By Kevin Elliott

Video production is incredibly complex but video itself is made of only a few components. 

  • Interview “soundbites” – People talking
  • B-roll – Video of things happening
  • Music
  • Narration (sometimes)

All these elements are crucial to a compelling video, but b-roll is, to my mind, where most of the storytelling happens. In fact, I would argue that b-roll is the heart of the video. Soundbites, music, and narration all support it, not the other way round. In other words, great b-roll = great story. 

So how do you know if you have great b-roll? Here are a couple tests we at Wewa Films use to make sure ours grabs viewers so they can’t look away.

Test 1: Remove the soundbites and narration 

Your b-roll should stand alone. A simple way to know if yours does is to cut a version of your video with no soundbites or narration. Now let someone who is unfamiliar with the project watch the b-roll and ask them to tell you what story you are trying to tell. If they can’t, your b-roll is weak. 

Here’s an example we did of storytelling with just b-roll. In the early days of the COVID quarantine, our lead cinematographer got bored and made this short of a day in the life stuck at home. She told it from the perspective of her coffee mug. 

Watch this and see if you can get the story. 

Pretty cool, right? My guess is that video took you right back to your self-quarantine experience.

Here’s another one we did as a social media promo for a fundraiser targeted at men. 

Would it surprise you to know the event was called Wild Cards, Whiskey, and Watches? Probably not.

 Good b-roll stands alone. 

Test 2: Turn off the sound

The second test for good b-roll is the “silent” test. Put your soundbites back in to the video but watch it on mute. Then have someone watch it. Do they get the story? 

We use this test for all our videos but it came in especially handy when producing our docu-series CRAFT. It’s a series of profiles on artists and artisans. For this project, the visuals were everything to the artist’s stories. 

Watch this episode on watercolorist Heather Clements with the sound off and let us know if we did our job. 

Better b-roll, better film

There is obviously more to capturing quality b-roll than this, but these two tests keep us honest and improve our visual storytelling. We hope they help you. 

Btw, you might also like the b-roll tutorials from the amazing Daniel Schiffer. We do.

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