Monday, March 15, 2010

B-Rolling Along

B-Roll.  You hear that term a lot when you work in television.  After a while it becomes just another acronym, part of the linguistic shorthand that is used to produce TV news.  Things like VO and VOSOT and NATSOUND and 1-shot, wipe, CG and CG Full are simply the vernacular of TV producers, reporters and editors.  For the most part, you'll never need to know what these terms mean, unless you simply want to deftly slip in NATSOUND while hosting a wine and cheese tasting party one day.  And if you do, please seek help.

But B-Roll is another story completely.  When it comes to the world of public relations B-Roll is a term you will use early and often.  As you're putting together your pitch to the media, you have to be thinking about visuals as well as your story.  Certainly photos and videos help punch up any pitch you make.  But what kind of photos, what kind of video is appropriate and will help catch the attention of reporters, producers and editors?

Let's start with the basics.  There are two types of video you can use while putting together your pitch or your press kit.

1.  The story
2.  B-Roll

The story video is pretty self explanatory.  Generally, it documents an event or a day in the life of an organization. It can be used as a commercial, to help spread a message or highlight something specific about your business or non-profit.

For instance, let's say you own a massage therapy shop.  You provide massage therapy, acupuncture and other forms of holistic care.  You could put together a video that you can post on your site and add to your press kit that follows a customer through an acupuncture session or an aromatherapy.  This could have interviews, narration, video that tells a story from beginning to end.

Here's an example of a story video that carries a message meant to express the goals of a non-profit.

The B-Roll:

Now let's take a look at B-roll. First, a definition: B-roll is video footage shot to help tell a visual story. It is generally used to cut in-between interview segments, and to run over narration.

Think about the last time you watched your local TV news. Perhaps there was a story of a car wreck, or a housefire. As the anchor or reporter described the scene and reported the facts, video was most likely being shown. This is because TV news uses a method called, "See it, Say it."

In this method, if the anchor is talking about the roof of the house being on fire, then the viewer should be seeing video of the roof being on fire. If the reporter mentions firemen rescuing a cat from burning house, then we should be seeing a fireman carrying a cat out of the house, or at the very least, see video of the cat in the fireman's arms.

As you put together your pitch, think about what visuals would go with your story. Maybe your pitch is about a local theater. You probably would want to show video of the theater itself, actors in rehearsal, bits of a show, perhaps some interviews with a director. You might even include shots of an audience entering the theater, video or your concessions, as well as some of the costumes, props and sets used in your theater.

Here is an example of B-roll shot for the Qatar Science and Technology Park:

Notice that it starts with a wide shot, then moves into more specific shots of individuals, experiments, labs and other resources. There's just not enough time to get into the mechanics and details of how to shoot award-winning video, however an old colleague of mine, Shawn Montano writes a blog devoted specifically to shooting and editing video. It's called The Edit Foundry. For more background into how to shoot professional video, click the link and check out his blog. It's worth the time.

Why B-Roll?

While I was working on a crisis communications project for Kroeger/King Soopers a few years back, one of the things we felt we had to put together video of a King Soopers pharmacy in an effort to illustrate some of the security protocols in place as well as some of the general day to day activities of the pharmacists and techs.

There were a number of reasons why we felt we had to shoot our own B-roll. First and foremost for us, was the fact that King Soopers management didn't want a number of television crews invading one of their stores to shoot video at a pharmacy. Not only would it disturb the shopping experience for some of their customers, but there are restrictions regarding what can and can't be shown in video of a pharmacy.

There was also the control aspect. King Soopers wanted to be able to have some control over the kinds of images used as part of the story that would be covered. For many small business and non-profits, that level of control and sensitivity isn't such a big issue. However there is another major reason why b-roll can be very important to your PR pitch: Time and Resources.

Newsrooms today are doing more with less. Many have slashed budgets and personnel to the bare bones. The kinds of stories local TV news used to cover aren't being covered anymore. They simply don't have the staff and videographers to cover everything. However, there are many times when newsrooms have to make tough decisions on what stories to cover and which ones to leave alone. In those instances producers will generally choose the stories that mean the least amount of work for them. Stories with complete information and b-roll will almost always be chosen over stories without those elements.

I'm not saying journalists are lazy, just severely pressed for time, and the more help you give them, the more elements to the story you assemble as part of your pitch, the more you increase your chances for success.

Finally, one of the major advantages of creating b-roll over other forms of video presentations is the time involved. You can usually shoot effective b-roll in just a couple of hours, depending on what you're shooting. You also cut down on any editing time, since you're not necessarily telling a story, you're just cutting together various video shots of your small business or non-profit.

Just a few things to keep in mind when putting together your B-roll:

1. It doesn't have to be glossy or slick. Simple video camera and video editing tools are the only things required. You're not shooting a movie, just b-roll, keep that in mind.

2. Keep it to 3 minutes or less. If it's too long, people won't watch it and producers won't take the time to go through the entire b-roll.

3. When you send your b-roll to a newsroom as part of a pitch, also send a shot sheet with time codes, so producers and editors can quickly and easily use the video in a pinch.

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