[My capture card of choice. SanDisk Extreme: Class 10.]

How an editor organizes their clips before actually making a cut can tell you a lot about their style. But then again, keeping clips in a certain order, labeled, and named in purposeful ways saves a lot of time when making decisions for your edit. Unless you enjoy scrubbing through every clip, looking for that exact moment when the dolphin at Sea World smacked a clown’s hat off and flipped him the metaphoric bird with his tail, cataloging can save you some frustration during post.

When I first started getting into video and film making (although yet to actually TOUCH some celluloid) I was grabbing clips from a Hi8 (mm) tape. My trusty Handycam traveled with me everywhere, and by the time I got back home for editing I would have already used up at least 4 tapes worth, 2 hours each at LP (long play) quality.

Importing from my camcorder took hours as I set the “in” and “out” points on my capture software and manually named each clip. With the move to DSLR, every clip now resides in its respective SD CARD with each file name labeled with its own internal naming system.

That made life a little easier.

There was still a problem though. I would have to rename each clip with more information than MVI_0001.mov. (This is the naming convention from my Canon 550D)

But before we go into that specifically, let’s start from the beginning on how I tackle this part of my DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT.

GET OUT OF MY CAMERA AND INTO MY HARD DRIVE

After a scene is shot I’ll usually have one or two SD CARDS filled with footage ready to be prepped for editing. The first thing I’ll do is dump everything from the cards onto a hard drive into a folder labeled “FOOTAGE “inside a new PROJECT FOLDER. (We won’t get into FIELD DRIVES; for the purposes of this post let’s assume the footage made it all the way to your editing suite.)

If I’m using more than one camera then I would create multiple file folders using alphabet designations for each camera: FOOTAGE A, FOOTAGE B, etc.

The PROJECT FOLDER uses a simple naming convention of [reverse date_project name]. I.e. “20121026_Melissa_loves_grapes”

*I use underscores (_) because when I archive on disc or transfer files, the computer adds underscores anyway, plus I’m used to doing that after many years of burning music. You probably don’t have to, depending on what OS you’re running; it’s just something I do.

Once all my clips are dumped into my FOOTAGE folder they should already be in order of what you have shot.

FYI. Every editor has their own preference of labeling clips. Philip Bloom labels clips with whole descriptions while Chase Jarvis uses a slightly more complex naming system including: date / project / camera name/ camera #.

I’ll scan through each clip and rename them according to SHOT, SHOT TYPE, and SHORT DESCRIPTION. I.e. 1A_WIDE_couch.MOV

This way works for SHORT FILMS, MUSIC VIDEOS, and other CINEMATIC NARRATIVES; things that have already been preplanned, because I can refer to my shot-list or storyboards I don’t get too complex with information.

If the footage you’ve captured is for EVENTS, WEDDINGS, DOCUMENTARIES and the UNSCRIPTED then my renaming would match more with my PROJECT FOLDER naming convention:

Reverse date_project name_camera name_internal camera #_short description.file extension

I.e. “20121026_leslie_loves_guns_550D_4457_catching up from behind to the gun show.mov”

*You’ll notice I didn’t use underscores in the description, sometimes I get lazy, but it’s worked out so far.

Since footage captured for these types of events usually have more than one type of shot or are continuous in shooting, especially during “run ‘n gun” type situations, I tend to keep it a little more specific in nature because I don’t have a shot-list for reference.

Now EVERY clip gets a new name. This becomes tedious, but I feel it’s necessary when I finally go to make my ASSEMBLY CUT. As an editor it becomes less of a frustration when I know what I’m looking for, plus the time spent watching each clip gets me VERY familiar with the footage in my short-term memory so coming up with ideas for editing become easier as I can usually assemble in my head a little bit and know what shot I’m looking for.

When I first started I never labeled my footage so I was going through every clip 5-10 times looking for shots. I definitely got familiar with the footage, but every time I got an idea for an edit, the searching got in the way and the momentum was lost. When ideas hit, I tend to want to assemble quickly before the idea is lost.

REVIEW

  1. Set up PROJECT FOLDER with FOOTAGE FOLDER inside.
  2. DUMP footage (only .mov* files) into FOOTAGE FOLDER.
  3. DECIDE what TYPE of PROJECT it is. (This determines naming convention: PLANNED VS UNPLANNED SHOTS)
  4. RENAME clips accordingly.
  5. [OPTIONAL] Copy FOOTAGE FOLDER to offsite hard drive as BACKUP.

*replace .mov with whatever extension your camera uses

So that’s how I organize my footage. I hope it can serve as a template for you to modify for your own style of organizing. This proxy is still evolving as I take on more projects, and it also tends to change depending on the situation, but a lot of this stays the same. I will probably update this as I gain more experience but for now, it’s a good skeleton.

P.S. For short captures, that have less than 20 clips, I don’t even bother renaming since 20 seems to be the limit to how much visual memory I can retain during an edit. But that’s me personally.

QUESTION: So how do you organize and name your footage? And if you know of other methods please leave a description or link below.