The scourge of the B-roll

April/2004: Random Thoughts - On Friday, I got to go downtown and shoot a long interview for an upcoming documentary being made about PeeJ. Thankfully, it wasn't one of the typical media shoots where you need to act stiff and rigid, but a relaxed shoot where you can curse a bit when the camera is off and put the feet up. The hilarious part of the process was the inevitable B-roll, as it usually is for me.

"B-roll" is a term used for filler footage shot in order to splice images into an interview. Think about the various interviews you've seen on TV outside of the 24 hour cable news networks. Take a news-magazine show, for instance. They'll have a shot of the guy walking, or in his apartment, or with his dog. That's B-roll. It's quick, you don't really notice it and it leaves little impression. It's filler, and we pay it no thought.

Doing this site has led me to discover this funky filming method, and how alternatively annoying and hilarious it can be at the same time.

For PeeJ, what can you really shoot to cut-away to for "excitement"? Think about it, the contributors sit at computers doing these conversations and I... sit at a computer directing things, organizing things... doing my typical admin work. It is not exciting to shoot. Yet, it is always shot. Doesn't matter if they're using film, tape, or digital. Doesn't matter if the filming itself costs money. There is hours of it sitting around of me doing goofy stuff.

-Example: I sit at a clear glass table with a beautiful Mac set-up. Nearly two hours of myself typing is shot from every conceivable angle. From underneath the table (yes, the classic "here's a guys crotch while he types" view, to across the room... from behind, through my glasses. Typing, typing, typing.

-Example: Sitting at a lap-top in an old rustic house for CBS National news, typing, typing, typing. Riveting footage, my friends.

The best example happened recently in San Francisco. A documentary was shooting B-roll of myself sitting outside at a coffee shop, typing on a lap-top. Took about an hour of shooting. That is when a table of patrons behind me from inside the shop got to discover what it is exactly that I type.

I have created a little "B-roll typing game" for myself. Think about it, sitting there for an hour trying to look natural typing in a completely unnatural situation for myself (let alone the camera, I'm as natural feeling at a coffee shop as Elliott Smith was at the Oscars) in order to gain footage that most likely will not be used is boring. Sure, I completely understand why they want it, it just bores me to tears. Hence, my game. I try to make myself laugh with utter sarcasm and cynicism. Not the type I write out here on this website, just the natural flow of my mind on paper, which is usually enough to make myself laugh at something I come up with.

So I'm sitting at this outdoor coffee shop table, blazing away. On fire. I'm winning, as I'm not laughing (although it was tough to control my "Nobody knows what I'm typing smirk"), but apparently some other people were. I was later informed by my friend that, behind me, this guy with a baby was reading what I was writing to the people at his table, who were all cracking up. And they had good reason to. I sit there and basically pour out my sarcastic mind on paper.

I was told to look up at a nearby park about fifteen times. So mentally, I dub this "the look" and then type out how exciting this look is for the camera. Something akin to "Okay, they want me to do the look. Oh man, best look ever. I looked at that park as hard as I could and I looked some more. Oscar, baby!" Along with other sarcastic observations, such as the fact that the term "crazy style" comes up as grammatically incorrect in Word, usually. This angered me and I spent five minutes trying to find a grammar situation where "crazy style" is not underlined in green. Yeah, that's how my mind works. Those are the things I sit around and think about.

Yep, I found one, and celebrated to myself on the lap-top... and of course, to my appreciative audience behind me. Oops. It's a fun game, and makes the B-roll of typing tolerable.

However, the B-roll I was shooting Friday is the least tolerable. The "walking" B-roll. Nothing is worse than the "walking" B-roll footage. I would rather sit and attempt to crack myself up for hours on end than shoot two minutes of "walking." You look like such a tool. There you have someone with a camera and they're filming you walking. Again, I understand the why behind it. Still, I cannot imagine anything that looks more pretentious. And what am I supposed to do? I end up look either straight ahead as I did Friday (which is easy), or they will have me "look around" like I did over the weekend prior.

What the hell am I supposed to be looking for? I end up having to "act" like I'm looking at something. It looks so freakin' stupid. If any of the walking footage I've had shot of me ever airs (which I would bet against, since all the walking footage I've shot in the past has never aired), I'll look like a loon. Like I'm scanning the streets for pedophiles. I feel like an utter jackass doing it, and if I were someone else who had the displeasure of watching that foolery, I'd want to walk up and ask what the hell is being looked for?

I would seriously love to compile all that typing and walking footage into a single show, call it "Xavier Typing and Walking" and put it on public access, all sequenced one after another. Only then would B-roll look as absurd as it feels when you're doing it.