Between the moment an image is first captured on set and the time it leaves the projector in a theater, that digital data—as well as the all-important metadata—passes through myriad tools, processes, and users' hands.
The responsibility for ensuring that data has a safe journey throughout the production and post-production process often lies with a project's assistant video editors. Adopting storage best practices and smart organizational habits helps them protect media and safeguard the final product.
Here are tips and tricks from top assistant editors out in the field.
"Why Spend So Much Time? Let's Just Jump into Editing!"
When time and patience are both in short supply, tasks related to organizing media can seem like they bog down the creative process. On the contrary, time spent in media management and organization really can save time and heartache down the road. Anna Terebelo, assistant editor for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Cruel Summer, puts it very succinctly.
"Production spends so much time and money creating their vision on set, and if that media falls through the cracks and fails to make it into the computers and in front of the editors, the project literally could not be completed," Terebelo says. Investing time isn't just important, it is mission-critical.
Both Terebelo and Irene Chun, assistant editor for Minari and How to Get Away with Murder, agree on where to start devoting that time. As Chun puts it, "When I'm setting up or adjusting an organizational system, I usually run it by my editor and my team to see if it makes sense for them too. Every show is unique, so the way you organize may be slightly different, but I always want to make sure it is clear for everyone."
Any organizational system needs to be easy to navigate for everyone who uses it—including those who have just joined an existing team and need to learn the ropes quickly. A new team can make organizational decisions together from the start so that everyone's on the same page.
Organization Outside of the Edit
For many productions, the transfer point for media between production and post production will be between the DIT on set and the assistant video editors in post. If your production has a DIT, the first step in implementing organization may be completed before you even get your hands on the media. However, understanding how media is being treated on set can help determine what the next steps are as the media rolls into post. Ideally, the production and post teams will consult with each other in pre-production to find storage best practices that work for everyone.
Media will generally come from set with various types of documentation. "Although it's important to prep media as quickly as possible for your editor, it's also important to take your time and do it right so that no mistakes are made," Terebelo says. "This means comparing the media to the paperwork you've received from set—e.g., script supervisor reports, camera reports, sound reports. It's really vital to make sure that you are not missing anything, and if you are, you must alert your team and production as soon as possible."
Always check production documentation and media for any discrepancies before going any further. This is your best chance to hunt down any missing pieces while production is fresh in everyone's minds.
Next, if the job of organizing the media straight from the camera to the editing system and hard drives falls to you, you have a few solid approaches at your disposal:
- Maintain the file structure. Copying the entire structure of each camera card to the hard drives, with a folder for each card labeled in a way that matches the camera reports. This may be one of the best ways to cross-check media and ensure everything that was captured on set has made it into the edit. Maintaining the entire file structure preserves metadata that some editing systems use when ingesting certain types of media.
- Group by shoot data. Media can also be organized into folders that match the days or locations of the shoot. This is a common method of working in commercial, documentary, and other nonfiction forms.
- Organize by scene. For narrative work, organizing by scenes is a good way to cross-check the media with the script supervisor's report. It can also provide a head start on the next phase: editorial organization.
If you're going to rename the files to be more descriptive, now is the time to do it. When it's time to ingest the media into the editing tool, maintaining a clear connection between the clip in an edit bin and the physical file on the drive can prevent problems and aid with troubleshooting later. You may be more likely to go this route when working with nonprofessional cameras, which often create filenames that provide minimal information or are duplicated during the shoot.
Organization Inside of the Edit
Once the media is organized on hard drives, the next major step is to organize it inside of the editing tool. This step is about creating bins and folders—that way, the editor can easily locate the clip they need at any point in the edit. Devoting time here now can save a lot of aggravation—not to mention even more time—later on.
"I also want to organize [media] in a way where everyone on the team can jump in and easily find anything, regardless of who brought in the media or did the export," Chun adds.
This part of the process is primarily about getting things ready for the editor. While collaborating with them, come up with a bin structure that makes sense for the individual project. There may be similar factors at play here, such as the nuances inherent in nonfiction vs. narrative fiction work. The editor could also want organization for elements such as B-roll, cutaways, outtakes, etc. You will likely also need to prepare for elements like music, sound effects libraries, and graphics.
If there is a need at this stage to use more descriptive names than the filenames, be cautious in handling this metadata. Linking back to a physical file requires less sleuthing if the original filename is left intact. One approach is to copy the original filename into a separate column such as "Tape Name" or "Source Name" before changing the "Name" column.
Build a Strong Foundation for a Successful Edit
When assistant video editors take the time to organize media before the edit, they are laying the foundation for a successful, efficient edit. Choices made at this stage, whether organizing physical files on drives or clips in edit bins, can prevent emergencies and lost creative time later on.
Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with a familiar proverb: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or, as Terebelo puts it, "Take it slow, and try not to get overwhelmed. Remember to check your work. It's best that you catch mistakes before they go too far down the line."