Look at all the files! Oh god, there are so many files! What are we going to do with them all? We could put them all into one big pile and not label them and just be done with it. You know, that’s one approach. Another (and better) is to meticulously organize every last thing so everything is super easy to find and super easy to keep organized. A place for everything and everything in its place.
And now for something completely terrifying...
As a quick rule of thumb (edit: after re-reading this I see it’s anything but ‘quick’), a ‘bit’ is the smallest value of data; a ‘bit’ represents a 1 or a 0. A ‘byte’ contains 8 ‘bits’, so a sequence of 8 digits (11001010 for example) makes up one ‘byte’. A ‘kilobyte’ is approx. 1000 bytes (8,000 bits), a ‘megabyte’ is approx. 1000 ‘kilobytes’ (8,000,000 ‘bits’) and a ‘gigabyte’ is approx. 1000 ‘megabytes’ (or roughly eight billion bits). A ‘terabyte’ is then, approx. 1000 ‘gigabytes’ (which makes a ‘terabyte’ 8 trillion bits, for those playing along at home). From there you have ‘petabytes’, ‘exabytes’ and finally ‘zettabytes’ that are each exponentially bigger by 1000 again. Phew.
Not necessarily something you need to keep in the forefront of your mind, but having a rough knowledge of ‘how big’ something is can come in handy.
Or conversely, use this site to easily convert file sizes and never remember anything about ‘petabytes’ ever again.
With a big project like a film (no matter how small) you will inevitably get to a point where you have more files than you know what to do with. A whole day’s shooting might yield several hundred gigabytes of data and be comprised of multiple locations and shot types. Add to this the audio from your outboard recording equipment (if applicable), your soundtrack files (both exports and original working files), your NLE files and all your documents, PR photographs, call sheets and more, you’re going to need to develop an organisational system.
There are obviously a lot of different ways to organize your data (and we’ll go over how we at CM do it at the bottom of this page), so we can’t tell you how to organize. We can however take you through some of the things to consider when devising a media management protocol.
Before you start managing your media, it might be useful to understand how an NLE ‘digests’ and stores your video files (and all media). The main thing to keep on top of is that the ‘Bin’ in your NLE is only full of references to the actual files (which are stored somewhere on your hard drive, wherever you decide). What this means is twofold, firstly, your NLE won’t make a duplicate of your video files which is good because it saves space. It will only ever go looking where it knows the files are, and use those in their current location, to make edits. It’s all very futuristic. Unfortunately, it all comes crashing down if you let things get a little unwieldy. Basicaly, if you ever move or rename your media files, your NLE will throw its digital arms in the air and cry foul, most likely painting everything in the GUI a bright red with scary warning signs like ‘MEDIA OFFLINE: RECONNECT MEDIA’ or something equally terrifying. To avoid these moments of fear, make sure to never rename or move your media once your NLE knows about it. Or if you have to rename/move files, make sure you do so in conjunction with your NLE so that nothing gets confused or lost anywhere in the process.
Another benefit to the way NLE’s handle media is that you and your co-worker have identical drives with all the video (and other media) in the same spot (on your respective drives) then you can connect and reconnect these different drives to the same project file and your NLE won’t go haywire.
Figuring out how to media manage can be a pain, but thinking about your process as a set of discreet steps can help to identify what needs organizing. A rough workflow plan example could be:
1. Your camera operator gets all the pixels onto an SD card (and any audio)
2. These SD cards are given to your designated ‘Media Manager’ who might be your editor, your director (depending on the size of your team) or your resident computer guru
3. The guru will digest the SD cards onto a project drive as back up data
4. The back up data needs to be transcoded (converted) into a relevant file format for your NLE. At this point you will want to ‘bag and tag’ your footage, breaking it down into dates or scenes (or whatever division will be useful for your project, for our method see below)
5. This labeled and transcoded footage can now be brought into your NLE bin and is ready for editing
6. GFX and other assets will start to fly in from other members of your team as the project continues to grow, keep dedicated folders for these unique assets and keep on top of where everything is
7. Make sure everyone always knows where all the files are, and if you have multiple drives (or a cloud storage server) make backups every day (or meaningful intervals) so that the most recent data is always at your teams fingerprints
8. Try not to panic.
Each individual project sits on its own external hard drive. The hard drives are labeled on the exterior in black marker so at a glance we can see which drives contain the media for which project. When a project is finished the physical drive is stored away so that down the track if we ever need to revisit a project (god forbid) everything is where it needs to be.
Whenever you take the raw data from an SD card, the backup (BU) should be stored on the project drive AND on a separate, dedicated SDBU (SD backup) drive lest anything goes wrong. Which, you know, it probably definitely will. At some stage.
Here is a screen capture of one of our project drives. It shows the different kinds of files we have, and where/how we organize them.
One the left, we have the uppermost directory. In this case, for this project, we had multiple ‘streams’. So each of those was divided and given its own folder structure. We always put the date in front of file names so items sit in chronological order. In this case the month is enough of a differentiator but (as you’ll see in a minute) we put the full date when day by day chronological ordering is needed.
Second layer in and we have folders like ‘exports’ (our final exports, compressed or otherwise), ‘FCP’ (this is where our working Final Cut Pro files are placed), and ‘media’ (where all the media is stored). Depending on the needs of your project you might have a ‘music’ folder here with all your soundtrack assets, you might need a ‘call sheet’ folder with everyone’s contact details. Basically, figure out what you need to keep track of, and keep a very organized folder system at every turn.
One layer down into the ‘media’ folder and we start to see how things take shape. The ‘media’ folder contains all the transcoded (i.e. processed) footage from each days shooting. Each day is labeled with its respective date and then a brief description of the footage such as ‘20130807 LiW BTS MK3 Joho’ which means, the camera operator was Johanis, he was shooting with the MK3 camera, he was shooting ‘behind the scenes’ footage and the day was August 7th 2013. Phew. This system works for us but maybe you have a better way of ordering your data.
Again, one layer deeper we now finally have the actual clips. These are then labeled the same as their parent folder with a simple numerical suffix. Sometimes we’ll go the extra step and after watching each clip we might append it with more specific details like ‘Carl IV’ (Carl interview) or ‘Quarry PU’ (Quarry pickups). If you are going to append your footage it’s a good idea to keep some sort of numerical ordering before your ‘tags’ as this will keep everything chronological (i.e. shots and takes will be grouped together as opposed to all over the place).
Just discussing media management here gives me the willies. It can be scary and daunting but the only thing worse than media management, is NOT managing your media. So embrace all the confusing file extensions, get into the habit of being totally on top of your projects media management and you will make things infinitely less complicated for yourself. The more files/data you have, the higher your chances of something going wrong or losing a file or any number of horrible scenarios. So manage your media, and manage it well.
The Ngarrindjeri Culture Hub is an ongoing Change Media and Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority partnership to create and promote Ngarrindjeri arts and culture, in collaboration with Ngarrindjeri artists and their communities across Ngarrindjeri country.