Five B-Roll Mistakes To Avoid When Shooting A Documentary

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If you are gathering footage for your documentary, one of the most important things to consider is your B-roll footage.

B-roll footage is simply the additional footage needed to complete the film's narrative.

B-roll footage for a documentary about car racing may consist of various shots of the cars racing, close-ups of tires spinning or a driver gripping the steering wheel, shots of fan reactions, mechanics surrounding the car, and pretty much anything that says "car racing".

Gathering B-roll footage should not be approached lightly.

Just pointing and shooting at the action isn't going to be enough.

Your film's B-roll footage offers you (or your cinematographer) endless options for expression.

The B-roll footage that you gather can move your film from mere documentation of events into a film that moves people and strikes awe in their hearts.

Filmmaker Matti Haapoja understands the value of B-roll. And while there are no rules to B-roll there are some things to consider in order to give your documentary the best and most useful footage to use in the editing process.

With that said, here are Matti's five mistakes to avoid when shooting B-roll.

5 B-Roll Mistakes To Avoid

1. Not Shooting Enough

You really can't shoot enough B-roll. Make sure all of that footage is properly tagged and keyworded before you bring it into the editing process. You'll save yourself a lot of headache if you organize your B-roll footage properly and consistently.

2. Not Being Creative

B-roll footage is not just pointing the camera at something and letting life pass by. (Although that is one of many B-roll ideas to consider.) Be creative when you shoot. Look for different angles, different lighting, different forms of camera motion, close-ups, and wide shots. Think ahead and shoot with a style or movement that will carry the B-roll footage throughout your film.

3. Direction Of Movement

Make sure that the movement you are using to illustrate the story is consistent. If a person is walking from right to left in the first shot, make sure the next shot doesn't contradict that movement. (It confuses the brain).

4. Shooting Non-Illustrative Footage

This goes back to being creative. What are the best props or subjects or settings to use that illustrate the story you are telling?

If your documentary is about farm to table meals, don't just have a shot of the farm and a table. Utilize your B-roll and gather footage of people tending the land, crops being picked and taken out of the fields and into storage or shipping. Show the delivery of the food to the market where it's sold. Show the financial transaction taking place and the family who bought the food going home to serve the food. Show the family eating the get the idea.

Thinking with an illustrative mindset will give you more storytelling options in the editing process.

5. Not Having A Clearly Defined Subject

Again, shooting B-roll footage is not pointing a camera at the subject and trying to keep it in the frame.

B-roll footage needs to be shot with intention. With an intention that the footage will support the story being told is a good start. But you can shoot with even more intention.

Make sure your viewers know what the subject is in each shot. Each shot or clip you shoot should be composed in a way the easily allows the viewers to understand what is the main focus of the video clip. You are always telling stories within the story.

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