Media Management

A well-organized post-production workflow can help save you time and money.

Media management, the process of keeping your media assets accounted for in a system that makes sense, is key in getting projects done on time. Editors each have their own preferences on how to manage this process, but we’ll show you a few things that will help you start your journey to becoming a fastidious video editor.

Safe Storage

The best media management practices are worthless if you haven’t planned for the worst-case scenario. Say that your hard drive fails, or a computer virus wipes out all your data just before completion of your project. What do you do now? Every media management workflow should have a data backup plan. A simple strategy is to have an additional external hard drive on which you store all your related project data as often as necessary. Ideally, you can save all your media files (video, audio, music, photos) at the beginning of the project when you capture or ingest the media you’ll be using. Depending on the length of the project, this could take a while. Thereafter, as you continue to work on your project, you may need to back up only your project file, which should take only a matter of seconds.

Back up consistently whenever you’ve reached a milestone. Typically, this could be at the end of every day you’ve worked on the project. Connect the external drive, copy over the recently-saved project file and any other media new to the project. After the backup is complete, disconnect the external backup drive from the computer, which will reduce the chances of a virus infecting the drive. A backup of your project files and media serves as a safety net in case something should happen to your working copy of data.

File Folder Structure

Are you the type of person who leaves mail and random handwritten notes all over your desk at work? Sure, you are going to tell me that those several piles of paperwork actually make sense and are organized, at least to you. Well, the good news is that your file structure in media management can work the same way, but we’re going to challenge you to tidy up just a bit.

One of the best strategies for your file folder structure is to create a master project folder. In this project folder, you’ll create additional folders specific to the common media assets video editors work with. Let’s do this now. Go to whatever drive you prefer to store your media on (hopefully it’s not the same as your system drive, for performance reasons), and create a new folder. Name it Master Project Folder, and now open it. Inside this folder let’s create some new folders. First, let’s create a folder where you can save your project file, and we’ll call it Project Files. Every project file you create related to this project – whether it’s from a video-editing application, DVD authoring application or other – can go to this destination. Next, create a new Video folder. We’ll save our captured video to this folder (Final Cut Pro users can point to this destination for your scratch disks). Next, create a new folder called Photos. Make a new Audio folder, with sub-folders for sound effects, narration and music. Finally, make a new folder called Deliverables, with sub-folders for DVD and web. The Deliverables folder is the destination to which we save our exported video files for delivery to our clients. Now we’ve got a basic file folder structure that serves very generic needs. Depending on what types of projects you work on, you can customize this to fit your specific needs.

With this master file folder structure complete, you have a consistent file structure for organizing and saving your assets. No more lost files, or at least no more excuses. The next time you start a new project, simply copy the Master Project Folder, paste a new one and rename it with the name of the project. Using this practice will yield a consistent and logical file structure for every future project.

Media Bins

Within video-editing applications themselves, there is another layer of file folders specific to the project file itself, called bins. These bins are unique, as they are not actual file folders, like the ones we just created on our hard drive. In fact, only the video-editing program will recognize them. They are there strictly for enabling the editor to organize and manage media in more specific detail.

If we are editing a long-form feature, we would create bins by scenes and sub-level bins for cutaway, camera angles and other specific qualifiers. In a short-form video, we might create specific bins for locations or dates. It’s not uncommon to create a bin for B-roll shots or for blooper takes. It really depends on what type of project you’re working on. The goal is to organize your shots, audio, graphics, text, etc. in a way that makes them easy to find when you need to drop them on the timeline. The most important thing is not to have all your assets in one large lump. It could take precious minutes away from executing your edits.

Filename Details

Let’s get down to the granular level of organization with naming your files. Filenames should be very specific without making a muck of the name itself. Try to keep the name short, but clearly identified. In a feature film, editors often mark filenames with scene number, shot number and take number. For example, a filename for Scene 5, Shot 14, Take 2 could look like clip05-14-02 or some variation of those critical pieces of information. It’s not unusual to see different cameras represented as well, if it’s a multi-camera shoot. Editors with this naming convention will have to return to their shortlists and storyboards to build the rough cut. As they become more acquainted with the scenes themselves, they can rely on other metadata to help identify particular clips. More professional video-editing applications will allow editors to add notes to clips, so that more information can be displayed along with the file name.

For short-form projects (especially those that don’t have as much pre-visual planning), you might be better off with more conventional naming styles. If you’re editing an interview, filenames could be as simple as breaking clips into different parts of the interview. For example, the introduction of the interviewee could be named Michael_interview_intro. Then, you can organize your B-roll clips in different bins based on the different parts of the interview and name the B-roll clips specific to the visuals.

Final Touches

Media management encompasses so much more than what we’ve discussed. We’ve just covered the basic principles of organizing your assets to maximize your editing uptime. Where you go from here is up to you.

If you’re a freelancer, it’s also wise to consider an asset management system for saving certain parts of your work for your demo reel. Create a file folder structure, and constantly deposit pieces of your work to this destination as your reach those creative milestones. Lastly, consider adding a media management system that deals with archiving your projects. A backup is a safety net for the work in progress. An archive is a system for saving your work for an extended period of time. All these things are very important. After all, we’re not just editors, we’re storytellers, and our data is our legacy.

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