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B-roll (B roll, or Broll) has several meanings in the film and television production industries. It may refer to the supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot in an interview or documentary; in fiction film, it is a technique used to indicate simultaneous action or flashbacks; and commercially may refer to privately shot footage provided free of charge to broadcast news organizations as a means of gaining free publicity. Such B-roll film sometimes makes its way into stock footage libraries.
The term B-roll originates from the method of 16 mm film production from an original camera negative. Frames of workprint and of original negative are matched exactly through the use of edge numbers that appeared on each frame of original and work print. But the original was not strung together in a simple linear fashion as was the work print. Instead, the original was edited in a "checkerboard" pattern, with each shot synchronized to an equal length of opaque leader on a second or "B" roll.
"A and B" rolls functioned equally to make blind splices, fades, and dissolves possible. Each roll was printed separately onto a single roll of raw stock to produce projection prints. The process is described in the 1982 edition of the "Recommended Procedures" of the Association of Cinema and Video Laboratories, and in the classic text, Film and its techniques.
Linear editing era
Then the term B-roll was adopted for the older form of linear-based editing and the common naming conventions used by most television production facilities. Traditionally, the tape decks in an edit suite were labelled by letter, with the 'A' deck being the one containing the main tape upon which the interview material was shot. The 'B' deck was used to run tapes that held additional footage such as establishing shots, cutaway shots, and any other supporting footage. As linear editing systems were unable to dissolve between clips on the same tape, an edit decision list (EDL) was used to mark clips as "a-roll" and "b-roll" to indicate source machines.
The term "B-roll" has several contemporary meanings:
- In interviews and documentary films it may describe secondary footage that adds meaning to a sequence or disguises the elimination of unwanted content. This technique of using the cutaway is common to hide zooms, where the visuals may cut away to B-roll footage of what the person is talking about while the A camera zooms in, then cut back after the zoom is complete.
- The cutaway to B-roll footage can also be used to hide verbal or physical tics that the editor and/or director finds distracting: Because the audio is separate from the video, the speaker's voice is heard as a voice-over while B-roll footage is shown. The filmmakers are thus free to excise "uh"s, sniffs, coughs, and so forth without the video showing the small skips associated with these minor excisions. Similarly, a contextually irrelevant part of a sentence or anecdote can be removed to construct a more effective, succinct delivery. In many cases these latter excisions are legitimate edits used to make a film more pleasing and coherent.
- In fiction film, the above technique can be used to indicate simultaneous action or flashbacks, usually increasing tension or revealing information.
- The term may also refer to commercial footage provided free of charge to broadcast news organizations as a means of gaining free publicity. For example, an automobile maker might shoot a video of its assembly line, hoping that segments will be used in stories about the new model year.
- Such B-roll sometimes makes its way into stock footage libraries.
- Spottiswoode, Raymond (1966), Film and its techniques. U. Cal Press. Chapter 1, p 44.
- Spottiswoode, Raymond (1966), Film and its techniques. U. Cal Press
- Irving, David K.; Rea, Peter W. (2014). Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video. CRC Press. p. 172. ISBN 9781136048425.