A Reel and B Reel

Day 135 Week 20 Q2 Tuesday, May 14, 2024

When filmmakers start shooting, they used to have a primary reel of film called the A Reel, containing the core message and narrative. They also had an additional reel, the B Reel, for supplementary information, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and other content not part of the main storyline. When constructing a show, movie or program, the B Reel provided supporting material to supplement and fill in around the core A Reel storyline. At least two “piles” or reels of content were needed, and since physical film reels were expensive, often only two could be affordably produced.

Even in today’s digital age where data storage is inexpensive, the conceptual notion of separating content into two distinct components – a primary reel and a secondary reel – persists. While you can theoretically have numerous computer files due to ample digital storage space, structurally you still require at least two high-level “reels”: one for the main, central narrative content and another for ancillary supplementary material that could distract or digress from the primary core message if intermingled.

This delineation has carried over to other media like print. Magazine articles and books previously utilized physical “sidebars” as separated offshoots to make digressions or explore tangential ideas related to but distinct from the main body’s thrust. Likewise, legal contracts may have appendices or attachment sections to expand upon ancillary information in a dedicated space without disrupting the primary subject matter’s narrative flow.

For creative individuals who are outliers constantly generating many divergent messages, ideas, supporting materials and simultaneous projects, this conceptual abundance can quickly become overwhelming to manage. The classic filmmaking tool of separating content into two distinct reels acts as a convergence force, preventing the creator’s focus from drifting off into an unbound infinity by providing a finite, compartmentalized set of “containers” to wrangle.

If you are working on a central main creative project and other interests, potential subplots or disconnected ideas arise, you can temporarily relegate and deposit them into a secondary separate “B Reel” file or space. However, it’s wise to be cautious about proliferating too many additional elongated project tracks beyond that single “B” space, as that begins to reintroduce the same paradox of diffusion.

Mechanisms to protect one’s efforts against an overwhelming, centrifugal force caused by a constant deluge of new ideas and trajectories are invaluable. Trying to comprehensively integrate and focus on a multitude of thoughts and strands simultaneously becomes increasingly arduous without first distilling them into a limited number of cohesive paths. The traditional filmmaking construct of separating content into two distinct reels – primary and secondary – provides a straightforward system to help center and streamline one’s creative efforts.