project today for a client and we were chatting about the same thing. The importance of b roll. Film is a medium that has the magic to take you, the audience, to someplace new and exciting. I think a lot of filmmakers, both people who are starting out and people who have been filming for a long time, constantly need this reminder. They need to always be willing to take the extra step or the extra time to shoot that key piece of b roll to tell the story visually. Here are a few tips that I use when I’m shooting b roll.
I always try to shoot b roll not just as a bunch of random clips. I like to think of it as a scene without dialogue. Each b roll shot should naturally lead to the next shot.
In order to shoot b roll as a sequence or scene it is important to capture the necessary shots. For example, for my shoot today I was shooting a few executives in a board room having a meeting. I normally tend to shoot from the outside and get smaller. This means I start with the wideshot, next is the longshot, next is the medium close up and then I end on the close ups. In this case I used the DJI Ronin stabilizer to push into the room. I then jumped onto a monopod and shot the longshot of a few executives. I then got tighter for the medium close up and finally the close up of the executives talking, listening and a pen writing on the board. I knew with all these types of shots the editor would be able to cut together a sequence.
3. Small Footprint
A lot of times I’m shooting b roll of people that are not actors. As soon as they realize there is a camera and its pointed at them they become nervous and awkward. For this reason I tend to just use a monopod and a simple camera setup. I also try to shoot as much b roll of them, before they realize I’m there. Sometimes I do feel like a creeper.
There are two aspects of timing. One is holding a shot long enough for usable action to occur and being in the right place at the right time. One of the most frustrating elements of editing someone else's footage is when they do not hold the shot long enough for the action to occur. This means you are stuck with a bunch of three second clips that are unusable. I always try to hold my b roll clips for a minimum of eight seconds. I also try to be conscious of what is happening in my frame. I always hold out until I see the person smile or the action is complete. The second aspect of timing simply comes down to being prepared and aware of your surroundings. I find some of the best and most natural b roll shots have been me anticipating an action from someone and quickly switching my shot to capture this new shot. This type of b roll cannot be staged.
5. Get Creative
Lastly, get creative. There are so many tools out there to move a camera. You don’t need all of them. You can get amazing shots with just a slider. Once you have covered your basics spend a few minutes getting creative with a jib, slider, glidecam or whatever else you have. This is a tremendous way to capture dynamic b roll. I wrote a post a while back talking about tools and how to use them. It might give you a bit of inspiration on the subject. It seems that I have been shooting a lot of b roll over the past few weeks and in the editing phase I realize how important it is in communicating your story visually. I should also be posting a few of the projects I have been working on shortly. Here are a couple photos of one of the last shoots.