The Video Editing Log Jam

The task of importing footage from the source to the editing system is usually referred to as Logging and Capturing. Depending on the nature of the production, logging and capturing can be a huge undertaking. In fact, for many professional productions an assistant editor will be solely responsible for logging footage into the video editing system. Many of us don’t have the luxury of an assistant, but we can put to use some common tools to do most of the hard work for us.

Log It Right

There’s no need for someone to log footage if a log of shots has not been taken in the first place. Whenever possible, always keep a shotlog of each shot you record. A shotlog marks the in-point and out-point of a shot. The points are timecode stamped from the camera’s internal clock. You need to simply record the in-point (i.e. the starting point) and out-point (the ending point) into your shotlog which is usually a piece of paper. From here you’ll give the shot a scene number, shot number, take number, a short description and make note of whether or not the shot was good or bad. This shotlog is your logging map, telling you where on the tape (or many instances, on a memory card or hard drive) the good shots are. Without this you’ll have to manually search through each clip later to know whether or not to import it into your program. Needless to say, this can save you a great deal of time.

Don’t forget, you’ll also save yourself a lot of storage space too. Many editors who don’t log their shots end up importing all their footage. This can be terabytes of data for a single project. In a typical production with a 6:1 shooting ratio (6 minutes of footage for every 1 minute used in the final production), it’s easy to understand just how wasteful it can be to import everything. Now you’ve just given yourself upwards of six times the amount of footage you’ll unnecessarily need to wade through and cut away. Save time, save storage space, save money!

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Log and Capture – Videotape

Log and Capture refers to the process of the editor logging shot information into the editing software, then instructing the software to go get the requested shots from the source media (the tape). The mini DV tape format was the first consumer level tape format that allowed for such a simple yet powerful system of capturing footage. Timecode was standard in this tape format (although, a bit problematic to begin with remember blacking tapes?) and the FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection between mini DV camcorders and computers allowed editing software to control the camcorder and capture clips with exact-frame accuracy. This technique is borrowed from the professional world of videography, which has used timecode in camera systems and editing equipment for many years, but mini DV brought it to the masses, followed by HDV.

Although greatly simplifying the process, many consumers and even many serious hobbyists have never really taken advantage of this log and capture technique. Again, it starts with logging your shots. Then, as the editor you launch your editing software, launch the Log & Capture module and then start doing all the data entry. Typically, you start with entering your in-point timecode then your out-point timecode. From here you can name the clip and add any notes. We recommend naming your clip using a standard naming convention (e.g. Scene-01-Shot-004-Take009) or for shorter projects you can use descriptive text (e.g. Gramps-fly-fishing-big-catch). From there some software applications will allow you to enter additional notes or ratings. Then, you hit the log button, instructing your software that a clip that you desire to capture exists between those two points in the timecode and it assigns a new file to your project with that name. It has not yet captured the footage. It simply knows that you want that clip in your project.

You can now pour through the rest of your shot log as quickly as possible. In this way, it’s just data entry. But when you’ve logged all the shots in your project, you can tell your editing software that it’s time to capture the footage. With the camera properly connected to your computer, the software will automatically cue up each clip and record it from in-point to out-point. The process of actually capturing the footage to your computer’s hard drive, as you probably know, can take quite a while. But with logging all your clips in advance, you can leave your computer to do all that work without you around. That’s the beauty of logging your shots!

Log and Transfer – Solid State

Since many camcorders have started recording to solid state memory (i.e. memory cards, hard drives and flash memory), these recordings have the benefit of having the clips already separated into different files. With the tape format, video is recorded in a stream of data, which is why it needs to be captured. In these solid state mediums, video is recorded in self-enclosed files. When you hit the record button you are actually starting a new file on the recording medium, rather than a continuous stream of data as on a length of tape. For this reason, the process of Log & Transfer is slightly different. You can still log your clips, but rather than enter time code you can simply select the thumbnails of clips with numbers that closely represent the timecode you wrote down. In some cases, these camcorders will allow you to flag the good shots and then you can filter them based on this flag. In any case, once you’ve selected the clips you want to get, you’ll then instruct the computer to transfer the footage.

This process can take a long time as well, depending on what video format the computer wants to use to edit the footage. Many times the software is not only transferring data from the camcorder to the computer, but also transcoding the files to a different video format that is easier to use or of higher quality. Transcoding, as many of you know, is not a quick process. So that’s why logging is important. Simply specify the clips you want and let the computer do the rest while you go for a stroll around the neighborhood.


Additional Logging Hints

You can also log footage from multiple tapes, as long as you number your tapes and specify the tape number when you log your shots. When you do this, the computer will prompt you to enter a specified tape when it’s done capturing clips from another. This is pretty useful for big projects when you’ve got a stack of tapes and you’re not sure where that one clip is. If you logged it, just check your project file for the clip and it will tell you what tape it came from.

Logging is also a great way to efficiently archive projects. When you’ve completed a project you can delete all the video source files on your computer and save just the project file (which holds all your shot logs and is only a fraction of the file size of a single shot, usually just a few hundred kilobytes). Should you ever need to revisit the project years later, you simply need your tapes and the project file and then you tell the software to go capture footage. The shots are already logged, so your computer will get them and then the timeline will already be built with the exact footage and effects. Of course you’ll need to save the music and graphics separately.

With a little bit of preparation up front, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy during your edits. Try this on several of your next video projects. It may take a little bit of getting used to before you really get into the groove of logging files quickly into your editing software, but you’ll be glad you did when it becomes far easier to find and edit your projects.

Contributing columnist Mark Montgomery is a web content specialist and produces instructional videos for a leading web application developer.

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

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have only begun logging and capturing comparatively recently
    but Mark is right, it is the tidy, systematic and professional way to do it; also, it works. I log everything except what are patently defective shots, since hastily made decisions about what might/might-not be wanted later are frequently regretted.
    But then although I start out on each project segment with a script, or at least a fair knowledge of what it is I am looking for, the best shots sometimes come serendipitously.
    Example: A recent afternoon’s shooting was intended to cover the remains of stone-stables erected in the 1800’s, as background to an interesting and little-known, tale about the numbers of similar buildings put up by stonemasons and other workers on a major project nearby, for which purpose, they had been indentured from overseas; done on the basis of the age-old principle known as ‘moonlighting’ or ‘foreigners’. Towards the end of shooting, and with my tripod setup in the narrow gap between two buildings, I noted that two ‘Pukeko’, New Zealand’s native ‘swamp-hen’ were feeding nearby comparatively unaffected by my presence. Now, that is extremely rare, as they are usually very hard to get close to. However, the stables are still in day-to-day use, and the birds, likely, quite used to the presence of people around-about.

    To put it to the test, I stood right out in the open, camcorder on tripod, set on telephoto, and began to pan with the chosen bird, as he walked around. He walked towards me until he completely filled the height of the frame (16:9 format), showing no fear whatever. I recorded everything,
    keeping camcorder movements gentle and to a minimum. Then, as a bonus, he/she began making that peculiar cry of Pukeko, which I managed to record in sufficiently good quality to justify the sound, once removed from the video, to be an addition to my growing archive of ‘sounds’, although I usually collect them with a Sennheiser Mic. and a ‘Microtrack II’ audio
    recorder. No part of the ‘Pukeko’ footage was planned; it simply happened, providing me with some of the best ‘archive’
    shots I have taken in a long time. I had similar experiences a few years ago with ‘Royal Spoonbills’ an Australian species, originally blown across the Tasman Sea (between Australia and New Zealand) by the trade-winds, and unable to return in the opposite direction.

    What has that to do with shot-logging? Well, not a hell-of-a-lot, as it happens, but proof, maybe, that it also pays to be alert to unscripted ‘opportunities’. Besides which, I also have ample ‘stable’ shots, to tell my story, as it happens.

  2. As a newcomer to video shooting and production from a career where I was mostly focused just on audio (radio reporting) the article has helped me understand the common disciplines of doing the prep work on transfer and logging of what we used to call our ‘actualities’, prior to moving them into the production stage. Thanks for a great article! Also, I appreciated Mr. Smith’s comments on his magical chance to get great archival wildlife footage for future use. In the learning stages of this business we are often so focused on ‘getting the job done’. Yet it is great to be reminded of those spur of the moment opportunities that often speak as much to the spirit of why we get involved with this kind of work – as well as the craft.

  3. Can I point users in the direction of a little program called CatDv. (sales@squarebox.co.uk). Captures a low res version of your video with thumbnail, time codes and duration of each clip and plenty of boxes to fill in when checking through if you need more information before starting the final edit. You can make a preliminary edit from low res clip log and then export batch capture to premiere (or where-ever) Don’t forget to include tape name (number) in clip name if you are going to include many tapes in the final production. It saves getting into an awful muddle in premiere project window!!!!

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