Stay Organized From Start To Finish And Save Yourself (from yourself) Part 1 of 2

While it’s not the most sexy topic, in my opinion it’s one of the most important if you want to be a true video professional. That topic is organization. From the moment you launch FCP to the time you output the final file or DVD, there are things you can do at every turn that will make you faster, more organized and keep you from being the enemy of any editor that has to pick up your project.

In a nutshell, the main focus of this post is to keep your project and media organized in a way that allows any editor to pickup your project and have a pretty good sense of what’s going on. By following these steps you’ll also be more efficient, save yourself time and be more likely to avoid costly mistakes

This is part 1 of 2 parts and I’ll focus on pre-editing organization and proper setup of your edit system and project. Part 2 will cover editing media management, proper use of timeline tracks and exporting/final output and long term archival.

Use of Project numbers
Everything we do at Edit Creations, from the very start of the project until the media is removed from the system, and even invoicing, is based on the project number. And every project has it’s own unique number. We use a simple FMP (FileMaker Pro) database to create and keep track of our jobs so that we know what numbers are used for what jobs. This same database is where we track the project name as well (more on that later). While we do this with a FMP database, you can do it with a spreadsheet, or even a “New Jobs” notebook. What’s important is that you do it and have a way to track what the next unused number is.

What we’ve chosen to do is use a format of ECJ-XX-XXXX, where ECJ = Edit Creations Job, XX = the current year, and XXXX is a sequential number that continues to increment by 1 every time a new job is created. For example, a current job number as of this writing is ECJ-09-0591. So at a glance we can tell that it’s a 2009 job, and that it’s more recent then say 09-0590. We can also tell that the job is for Edit Creations, our main company. We also have a sister company called Timeline Creative, and if it was a job for that company it would start with TLC to differentiate it.

You can append any amount of information that you like. For example if you had jobs for shooting vs editing, you could add a designation of “PROD” and POST” to your system. So a job number could be 2009-0591-PROD for the production, and 2009-0591-POST for the post production. In doing this you could keep track of different stages of the same job with ease.

If you were working on a broadcast series you might use the season and episode codes, instead of having a number that sequences like we do, you could have a number that was a date based code (for example 09-0342 would tell you that the job was created on the 342 day of 2009).

The point is, come up with a system that is helpful to YOU and YOUR workflow based on the information that is important to you. One size does not fit all here and there is no right or wrong.

Using a database gives us the option to do nifty things like create the project folder/FCP project file name from the information that is typed in when the job is created, and then format it properly so that it can be pasted into the finder where needed. New job information is transferred both to the project folder, and to the FCP project file for every job.

Project Names

Project names should have some consistency and formatting as well. It’s a balance between making the project name descriptive enough that there’s value in the name, but not making it a paragraph long.

For us that means starting with the END client (not our direct client), a short descriptive name that describes the project, and if it makes sense the year, episode number or some other time based info. This is important because we have some reoccurring jobs that have the same title every year, so the date is the only information that differentiates each project.

So for us, the format looks like this.

Job Number – End Client – Descriptive Title – Time Information.

Or more specifically,

ECJ-09-0420- Kmart, Making The Sale – Episode 007


EJC-09-0452 – Lions Quarterly – Fall 2009

This is about as long as we would make a project title. Again, think about what works for you and come up with your own system.

Proper setup of FCP scratch disk
Ask 10 different editors how to properly setup the scratch disk and you’ll get 10 different answers, possibly some very heated opinions. I will admit that based on your workflow one way may work better then another, but in my personal experience there is only one way that avoids all of the common headaches and pitfalls.

Set it and Forget it (yes, just like the informercial)

FCP does a pretty good job of keeping things organized if you just let it do its job, and if you are consistent with your use of project names and numbers, there’s no reason not to let FCP do this job for you.

Note – this screen shot includes jobs that were created before we added the “ECJ” prefix. Without it, on occasion we had problems with folders that were not part of a job being selected during the deleting process, because a dated folder may be the same number as a job number, yet have no association with that project.

When you create a new project, the name you choose for that project is what determines the name of your capture scratch folder, along with the associated render files and auto-save folders. If you always keep your capture scratch set to the same folder, FCP will keep everything organized by project. The files will be where FCP expects to find them and you’ll avoid the dreaded “Media Off Line” screen or having to re-link all of your media.

The biggest benefit (to me anyway) is how this streamlines the removal of projects from the system. Do a search for the job number or project name, and all files and folders associated with that job show up in a single window so that you can review and delete them. You can even do this over the network with multiple machines if more then one computer was working on a project. This will save you having to hunt down every file associated with a job across various drives or computers.

One special note about this way of searching for files. In the Tiger OS you could create a restrictive search right in the finder using “custom locations”. I would narrow the search to the Final Cut Pro Documents folder on each machine I wanted to search for and get a very narrowed down list of files that I knew were in locations that were safe to delete.

It appears that this feature was removed in Leopard (correct me if I’m wrong but I can’t find it to save my life). There is no way to add custom locations, so for this process I use a program called Path Finder. It gives me the option of doing what I used to do in Tiger and is a bit more elegant at it as well.

For me personally, I just can’t come up with a reason not to lock down the location of the capture scratch folder, but I can think of some problems you’ll have if you don’t.

The biggest issue is nesting. I’ve seen it time and time again when the capture scratch folder is moved around to different folders, different drives and so on. At some point, because the same folder is not always being chosen, you end up with a capture scratch folder, inside a capture scratch folder, inside a capture scratch folder and so on.

Another down side is changing the capture scratch to a location that is not a permanent location on the machine, like an external or removable drive. Maybe you’re running low on space and hook up an extra FW drive to capture to, but later somebody takes that drive to another location to do other work and it’s no longer available the next time you open your project. Then you’re stuck trying to track down that drive only to find out that the other editor or a producer took it home so that they could screen footage! Ahh!

The cost of a decent drive is very reasonable these days and the cost per gigabyte continues to drop year to year. So if you’re running low on space, add another drive! But make sure it’s a fixture on that system, just as if it were an internal drive. Throw a label on the drive if you have to warning others to not disconnect the drive.

Proper Setup For Your Project
It wasn’t all that long ago that everything was more or less edited in a single format. For me, everything came to me on Beta SP or DigiBeta, we digitized it to uncompressed SD, and edited it 4×3 uncompressed (usually 8-bit to save a little space). It was simple, 4×3, 720×486, 29.97 fps.

Now, you not only have many possible sources of footage with different resolutions, frame format and time base, but what you master/output to is a whole other decision.

As an example, I recently did a project that had all of the following.

  • Beta SP, 4×3
  • DigiBeta, 16×9 Anamorphic
  • Panasonic DVCProHD 720p30 (and a few 1080i shots)
  • Panasonic AVCHD 1080i
  • DVCam 4×3
  • DVD Footage imported form a PAL DVD

Based on the source footage, there is no obvious choice as to what your sequence settings should be. So after asking the producer questions about the final distribution, expected shelf life of the project and so on, I decided to edit 16×9 HD at 720, 29.97 fps, with ProRes as the codec.

One thing that’s overlooked by many editors is that you do not have to edit in the same format that your source footage is, and you don’t have to transcode everything to a common format. You can do these things, but you don’t have to. We’ve had really good results using FCP’s multi-format timeline and working in ProRes. Yes, you will be rendering more then if everything was native, but with a fast enough machine you can continue to work in real-time even with the footage unrendered.

The point I’m trying to make is, every time you start a new project it’s critical to know the answers to several questions.

  • What formats do you anticipate using as source footage?
  • Roughly, what percentages of each format?
  • What is our final delivery (tape, on-line, DVD, portable devices)?
  • Will the video have a life elsewhere other then it’s intended delivery?
  • Do you have PAL footage (or other formats that you don’t usually work with)?
  • Do you have any graphic elements that are already in one format or another?

One thing I want to stress is to not only ask about the intended use, but any other possible uses outside of that down the road.

For example, I had a client once that insisted that the video would only be used for the web, and thus they told us to use the full image raster for graphics and text. When I really pushed the question and asked “So you don’t think you’ll ever do any DVD’s of this?”, they answered “Well, yes we’ll probably do DVD’s down the road for distribution and for any press requests”. Well, that changes things – a lot.

If I had not asked that question, we would have had all sorts of title and video safe problems down the road when they sprung it on us to make the DVD version. As it turned out, we just kept everything broadcast safe and it was OK for both purposes. It’s because of this one experience that I push to never use full raster unless it’s for a specific event and has no life after that (for example, Watchout videos which are very targeted and have a short shelf life).

Once you have all of the information you need to make an informed decision, it’s time to setup your FCP project file with the proper settings. Using the Easy Setup feature of FCP, this is pretty simple.

The bulk of our work these days is done in 720p, 29.79, ProRes. Unless we have ALL 4×3 material, we’ve had great success pillar boxing 4×3 video, blowing it up or just coming up with a creative treatment to make it play nice inside the 16×9 frame. Once you get used to editing in 16×9 it’s really hard to go back. I can’t say the opposite is true.

Once the project is formatted, we make it a point to always note the master sequence settings as one of the first folders in the project (this is actually part of our template). This way as we switch from job to job, or if another editor has to continue with a job that he/she didn’t start it’s obvious how to properly setup the project.

Importing or digitizing media (camera originals)

Time spent organizing your footage on import/capture is time well spent. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people digitize tapes with the clip name “untitled”. In one case, I had a freelance editor that captured 2 hours of footage broken into about 150 clips, and it was all named “untitled_01, untitled_02…”. His idea was to go back and name the clips inside of FCP later so that they made sense. But back then (using FCP 5) there was not a way to rename the files on the hard drive to match the clip names. So your clip names had no obvious or logical connection to the file names. What a pain! This is a sure sign of inexperience and lack of professionalism. Just do it right from the start!

I understand there are times that you may not log and capture with super detailed names, but there are better ways then just “untitled”. If you have to capture a whole tape, or multiple clips from a tape, at least use something that gives you even the slightest amount of info.

Here are some examples.

  • WaterPark_shoot_01, 02, 03…
  • CameraA_Day1_01, 02, 03…
  • Camera_Dan_ConventionCenter_01,02,03…

When you use a title in this way FCP will automatically increment up the number while retaining the original name, thus giving you some information to go on with a very minimal amount of effort on your part.

For importing tapeless camera originals the work flow is different for different producers. And they’re both on opposite extremes.

Some producers will take the time to log the shots they need and provide just those clips, carefully named and organized. Others will give me the 10 hours of footage that they shot and ask me to import everything. From there they just write the timecode notes into the script, more like the old days of working in a tape based on-line room. I always try to stay flexible and adapt to how the producer prefers to work, instead of asking them to adapt to my way of working.

(non camera originals)

While FCP handles the organization of tapeless media and digitizing tapes, what about other elements? You might get photos off of a CD, download some music or VO files, create some PS files along the way or other motion graphic elements. They might come from various locations on your system, the network, removable drive, USB key or optical media. Where does all of this go?

Again, this is where having the template really helps (if you have not read my post about using a project folder, check it out). Our system is to have any media that did not automatically go to the Capture Scratch folder, located inside of the project folder. There are no exceptions. That means files from any source are first copied into the project folder, and then imported into FCP so that they are properly referenced under the umbrella of that job.

There is never cross pollination of elements between projects, because if something is used in a project is should be part of that job folder. Even if that means duplicating some assets so that they’re in two locations. It’s not uncommon for a client to want to steal a shot or two from one of their other projects that’s still on the system. That’s not a problem, but whatever is “stolen” must first be copied to the current project, and then imported.

Why so strict? Getting burned, that’s why.

In the past before we established this rule, shots from several projects would be shared. On multiple occasions we would clean off a few long finished projects only to find out the next day that the “media off line” screen plagued several other projects that were using some of the deleted media and not yet done. That’s no longer a problem.

What’s in Part 2?
In the next installment of this epic post I’ll cover proper use of timeline tracks, versioning, nesting and why I never use it, exporting and finally proper long term archival using the new LTO drive from Cache~A.

Check Out the Popular Shane Ross DVD.
For a more in-depth look at keeping your workflow organized, check out Shane Ross’s DVD. It covers everything here and more in great detail, and is a bit more visual then reading a blog post.

Order It Now

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