If you make a video you’re proud of, you will undoubtedly need it again someday in the future. Take our word on this.

Demo reels are one reason you would need a part of a past project. Or maybe a potential client will want to see a particular type of video, say on travel, but the last travel video you made was eight years ago. Not to worry. If you properly archive your projects, you can go back and access the very project with all its assets, not just a finished piece. This is important, because you may need to re-edit, replace the music and/or change subtitles from one language to another.

The Videomaker Way

We are going to outline a method here that the editors of Videomaker use. There are other methods, and we would love to hear from members of the Videomaker community who have methods different from the one that we are illustrating here.

One of the biggest difficulties of archiving is the constantly changing technology – hardware, software and media. Tape formats improve, leaving older formats behind. Many of the long-careered editors here at Video-
maker have a closet full of projects on 3/4-inch tape, Betacam or older VHS – ugh! We remember transferring files from 3.5-inch floppies to Iomega Jaz discs to CD then to DVD. And the tech gods keep promising 300GB holographic discs sometime in the near future (more on this later).


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Add unstable storage to all of this hysteria, and you have a lifetime of worry. Magnetic tape does degrade. Many experts say we should be concerned after a tape’s tenth birthday. If you have old projects backed up to VHS or Super VHS, you may be in trouble. Remember that nasty rumor that shot around the Internet about CDs lasting only ten years? This is obviously not true, but many experts say they will, with time, become unstable. And losing an old gem stored on these optical discs would not be pleasurable.

Name and Date

Most of us these days are shooting on Mini DV tape or maybe even DVD. If you are recording to Panasonic’s P2 card (solid-state memory card) or to a hard-drive camera, your archiving will require a slightly different method (see sidebar on page 64). For this example, let’s say we shot to Mini DV tape.

Good archiving starts in the beginning of production. Ideally, you labeled your tape along the spine before you inserted it into your camera. We give our first piece of media as short a project name as possible, followed by a three-digit number starting with 001. For example, if we are shooting a documentary on local volunteer firefighters, we might call it SVF001 for Springfield Volunteer Firefighters, tape number one. Next to this short name, we can write the date we inserted the media and shot our first footage. Under this, we should have room to write the full project title, so ten years in the future we know what SVF stands for. The second, squarish label to be adhered to the face of the tape can contain specific information, like locations where you shot or names of people you interviewed.

Okay, so you are finished with production. Let’s say you have roughly eight tapes or eight hours of interviews and b-roll. To make things easy, we’ll assume you shot to the end of each of those Mini DV tapes. Each tape holds somewhere shy of 14GB of audio and video. Again, to make our math easy, let’s call it 13.5GB, which means you have about 108GB of source footage.

A New Drive for a New Project

We like to use an empty hard drive for each new project, whether it is an internal drive in your tower or an external FireWire drive. A dedicated drive is easier to organize and clean when the project is finished. EVERYTHING associated with this project must go to this drive – every project file, every render file, every still photo, every piece of music, etc. It is not a bad idea to put your production paperwork here as well, such as your script (if you wrote one), release forms, subject and crew contact information, etc. Learn to be diligent with keeping all of one project’s assets together, and you will save yourself many headaches to come. BTW: You can download many of these forms from the Videomaker store as individual PDFs, or purchase the entire Book of Forms from our Web site.

Let’s say you have spent four solid weeks editing at night and on weekends around the job that actually puts the food on your table. You deliver your final seven-minute project by burning a full-frame, full-motion data file to DVD. Congratulations, you are now finished with the project. Let’s list everything you have accumulated during the month you’ve been building this motion picture:

  • The original Mini DV source tapes.
  • A large folder of all the imported audio/video footage (your media)
  • A “handful” of project files, as you saved new ones when you made major direction changes in your edit. Let’s say you have six project files.
  • Sixty-five still photos that your subject gave you (originals and re-sized)
  • Five original songs you made with loops and different audio elements
  • Many render files
  • Your paperwork

Tricky Name

One little trick you may want to try is to name every file associated with the project, starting with your short project name. For example, SVF_StillCaptainSimpson.jpg might be the name of the scanned still photo of the captain and SVF_TearJerkerSong.wav is one of your original songs. This way, if you have misplaced a file somewhere in the dark depths of your main hard drive, it is easy to find by searching for SVF_, even if you forgot what you called the file itself.


The main idea now is to save all of your assets to one or two places. Your well-labeled source tapes become the archive place for your originally-shot media. As this is over 100GB, it is not really feasible to back these up to optical media like a blank 4.7GB DVD disc (this may change if we ever see that 300GB holographic technology come our way).

All other assets – a copy of the finished work, your project files, still photos, music and paperwork – should fit on a blank DVD. Wait, we forgot our render files. The folder holding your render files can get quite large. Plus, using your project file, you can rebuild your render files with the click of a button, so we don’t usually save these. Write with permanent marker on the burned disc the same name you have on the spine of your source tapes. Then add the finished date and any other information that will help you remember this project ten years into the future (who you made it for, what camera you used to shoot, the total running time of the finished product, etc.). Rubber band it together with the source tapes, put it in your fireproof file safe in your closet (not a bad idea, eh?) and reformat your hard drive for the next gig. Your entire project is safely archived.

Developed from Years of Experience

Many of the editors here at Videomaker have been in the industry a long time and have many old projects to prove it. Without good archiving, our precious projects would just sit in the garage, awaiting our heirs to toss them in the rubbish. Proper archiving has been a learn-as-we-go process, but for you, our faithful readers, it does not have to be. Follow these techniques, and many years down the line, when you need to reconstitute a project, you will have all the parts to rework your masterpiece.

Contributing editor Morgan Paar is a nomadic producer, shooter and editor, making documentaries worldwide.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.