Is there a formula for how much b-roll to shoot for a story?

Recently I posted this question on Facebook.

“As you know I teach. I am theVideo Production Coordinator/Instructor at Emily Griffith Technical College. The first few video productions I limit the amount of raw video students can shoot for their projects. I want to teach them to shoot efficiently. Now it’s time for their 3rd project. I give them no limit on amount of video they can shoot. I still want them to be efficient. I like the input of Storytellers in helping them and maybe some of us. Do you have any guides, ideas, concepts, theories, rules, mathematical equations, logic to how much video you should shoot for a story?”

I’m going to use a story I produced a few months ago as a guide for this post.  I’d love to hear your input and I’ll update as necessary.  I produced this video of a women named Lubna Lipton.  She is a female welder at Emily Griffith Technical College.

It took just over 2 hours to shoot this story.  It took about 3 hours to log everything.  It took me about 3 hours to edit this story.

  • This story is 2:50.
  • I shot just over 1 hour of b-roll
  • I had a 15 minute interview with her
  • I had 75 clips to choose from (raw video)
  • Of those 75 clips I had 47 are in the final edit.


I think I shot this story efficiently.  If you do the math (and I did) I have about 30 seconds of raw video shot per finished second of story.  So, is that any kind of formula you could translate into the field when shooting?  I’m not sure.  For someone trying to figure out a magical number to help him in their shooting it’s a start.

Bryant James Vander Weerd posted this response to my question;

“I guess if you’re gonna get scientific about it, I do about 10 shots for a 30 second VO (3sec per shot). And within those 10 shots I push myself to tell the story as best as possible. I suppose the same could go for a 1:30 pkg… 30 shots at 3sec each, not including SOTs

So if we follow Bryant’s logic then a 3 minute story you should shoot for 60 clips.  My question is that usable shots?  We all screw up right?  I would say of the 75 clips I shot only 10 weren’t usable.  So, I’ve got around 65 clips for about a 3 minute story.  My shooting is inline with Bryant’s math.  Are we onto to something maybe?

George Taylor posted this;

“Shoot as much as you want to log. When I do long form stuff on my own, I log every shot, every useful nat and all the sound. When I am with a reporter….lol…that is on them. I let it roll and get as much as I can. I usually have no rules as to how many shots but lately, I run about 100-120 clips for a 3 plus story.

George is shooting a lot more clips; about 20% percent more.  That’s more logging time and more editing time.

Geoff Mayfield gave this response;

“Back in the day, we had 20 min tapes for a 1:20 day turn.

So Geoff shot 20 minutes for 1:20 story.  So, if we times that by 3 we get 60 minutes of raw video (back in the day) for a 4 minute story.  Let’s drop 20 seconds off  each minute of raw video since it’s a longer form piece we’d possibly be producing.  Going back to the story I produced.  I had just over 60 minutes of raw video and produced a story not quite 3 minutes long.  Geoff’s math is kinda adding up to my math.  Coincidence?

Anna DeVencenty posted this response;

“I’ve always thought the less you shoot the more it shows you know what you’re doing (with some exceptions). Which do they think is easier, more or less?

I think Anna has a point there.  Photographer who understand their needs for the story don’t overshoot.  They come back from shooting a story with less video.  It’s less to log and will take less time to then edit.

George Orr had this comment;

“Focus before you turn on the camera. Determine the ONE thing you want to illustrate for the viewer. Then shoot that illustration, with enough cover material and cutaways to build transitions and sequences. I taught this for 20 years here in Western Canada, and it’s foolproof once you get it
10 hrs.”

I like George’s idea.  Focus is a great thing.  Often when you start out you don’t have focus.  Perhaps a little math like above could help until that focus develops.

Vince Chandler commented;

I shoot everything that I can, but only if I have the time to log everything before I sit down to edit. Nothing feels worse than running out of B roll or thinking “I really wish I had shot….” and not being able to get back out and reshoot.”

Good point Vince.  Photographers shouldn’t shoot more than they feel they have time to log.  So those features we all like to produce you wanna make sure you have lots to choose from.  The daily stuff maybe to just get what you need.  How to you know the amount of what you need?  Maybe out little match equation could help in the beginning?

I’m not saying this is the only answer.  Heck, I’m not saying this is an answer at all.  It’s just something to help the next time you ask yourself; how much b-roll is too much b-roll for my story?

What the heck try it.  The next time you have a story that is going to be 1:30 and no longer, try shooting about 30 clips and/or try shooting about 30 minutes of raw footage.

I’d love to hear if this works.