Agonizing over which b-roll to use? (Image: Falmouth University)

When thinking about how to tell a story visually, television journalists will always look to b-roll. B-Roll describes those general visuals that are] used to support the storytelling, but that are not clips of people talking, a reporter’s on-camera standup or graphics. That shot of a giant dump truck driving through the oil sands in a story about gas prices? That’s b-roll. An interview subject walking into his office and typing into a computer? That’s b-roll. Back shots of obese people walking down the sidewalk to illustrate a story on junk food? Also b-roll.

Here’s an example; One time when I worked as a television producer, I was once at Pearson airport doing an interview for a story about Canadian Olympic athletes on their way to the Sydney Games, when a huge storm blew over the airport. The cameraman and I both thought shots of the storm (black clouds, pelting rain, lightning) would be great b-roll for future stories on airport weather/delayed flights/angry passengers/etc.

But getting good b-roll is always a challenge. Some of it is shot specifically for each story (like the walking shot described above), but there is almost always a need to get b-roll from the video library. Networks have libraries filled with b-roll on almost every conceivable topic – but the trick is in finding the right shots that will be perfect for the story.Some companies hand out b-roll to journalists, but there is a clear preference for non-corporate or non-institutional b-roll — as corporate b-roll frequently looks too polished and doesn’t really fit in well with the rest of the story.

So when I saw this video – which is from Cream, an LA sketch comedy group – I just had to share it. (Sorry, the video does not support embedding in blogs.)

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