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Video Communications: Interviews and B-Roll Footage

June 15, 2015
Welcome back to our third installment of a series about video communications in Public Information. This month, I want to talk about the basic components you’ll need to create a video package: interviews and b-roll footage. This will lead nicely into the last part of the series – editing techniques.

First, let’s talk about interviewing. Web video has developed slightly different techniques (like talking directly to the camera), but for the most part, you’ll always want to produce something similar to a news piece. So this means you’ll probably shoot an opening explaining what the piece is about, then cut to some interviews.

Let’s look at the masters of this technique, 60 Minutes.

We’ll get to the opening b-roll footage in a second, but look at how the interview is shot. In an interview, you always want to shoot the person talking completely. Then shoot the interviewer asking the questions completely. Maybe shoot the interview from multiple angles (like the two-shot the interview opens with) so you’ve got a lot of footage to cut up. This way, you can edit in shots every 10 to 20 seconds and not bore your audience.

You also want to shoot some footage of the interviewer reacting to questions – nodding the head yes, acting surprised, etc. This is also great to edit in for variety. What you’re trying to avoid is one long, static shot of someone talking uninterrupted for quite a while.

However, if you just have two people taking, things can get pretty boring. This is where b-roll footage comes into play. Remember when I talked about thinking visually? That is the core concept of b-roll footage.

So, like I said, we open up with an introduction from a host. Then we go right into the story. We could start with the interview footage (the voiceover is from a sit-down interview), but b-roll footage establishes the workshop location and portrays the subject in his natural environment. The images do all the talking for us.

We cut from b-roll footage to b-roll footage to give the reader a real sense of place and time. Plus, it’s visually exciting – lots of different textures, angles, a good amount of camera movement.

And then we cut to our interview. Notice, like I mentioned in a previous column, the way the shot is divided into thirds. The subject’s head rests at the intersection of the thirds. There are three distinct depths – the subject in the foreground, the box in the middle ground, and the door and window in the background.

However, we only stick to the interview for one complete thought from the interview subject. When he takes a breather, we go right back to that b-roll footage. We build a little package of his workshop again, then move back to the interview.

But notice something – his interview is always happening. It’s the thing that ties the piece together. His words carry the entire piece. We just cut away from staring directly at him to give the viewer lots of visual information to digest.

And here’s a bit of homework for next month: Pay attention to the news, or television shows, or movies to see the many ways these techniques are used to create compelling narratives. Start counting the number of seconds between cuts. The shorter the cut, the more exciting; the longer the cut, the more contemplative.

This will make way more sense next month when we finish up by talking about editing. See you in a few weeks. 
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.