Shooting B Roll Footage for a Scene

Everyone talks about the types of shots for our characters, medium shot, medium close-up, close-up. But nobody talks about the shots without your character in them, the shots of the space, what they’re looking at or not. They may talk about specialized shots you rarely use like the characters point of view shot (POV) but I’m talking about b-roll.

Whose viewpoint are these shots from? How do you shoot them so they work in your edit especially if your character is moving, walking around the environment?

In the opening of our Lady Luck, we wanted to show the space before he arrives, to show lady luck beforehand, foreshadow a little of what he’ll find. So we did a slow push in on a slider, made it feel like you’re entering the space and hints at Bobby walking in.

Then when enters, he walks by a wall with 80’s memorable that we wanted to show to set up the very 80’s Lady Luck machine. A static shot wouldn’t work and a POV wouldn’t make any sense. We shot panning shots as well as slow-moving slider shots parallel to the wall. The later worked, giving us the feeling of movement, motivated by the direction Bobby is walking in.

When he turns to look at the pinball machines, we use a slow slide across the machines to show them off.

Why do these shots work? They’re not his POV? No, but they’re ours, the audience. It’s almost as if we’re a ghost in the space, looking around with him. We watch him walk in, we look closer at what he’s looking at on the wall. If those shots were static, it would be jarring, drawing too much attention to our viewpoint so we kept them moving in the same direction he was. The shots are motivated by his movement.

When he turns to look at the pinball machines though, he’s no longer moving but it still works to use a sliding shot across the machines. We know he’s looking at the machines, checking them out, and so are we as the audience.

Then when he plays the game we show the back glass of the Lady Luck machine straight on, tight insert shots of the pinball machine from various angles. Then his insert shots, hands, hips, from the side,

These are all actions we as an audience would look at if we were there. Shots that tell the story. A new ball snaps in place, the plunger shoots the ball, the ball hits the bumpers, hand on the flipper button, flipper hitting a ball, the score going up and so on.

Now we weren’t sure what shots were going to work or not. So we shot variations. Static, a pan, a slide without a pan, a slide with a slight pan. We did push in shots into the Lady Luck machine and pull outs. And for the pinball gameplay, we shot a lot of coverage, more than we actually used, so we could test what will work or not and give ourselves options.

When we were tight in on the pinball action shots, we couldn’t follow the ball around. It moves too fast to follow that tight. We had to set the camera up for a shot and try to get the ball there. With a prop department, we would have removed the top glass and slid in a smaller piece of glass that would have covered the area of our insert shots, giving us those nice reflections, but allowing us to drop the ball in just out of frame and place it right where we needed it.

Without that it meant sitting on a tight shot of a spinner for example and waiting for Manu (who’s a pinball aficionado and competitor by the way) to hit that shot. So not a problem for us.

So that’s one way to look at and think about shots taken around your characters in the space they’re in. Let us know what works for you in the comments.


Bobby: James Aaron Oh

Lady Luck: Courtney Shaffer

Clint: Manu Smith

8 Ball Deluxe voice: Greg Thomas

Assistant Camera: Sanjana DeSilva

Pinball Arcade: Free Gold Watch, San Francisco, CA

Lady Luck Pinball by Bally Midway

8 Ball Deluxe by Bally Manufacturing

🎹 Music

“Right Place, Right Time” by Silent Partner from YouTube Audio Library

Other music from Epidemic Sound