While much corporate video production inevitably features interview material, where key players discuss unique selling points, products and services, company philosophy, eco credentials, and so on; talking heads, however well dressed up with great filming, can be tedious. To add interest and to contextualise the verbal information in our corporate video work, it’s important to introduce what documentary film makers describe as B-roll, i.e. additional footage that supports and punctuates the main action, thereby helping to tell our story. We can see great B-roll at work in the example below, from Apple, where a variety of environmental, workforce and detail shots, are used as cutaways over a number of talking head comments from key staff.
This post will discuss tips and tricks for capturing great B-roll, to help you add interest, context and production value to your corporate video projects.
Be prepared – a little knowledge goes a long way!
Regardless of the fact that we are dealing with corporate marketing videos, our prime objective is to tell a story. We may well be telling the story of a product or a service, or maybe the story is about relationships with customers or the heritage of a business. Perhaps the story we’re telling is about all of those things. But to tell the story well, we first need to understand it ourselves, which is where pre-production planning, including meaningful discussions with key players from the featured business is vital. By getting a heads up on the nature of the business, the key messages that need to be delivered, and the story that needs to be told; you’re able to build a clear picture of the style and structure of your corporate video production. In addition, with appropriate pre-production discussion, you’re well informed about key questions and prompts for interviews, and, in respect of this blog post, you have a good basis for creating a shopping list of B-roll sequences that will help tell your story.
What’s it all about?
Depending upon the nature of the business and the story you’re telling about that business, there may be a whole range of key features that need to be dealt with. These could include a key product or range of products, key services, the team/s that makes up the business, the premises and/or external environment in which the company operates, and the customer base that the business serves. Try to ensure that these key elements are clearly and proportionately represented in the B-roll footage you shoot for a corporate video. It can be tempting to concentrate on the visually exciting aspects of an operation at the expense of other things that are just as important, if not so immediately appealing. For example, if you were making a corporate video for the National Health Service, you wouldn’t just want B-roll of speeding ambulances with blue lights flashing, or air ambulances landing in hospital car parks; because no matter how exciting these might be, they represent just a small part of what this vast and incredible organisation is really about.
Another important aspect of preparation for capturing B-roll in your corporate video productions is to build relationships with those you will be filming. Understanding, for example, which subjects might be more nervous on camera than others, which characters in the team will be likely to give a beaming smile, which ones will happily indulge in a little role-play for your all-important B-roll sequences. Circulate, chat over coffee, ask people what it is they do within the organisation or what the equipment they’re operating does; and crucially, explain why you’re there. By doing this, when you do come to shoot your B-roll, you’ll be a familiar, trustworthy face, rather than an idiot who’s unexpectedly shoving a camera in their face for little or no apparent reason. While we’re on this subject, whatever you do, ask people before you start filming them; most will be obliging, some less so, in which case you move on; but it really isn’t anyone’s automatic right to simply invade someone else’s space and hit record.
Create visual interest and movement
In just the same way that many great wildlife photographers and film makers engineer some of their more effective images and movie sequences, rather than simply waiting around for them to happen by chance; we can justifiably do exactly the same thing with B-roll for our corporate marketing videos. OK, so Sally and John don’t actually work in marketing strategy and have no understanding whatsoever of the flow chart they’re discussing enthusiastically in your sequence, but who outside the office would know that? The fact is that Sally and John look good on camera, aren’t at all self-conscious and have no problem indulging in a little visual role-play, so why not? Likewise, it may be that no-one checks out each delivery van as it leaves the depot anymore, because they all carry transponders and its done automatically; but hey, someone in a high-vis jacket with a clipboard, having a joke with a driver as they leave for a day on the road, is far more interesting to watch than an entry appearing in a database.
When you’re creating B-roll sequences, always remember that your on-screen talent can’t see your thoughts, so you’ll need to direct them in terms of where to look, what kind of facial expression to wear, how to place their hands, and so on. Don’t get too demanding, or you’ll undo all the good work you did in building relationships with these folks; and always remember that they’re not pro actors, so be patient and have a little fun! Most importantly, work as deliberately as you can, with your shopping list in mind, rather than simply taking what you can get.
If the working environment you’re filming in is naturally quite static, an architect’s studio, for example, then the illusion of dynamism and movement may need to come from you rather than from the on-screen talent. Use camera movement, dramatic angles, focus pulls, zooms, slider shots, and even time-lapse footage to spice up what could otherwise be quite static B-roll footage. Adding a Ken Burns effect to footage in post-production may be the oldest trick in the book, but it still goes a very long way to adding visual interest.
Whatever you do, always refer back to first principles in terms of the sense of style, general atmosphere and key messages that you wish to convey in your corporate video, which is another reason to establish these clearly during pre-production. Don’t perform visual tricks for their own sake, as this invariably looks cheap and nasty in the final production. Deploy your armoury of production techniques sparingly and, as a general rule, unless the style of production and target audience demand it, understate in preference to overstating production technique. While every corporate video you make is clearly an advert for your skills, displaying these should never even come close to relegating the core messages of the production into second place. Besides, the best video production tricks are always the ones that no one really notices. It’s a little like having a Tambourine doubling the Snare Drum on classic Motown recordings: you’re not really aware of it, but you’d definitely miss it if it wasn’t there!
Sometimes, what you need is already there
Be alert to what’s happening in and around the environment you’re shooting in. While the advice above might suggest that nothing is left to chance, there will often be interesting images to be had in a busy workplace that are simply there for the taking. Even so, think with your creative eye, considering interesting angles, shapes and in-frame design, depth and perspective, opportunities to create movement, opportunities to create a sense of human scale, and so on.
During the interviews you conduct, take note of interesting stuff for potential B-roll. You never know, there might be some hidden gems that no one really thought about during pre-production discussions, or that you never got to see when you were touring the site.
In terms of structuring your corporate video, it can be very useful to film establishing and closing material to act as a simple container for the main event. For example, if I was producing a marketing film for a local restaurant, I might capture some footage of the exterior at twilight, a closeup of a table layout, or perhaps a closeup of a signature dish, which I might then earmark for the start or end of my video. It’s always a good idea to shoot establishing footage to be longer than other items of B-roll, because it can then be used as a background for introductory or closing text, such as name and location, social media information, or a website address.
Mooma Media offers a range of video production services to individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations operating in the West Midlands region. Mooma offers competitive quotes to produce website or social media marketing videos and to film or live-stream events. To find out more about any of Mooma Media’s services, use the contact button below.