Shoot: Capturing B-Roll
So now we're gonna talk about B-roll, speaking of process.
(chuckles) Okay, so... I'll state the obvious, B-roll is everything that's not interview, okay? Just to get that off my chest. (laughs) So your B-roll is really the visual magic of your film. And so it's also one of the reasons that it's a relief once you get that interview in the can, so that now you get to play. Because this is the place where you get to express yourself creatively. Where you get to really be in the space with your subject to dance around that space and find what your eye sees differently from everybody else. Ed and I are working together in the field, in Seattle here for this pre-shoot, so we also had to be able to dance together and coordinate, collaborate, make sure that we're getting different material so we don't just have two sets of the same shots, so we often will go into a situation and discuss in advance who's gonna cover what. I tend to do details; Ed is a master at really capturing action that's...
moving through a space. He's got just a phenomenal ability to track and predict what's happening. And I'm always impressed, and I don't remember if it shows up in our pre-shoot video, but I'm always impressed that Ed is able to focus on what he's capturing, and still, I think his eyes must move in different directions because one eye always seems to know what else is happening in the space. I struggle with that personally, which is why I think I like shooting details, because when I'm in the viewfinder of my camera, there is nothing but what's in the viewfinder, so the rest of the world disappears, which is not really helpful when you're trying to capture verti moments, because you do need to be able to still be very aware of what's going on. So what we'll do is we're gonna take a look at the pre-shoot video, and I want you to look for a few things in this. This idea of whether to direct or not direct your subject. Now, as journalists, that's really breaking the code of ethics to direct your subjects.
But you're gonna see us do it in this pre-shooting.
You are gonna see us do it, so this is the disclaimer. This was a shoot for a very specific purpose, it's a controlled shoot, and it's a shoot that had to be done very quickly, so we have a checklist of what we need to accomplish, it was about being very efficient in the field, so this also dictates how you're operating in the field. If I'm doing a documentary, I have a lot more breathing room and what I'm gonna do is show up and just say you do you, forget about me, I'm just gonna capture what's happening. And that's just that golden standard, you know, that gold standard of documentary film making.
And also people have different philosophies on this. Sorry to interrupt but there are film makers we know, that, let's just say in this case, as I said earlier, we viewed this film as a sort of a client film, right? And so in that sense, I think we agree on this, we're cool to say hey, would you walk in the door, you know, we're gonna set this shot up. If we were doing documentary work, we just wouldn't do that. You know, we just wouldn't do that. If we miss it, we miss it, hopefully we're with them another day, or we have another chance to get something that we think we need. But there are film makers I know that even with client work they'll never do that, they'll never be like would you walk into your office and sit down. They'll never do that. And for others it's just pretty normal operating procedure. So that's something for you and your maker to decide on, you know, but I think it is very important, not to take too much time on this, but the ethics of the process of what we do is critically important, and I think you alluded to this earlier, that if, you know, with the transcript, if you break it once, you throw all of your work into question. And once that happens, as documentarians or journalists, then we're really on a really slippery slope.
And I don't even know how much people trust what they see anymore. To some measure these may be standards, from, you know, when we were coming up, early days, as opposed to right now in this moment. I think people are very suspicious of what they see, because they realize how much can be manipulated. But the goal for us is to do less staging, even if we have to instruct the subject a bit, what we will not do is have them do something they wouldn't normally do. I don't care if it's for a client, not client, whatever it is, long form, short form, I want to be authentic and truthful in what is captured ultimately, so it's much more a question, well, what would you normally be doing? Like, so we asked David this question, well are there any things you might be doing outside? Because we were thinking it would be great to get you right outside your building, it's a cool red exterior, it's right near train tracks, so we said well is there anything you might be doing out here? And he said well yeah, sometimes I do this process but it's very complicated and it takes hours, and so we said oh well okay that's not happening, and we're not gonna have you pretend to do it. When you have people pretend to do things, they always look like they're pretending to do things. You cannot get around that. Most people do not act very well. So there is that feeling of like, even in a doctor's office, a doctor pretending to give someone a checkup, even though they normally give checkups, there's something wooden about the way they'll do it, and it's not convincing. Somewhere in your mind and in your heart when you watch that footage, it's like it's not ringing true. And you feel it. So it's more important to muster your own creative juices to cover what the people actually are doing than the other way around, to have them fit into what you need. And that should be your goal as a creator, I think, is to try to overcome when the situation doesn't just deliver. The goal with the B-roll is to make sure that you are letting the visuals tell a story. So what you're hoping you'll be able to do also, is not just have cover for the interview, but maybe eliminate some of your soundbites so that the visuals can tell me what this guy is doing, how he's doing, what he's doing. So the B-roll is also going to establish a sense of place, so you'll see the kinds of shots we were looking for, so you will wanna be thinking into your exterior as well. And then placing our character within that scene. Or context. So it'll be interesting also, you'll see a lot things we shot, and then when you see the finished film, you'll see what ended up making into the film you know, from the footage that you're exposed to now.
All right. Let her rip. All right, so we've done the interview with David, with our subject, and now I wanna get an establishing shot of him coming in to his studio, and so what I was thinking was, there's this wonderful alleyway here with this great, you know, sunlit corrugated red exterior, and then I like, you know, we're in an industrial zone, and I wanna show that, so the idea of this shot is not only to establish the simplistic idea that David walks in which is about showing time, but it's also establishing where his studio is. So the shot I wanna do, and David, it's pretty simple, I'm gonna start by having the camera on the highway there, I wanna get some cars passing, but to get the timing right, as soon as I feel I've got that part of the shot, I'll give you a hand signal, you can go to the end, you don't even have to go that far actually, you can go like two thirds of the way down, and then I'll give you a hand signal and then I'm gonna pan down as you basically ignore me and walk in the door of your studio. And then I want Julie inside so she can capture him entering. All right, and so for the inside shot where we get to show the sort of sequence of David, we've shown him walking through the exterior of where his studio is, now we'll have him come in, and Jules, if you'll come here and join me, and so for the second camera which you will be, what I imagine is you positioned pretty squared off so you get violins, you get the cranes of the port, which again identifies where his studio is. And then it's a simple shot, you'll get him across, don't move, I would prefer if you don't move until he is out of the frame, past the windows.
Okay, and then it's a simple shift and you'll have time to try it, you know, yourself, so that the next frame is from doorway to where he'd be seated to start working.
Yep, I got it.
All right, so David, if you'll go sort of two thirds of the way down and then just look for my hand signal, when I give it, walk, and walk briskly, you don't have to run but just walk pretty briskly, like with a sense of purpose, and then just literally do not look at the camera, I'm not here, and just walk in the door, don't look at Julie, who will be in there, just go and sit down. I assume you normally walk in the door and sit down and start working, right?
What do you do actually?
Usually I come in and I'll raise the blinds, and figure out what I'm gonna work on, and then start the day, start on my radio.
So the blinds, is the radio over there?
It's my phone, yeah.
So what would be ideal is that you walk in the door and then walk to your work space even if you don't immediately start working, like turn on the radio, turn on a light, and then sit down, okay?
All right, and then what I'll do, a crew member will give Julie a hand signal that you're coming.
So I'm gonna have you actually come in again, it's very difficult for me to shift between how bright it is outside and then the lighting inside. So what I'm gonna have you do is come in again, I'm actually gonna stand over here, and this way I'm not competing with the light outside. We'll have you come in, same thing, you'll pretend I'm not here, come in, sit down at your desk and start working.
I would much rather be over there so that I'm not trying to adjust my exposure from outdoor light to indoor light. Okay so I'm gonna have him come in again did you hear why?
Yeah yeah, I'm all set.
Okay good, I'm gonna be right here so I will block your door a tiny but but I'll be here. Whenever you're ready!
Ah, man, this beautiful connection here, visually, of getting him with the slats.
But then I also was shooting through when the car came through, so there's like this repetition of, well you could kind of cut from the rail car going through the frame which I did already and then this.
Nice, nice, this is beautiful.
So teaching moment, so just this is an example of where this is something you don't plan for, I'm just observing, I'm using my senses I'm using my observational skills and I hear this loud rail car go by literally what is this? 20, 30 meters from where we are, so I did a shot, maybe a 20 second shot, still shot of just the car slowly going through and you hear the sounds and screeches on the railways and so I think whatever, I'm always thinking when I'm working with Julie, with any editor, but particularly Julie, you know, what's going to excite her as an editor? What visual or what element might I capture that, like, for me like Nirvana is when she'll call or e-mail and say that was such a great shot! You know, especially when I'm with her in the field. So then I happen to come here, I was trying to stay out of her way, and I was just looking, is there maybe an angle and then I see the reflection of the slats of the fence, in the window here, with David in the background working, and I'm thinking okay, there's a visual connection here. It might only be five, 10 seconds within the film, but it could be that little bit of accent or a little bit of magic that propels it along.
Okay, so that's a little taste of us playing well in the field together. (laughs) So you can see we nailed down the basics, we got him coming in, it's a pedestrian kind of a shot, so you never know if you're gonna need it, use it, but it's good to get it. Transitional shots are valuable, so you just don't know if you're gonna need that moment of somebody entering a building, leaving a building, the beginning, it's that sort of wrapper transitional shot. So it's, quite frankly it's almost a shot you hope not to have to use, but you want to have it. And we ended up doing it later, again, which you're gonna get to see when we have the young violinist come. So it's just to have those shots that when you're editing, you're prepared, you know, should you need shots. What you got to see a lot of is this kind of prep exterior and this idea that Ed found this very beautiful shot through the window, which is quite frankly, one of the nicest shots in the whole finished film because it's an interesting shot, it's got layering, and so it's a testament to just, he's always seeing and thinking and capturing sort of surprising angles when he's out there shooting. And then, obviously, we were capturing this action of David arriving and starting his day at work. So trying to make sure that, because we had two people, interior, exterior, continuity of action, and it's easy to cut together. So that was like a freebee in terms of editing. It's like oh that's an easy one, that gives me that option. Again, you'll see, and I hate to burst your bubble, but we ended up not using the shot of him coming towards us and walking in because the framing was such that it's kinda interesting but as the closer he gets the more of his belly we got in the frame and the less of this context. So when I looked at it, it's funny how different footage looks in the moment you shoot it to when you're watching it on your screen. It's so funny how entirely different that experience can be. So we ended up not using it in the final edit after all. Uh, anything else you wanna say?
Well you know, we talk about capturing action, but I something that I like to talk a lot about with B-roll is this idea of so often, and this happens with still photography as well, when you're doing a story about a person, let's say, you're constantly trying to get imagery that shows them doing. But really the most interesting work is capturing them being.
All right? I mean, how interesting, let's say in this case, in this case it actually is kind of visually interesting, to watch him work with the violin because it's a beautiful object, you know, there's some interesting details as we'll get into the next section, but in general, I want you to think about that, that the real magic, visually, and metaphorically, poetic, poetry, you know, all of those other areas where in a dream world we are hitting with our B-roll, is capturing people being, right? So that involves kinda putting on a different set of glasses in how you see the world, so it's not, so you're not making point pictures, you're not getting, and that's the problem with doing, like getting him walking into his place is exactly what I'm saying we shouldn't do, but there's certain habits or there's certain tropes that are hard to break and being with an editor and having done enough of this there are times you actually just need that. And always think for example, you'd think at this point, Hollywood, when they show a character going from New York to L.A., they still show an airplane taking off! You'd think boy at this point wouldn't we have advanced the visual language that we don't need to be so literal? Yet it works, right? Now sometimes it's done very pedestrian, and sometimes it's done in a very artful way, that airplane taking off, right? But we're always trying to figure out how can we not do that? How can we not deploy that trope? How can we come up with a different way of showing the passage or time, or showing transitions? Because these are things that, if you're not doing a linear narrative film, then of course it's different. You can be totally weird and out of sync and time doesn't matter and all that. But when you're trying to tell a story that is more of a linear narrative, then some of these things are required. So anyway, I just want you to think about that, is think more poetically, metaphorically, capture people being, not just doing.
Yeah, and I'd love to give an example of that because we shared the boxing film. The opening of that boxing film. Now, boxing is this incredibly dynamic action. So even in a case like that film, it's dynamic, you got a lot of visual, but how much boxing footage can you really look at? It kinda grows old fast unless you're obsessed with boxing. So in the course of that film, my favorite scene, which you didn't get to see, is the coach and the kids in the car. And they're just having conversations in the car because he drives them back and forth to the boxing ring. Otherwise they don't show up. Or it takes them 45 minutes on public transit. So it's this great situation to get them being, as Ed says, and watch relationships unfold. So there's a dynamic established, they're very funny, and comfortable in the car because as everybody is, it's sort of this bubble of natural behavior, it's almost like a habitat in the car, like a terrarium. And so there's a conversation that unfolds between coach and student where the student is giving the coach, like, basically lessons about dating and girls. And it's a very funny exchange, and the coach drives this GT trans-am, like a suped up car, and the kid is saying to him this is not a cool car. Coach, you gotta grow up. (laughter) And it's so funny because it's just, these are the kinds of moments, though, that they've nothing to do with boxing, they have nothing to do with like, the success of an inner city kid to overcome his odds, but they're so relatable that those are the scenes that you will remember when you watch the film, and when you edit, they're the scenes that just buoy up, and you gotta work around them. Because some of the other stuff is far less important than that connection.