The last time we talked about media management, we focused on simple ways to not only keep track of media during shoots, but also some tried and true ways for successfully getting footage from the media in your cameras safely onto drives. But after it’s on your drive, where do you go from there? Here are five key tips for getting the video into your editing system so you can actually begin working on your edit.
Actually Have an Edit System
We talked about the value of having dedicated drives for your shoots. Now, the smart move is to round that out with a system of backing up and keeping the original media in one location and having another, third drive system that connects to your computer that you edit on.
A lack of redundancy is the number one issue I see with young freelancers or new production companies. The danger of editing off the original files and then using that drive can’t be stressed enough. It’s a ticking time bomb. This is yet another step in the process where “2 is 1, and 1 is 0.”
Decide Whether to Transcode
Simply put, transcoding is the process of converting footage from one type of codec and wrapper to another. Codecs are the compression used in recording the video, and a wrapper is the file extension after the file name (e.g., .mov, .mts, .xmf.)
There are so many variables that go into choosing whether or not you transcode from the production company to cameras, project types, etc., that I never feel comfortable saying “You should always” or “Don’t ever.” But here are some reasons why I believe it’s a valuable choice and some of the benefits of transcoding.
You shot with different cameras with different codecs. Transcoding to ProRes will give you a uniform format. ProRes is an industry-standard format “master” (i.e., high enough quality to make edits off of without issues of artifacting or further loss.) So if you’re going to share your footage with another editor or hand it off, ProRes is a codec that any editor using any pro software can use in their system.
Even though many modern edits systems—especially Adobe Premiere—pride themselves on their ability to take all kinds of codecs you throw at it, our experience (echoed by many) is that Adobe Premiere doesn’t love playing back the AVHC-264 many cameras shoot into this .mts, .mxf or .mov wrappers.
Maybe renaming files isn’t a reason that jumps off of the page as important, but it’s definitely worth considering. Some cameras don’t let you rename clips in-camera (cough! Sony Fs5 cough!). But once it’s ProRes and .mov, you can rename it to your heart’s content. Yes, a folder structure can manage this, but it still potentially means you have several clips named _0001.mts. If you’re trading project files back and forth, this can wreak havoc when you reconnect assets. It happened to me on a project where I was an assistant editor for Reebok and CrossFit. The lead editor had a lot of questions about why I seemed to choose a lot of shots of empty cardboard boxes in my first cut.
Finish in Davinci Resolve
Resolve is the color grading software of choice for many—from indie films to Netflix shows. Some colorists advocate that they prefer working with the “intrafame” codec that is ProRes vs. the interframe codec a lot of avch264s have coming out of the camera.
Systems like Adobe Premiere have a function that lets you create “proxy files,” which are encodes that are much smaller in resolution than your original, but they play back extremely fast. The major benefit to these is that you can toggle back and forth between the master and the proxy with a click of a button. This lets you edit fast with proxies while you work, and then switch back to larger, original footage before export. You can use proxy with your original media footage and skip the other transcoding processes above. Or you can do it as the final step.
Check Your Drive Speed
If you want a smooth video editing process, the answer is no to 5400. That’s because 7200rpms is the minimum rotation speed you want on a drive, whether you’re using a single external drive or “internal” spindle drivers.
Pay close attention to what you’re ordering. Most drives are sold with 5400rpms. The 7200s are more expensive, but they’re needed for helping to push the video through fast enough to keep up with your editing and real-time playback, and really maximizing the data transfer speeds of USB-C or Thunderbolt 3.
If you’re a solo, indie freelancer that typically works just 1-2 projects at a time, a single external drive could be enough. We recommend options from Lacie. Bigger shops that have the need for more storage at once, or are working on several clients with ongoing projects, need to consider either a JBOD (Just A Bunch Of Drives) or a Drobo system.
Come Up with a Naming Convention
As somebody who oversees post-production and has done it for two decades now, I can’t stress enough how important creating a naming convention is. It’s not as easy and obvious as it may seem, and the bigger and more complex your operation and projects get, the harder it is.
Think about it like you’re the offensive coordinator of an NFL team. You’re creating the playbook and language in how the plays are called. So all that fun stuff we hear in the NFL like John Gruden’s “Spider 2 Y Banana” or Peyton Manning’s famous “Omaha! Omaha!” calls. You have to design a naming system for you and your team that’s both specific enough to give you information, but not so detailed that your file names are insanely long.
First, it’s all about folders over files. Put more detail in your folder names, and try to keep your clip names small. Then, let your work dictate your complexity. If you have a lot of one-and-done work, you can be a little less sophisticated with your system. But if you’re editing a documentary with two years of footage, or you have recurring clients, you need a good system.
For example, we’re the video partner for MAHA Festival and The Pinnacle Bank Championship. That means we ultimately have an active archive, especially year over year. So if you asked to pull a clip from three years ago tomorrow, we had better have a good system that makes it easy to find clips.
Plan for the Aftermath
Awesome, you finished your edit. Your client paid you, or you have the master of your doc to send to film festivals. You might be thinking: “What happens to all this footage? Do I keep it? Does it all go to the client? If I keep it, for how long?”
Again, there is no single right answer other than to figure out what makes sense for your production company and your project. Whether you’re a one-man-band, a small shop mainly doing client work, or working on docs, it will all play into the decision. But the rule you should follow is to figure that out before you start.
If you’re doing client work, which is 99.9% going to be “work for hire,” determine what that means for the aftermath. Do all the raws go back to the client? Do you store stuff on their behalf, and if so for how long? Discuss this with your client before shooting anything so you have a plan in place.
Typically, production company’s retain, at the very least, a license to keep a copy of the footage for self-promotional materials like demo reels. Many times a production company will create a high-res master version of the final delivery and keep that around forever, while deleting the project footage out of their system after six months. This might make sense for a one-off project for someone like a local chiropractor, but if you have the local college hockey team as a client, and you’re their de facto video library, it might be in your best interests to keep original footage accessible.
Dan Napoli is the Head of Creative & Post-Production for Hurrdat Films. He has over 20 years of experience in the video production and film industry as a writer, director, and editor with nearly two-dozen documentaries to his credit. He also co-hosts “Yellin’ In My Ear,” a podcast centered around ‘80s & ‘90s Gen X pop culture, and “Reel Life,” where he interviews fellow documentary filmmakers about how they took their latest project from the real-life event to the film reel. His two most recent films, Best Kids In Texas and 50 Summers, are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.