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B-roll is a term from the video production world and refers to footage that shows related action to what the person being interviewed – or the narrator – is talking about.
For example, the person talking might be explaining how her child gets on the school bus every morning and the video will cut to the child getting on this bus, being greeted by the driver and then sitting down.
The key to effective b-roll is that it adds a visual to what is actually being talked about. In the school bus example, showing b-roll of the kid riding down the street on his scooter would show the mom’s son, but wouldn’t add much value to the video and the story. Unrelated b-roll could even confuse audiences. They might stop listening and wonder what they just missed … since the b-roll and audio aren’t matching.
B-roll – relevant b-roll, we hope! – is often used by video editors to cover up gaps in a live interview’s audio. People being interviewed while being recorded usually say many more things than end up in an edited video. To be able to show them on camera and cut out some of these extra statements, video editors use b-roll to cover up the obvious cuts in the video interview.