‘What’s a second or third location we can
shoot, even if it’s just down the street,’” to
mix things up, Boyechko says.
While you can’t anticipate everything
on set, Slater says there are a few tactics
he relies on when approaching B-roll duty.
“I think a lot about matched action and
sequences, where I’m shooting the same
action from different angles to compress
time or make something that would
[otherwise] be boring take less time and be
exciting,” Slater says. In concrete terms, it
means “you’re creating a progressive series
of wide, medium and tight shots that move a
story forward,” he adds.
Sometimes moving subjects are hard
to come by, and having a shot list or rough
storyboard is all the more imperative. For
Whale Warehouse, a short documentary
Slater made in collaboration with Mae Ryan,
exploring the massive collection of skeletal
remains privately housed by natural history
museums, “Nothing moves, everything is
dead and we had to figure out how to make
it more exciting,” Slater recalls. “So we
talked with a guy who runs the warehouse
and got the facts we needed on day one. We
came back later with a shot list based on the
[interview] and went and recorded those
For photographer/directors like Josh
Rothstein—who will often shoot B-roll as
a second camera—preparation isn’t the
only skill to master. “Understanding your
positioning on set is key, and that will inform
your ability to get what you need,” Rothstein
says. As someone who has been on both first
and second units, Rothstein says that B-roll
shooters need to read the “dynamics on set”
to know when it’s permissible to move in on a
subject and when to hang back.
For an assignment for Puma with the
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, Rothstein’s
approach, much like an effective portrait
photographer, was to get his subject as
comfortable as possible. Your proximity to
the subject is huge because “it will inform
the quality of your footage,” he says. It’s
a challenge, he adds, because you have to
accommodate the sensibilities of both the
subject and the director, while still being
assertive enough to get your shot.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
There’s no golden ratio of how much B-roll
you should generate for a given duration
of A-roll footage, but there is a general
consensus: You need more than you think.
ABOVE: When filming B-roll for Whale Warehouse, a documentary by Grant Slater and Mae Ryan, bringing rows
of inanimate skulls and bones to life was a key challenge.
shoot—non-stop,” Rothstein says.
“We always feel like we never have
enough,” Boyechko seconds.
For a collection of 60–90-second spots
for United Healthcare, director Jonathan
Chapman and his team would often record
as much as 30 minutes of footage, giving
editors plenty to work with. For the seven-and-a-half minute Whale Warehouse, Slater
amassed a project folder stuffed with 800GB
worth of video clips.
For the Web videos that Boyechko is
producing, the clips themselves have to be
between three and five seconds; he says that
people’s attention spans have eroded to the
point that anything longer than that loses
the viewer’s interest. But thinking in terms
of hundreds of seconds-long clips can be
confusing, so instead Boyechko approaches
B-roll filming as a series of clips-within-
clips. His approach is akin to a vacuum,
liberally sucking up as much visual material
in a scene, and then relying on selecting
favorites to create sub-clips from the longer
video in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X.
“We don’t stop recording in between
[scene] changes,” Boyechko says. “We’ll do
a 10-minute recording, and that will contain
about 50 clips. If I have a five-minute video
[to produce] I’ll generate about 400 short
clips to work with,” he says. He later culls
those down to between 50–70 clips, each just
seconds long, representing the best of what he’s
shot, which represents the library of B-roll for a