Best Media Storage Practices

Do you remember that feeling of panic when your project file became corrupt or a critical video file became lost? It happens to the best of us.

With a little planning and good practice, we can put aside our worries of losing all our hard work. Backups, or the creation of redundant assets, can help save us from disaster. Let’s dig in and discover how we can prevent the next digital catastrophe.

Why Back Up?

Video editing is a time-intensive activity, even for seasoned professionals. The process of editing video on a computer requires the coordination of many file types and media assets. Usually, video editing also requires the addition of hard drives which are often crowded with hundreds of folders and files. What would happen to our video project if one of these files disappeared? What would happen if a hard drive should fail? Losing an asset to our project has the potential to set us back to our project’s beginning. That’s a significant loss to productivity. That’s when we need a backup. A backup is a redundant source of our project’s digital assets that will allow us to restore the project to its latest iteration and minimize the loss in productivity when something goes wrong. It’s a safety net and one you should not be without, no matter how small your video project may be.

Human error plays a big part in the mistaken destruction of files and media. It’s unfortunate that we are our own worst enemy, but the truth is that we can do a great deal of harm to our own productivity. It’s not uncommon to accidently delete a file or an entire folder of files pertaining to the video project. It’s even possible for another computer user to do the deed. A user may move the file somewhere and then be unable to find it, even with the help of the computer’s search utility. This happens more than we would like to acknowledge. Human error can frustrate us and keep the project from completion.


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Even when we are at our best, the data on hard drives is at risk. Hard drives can fail or be damaged beyond repair. This can be a major setback. And, if that’s not enough, we also have to be mindful of computer viruses that can wipe out our data. As you can see, there are many forces at work that can keep you from the finish line. Murphy’s Law, it seems, enjoys downtime. So, let’s learn how to backup your work and avoid a complete meltdown.

Create the Backup

When you first start your video editing project, you’ll define a space to save your original files. We suggest you learn more about file structure systems and media management by reading Videomaker‘s recent article, Media Management: A Plan for Success (March 2009). Once you have your project file and all the associated media files saved, you’ll want to copy all that data to a new source. This makes a redundant copy of the digital assets, better known as the backup copy.

External Storage

It’s best that you make your backup copy on an external storage device (e.g., USB hard drive, Flash drive, DVD, etc.). It’s important that the backup is on an external device, because you will disconnect it from the computer when the device is not in use. This minimizes the chance that the device will be affected by a virus or any other damage that may occur on the computer. It’s even wise to store your backup off-site, in case of a fire that destroys everything. This however, is not practical for most users. Connect this device to your computer only when you need to retrieve or store data. When you finish that task, disconnect the device, and store it properly. Generally, write-once DVDs are not practical for backups. Through the process of backing up data, there will be multiple iterations of the backup. Therefore, a medium that will allow you to rewrite information is desirable. Rewritable DVD media will work. USB 2.0 hard drives are ideal for backups, as they are reliable, fairly inexpensive and fast with file transfers, and they have storage capacities large enough to work with big projects.

Recurring Schedule

After you make your initial backup copy, you’ll want to set a recurring backup schedule for copying the original digital assets over to the backup device. A typical schedule for a busy video editor is to set a backup to occur once a day, usually in the evening, when the day’s work is complete. Backup software will automate this process for you. Otherwise, you can do it yourself and copy the digital assets over to the device. Typically, you’ll create a new folder with a naming convention that includes the date. Then, copy the data to this folder. Finally, remember to disconnect the drive and store it safely. It’s done! You now have a backup copy of your work in progress. Tomorrow, you’ll repeat the process to make a new backup copy that represents the work you complete. Do this every day you work on the project. Eventually, you’ll have a collection of folders that represent daily benchmarks of your project’s progress. To save space on your backup device, you can delete earlier backup iterations, but never delete the latest one.

Recovery Time

Should you face the worst-case scenario (i.e., hard drive failure, corrupt project file, etc.), it’s time to recover the backup data. It’s important that you identify the reason for the data failure before connecting the backup device. If it’s a virus that’s still lurking on your computer, it can affect the backup device when you connect it. Rid the computer of the virus before restoring data. When your computer is clean of viruses and hard drive failures are fixed, connect your backup drive and copy the latest backup folder to the drive that is associated with the original content. You’ve done it! You’re a miracle worker. You may not have saved the day’s work, but you haven’t lost everything.

Backups are commonplace in video editing these days. Whether your project is big or small, backups can keep you up and running when disaster strikes. Put this advice into practice with your next project. You will be glad you did.

Contributing Editor Mark Montgomery is an independent video producer and editor.

Side Bar: Project File Save As

A common practice among video editors is to execute a Save As command to create a copy of the current video-editing project file. This creates a new iteration of the project file, much like creating a backup. However, the reason for this practice is to allow the editor the option of returning to an earlier version of the project, in case edits made in the current project need to be undone. This is more about keeping the edit the way the editor intends than about keeping the data safe. Fortunately, it can also save your hide should your project file become corrupt or lost.

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