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Chapter 4. Organizing Your Video > Organizing Your Materials

Organizing Your Materials

I was at my friend Hilary's house recently, about a month after she began her personal adventure with digital video, and I asked to see her editing setup. I looked over her iMac, and she showed me some videos she had cut. She also had a small pile of DV tapes on the desk. None were labeled.

“Why didn't you label your tapes?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I never imagined I'd have more than a few … I thought I knew what was on them.”

Hilary's assumption is a common one, but it can be a big mistake. Here is the typically erroneous logic behind it:

  • I'm just starting out, so labeling seems too fastidious. (Like alphabetizing your CD collection, or worse, arranging your socks.)

  • I'm just starting out and have only two or three tapes, so why bother?

  • I know what's on my tapes since I shot them and watched them myself.

  • Organizing is for geeks. I'm far too hip to care.

But here's the truth: You are eventually going to have more tapes than you have today; you will forget what is on each tape in short order; and organizing (geeky though it may be) is the cornerstone to good filmmaking or even just personal enjoyment of your videos. So get used to it. Make it a habit. Here's how.

Figure 4.1. Most of my friends, when they first start shooting video, end up with stacks of unlabeled tapes scattered next to their computers. While it may not be a big problem at first, disorganization can grow into a nightmare.

Labeling the tape

Back in Chapter 2 I urged you to put a label marked S1 on your first videotape. I hope you heeded this advice. Here's a little more detail on the organizational process.

There is not one way to organize. There are many. But determining what is right for you often involves a period of trial and error. My method works for me, and I think it will work for you. If you choose to develop your own way, more power to you. I happen to think this method is pretty good, though.

When you unpack a new videotape, do the following:

Take the paper stuff out of the box.

Label the top and long side of the tape (there's a groove there for a label; see Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. It doesn't really matter whether you fill out your labels and then attach them to the tape, or attach them first and then fill them out. Just make it easy for yourself and keep your labeling basic.

Throw out all the paper things you just pulled out of the box.

Easy, isn't it? Now that you have a routine for labeling every new cassette, let's get into the details about finding material on your tapes.

Tape labels: “reel names”

In professional circles, each tape is known as a reel. In all but the most basic editing systems, when a tape is in a camera that is connected to a computer, the software that deals with videotapes will ask you which reel you are now watching and editing. You must label your tapes with reel names—or, in our case, reel numbers.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with writing descriptive names on the labels that come with each videotape, it isn't a particularly good way to label (or locate) your material. Neither is filling out the white cover sheet that lines the cassette box. This is one reason I throw this stuff out. So even though I do have tapes with labels like “Trip to NYC” or “2-2002,” I devised a simple naming and numbering system to keep track of all my tapes. I use a boring alphanumeric code: a letter designating what type of tape it is, and a number—just an ordinary sequential number. (I started at 1 and I'm up to 75 today.)

The letter code can be based on whatever is important to you. I suggest

  • S for “Source”: A tape containing the original source material shot with your digital video camcorder, unedited and raw. (It could also stand for “Shooting,” if that's easier to remember.)

  • M for “Master”: A tape dedicated to edited sequences. Master tapes may also contain culled-down versions of raw footage—not quite an “edited project,” but tighter than the raw source material. Don't put your edited footage back on the source tapes. It's good to keep cut material separated from raw.

  • A for “Analog”: I have lots of material on old analog VHS, S-VHS, and Hi-8 tapes that I want to convert to the digital format for long-term storage, logging, and editing. I dub the old tapes to DV and code the new DV tape to easily differentiate it from video that originated out of a digital camera.

If these letter codes don't work for you, make up your own. A couple of suggestions, though: Don't create a code system based on content (B for “Baby” or H for “House” or V for “Vacation”), because your raw footage may fall into many different categories. And don't use “names” for your tapes. Forget “Las Vegas,” “Boat Launching,” or “Summer 2000.” The problem with names isn't one of description—they may well describe precisely what is on each tape—but rather one of organization. It's easy to know where to find tape S4 (hint: It's stacked between S3 and S5) if your notes say that it contains footage of your weekend in Las Vegas; but if you go by name, you could have filed that Las Vegas footage under “Las” or “Vegas” or even “weekend.” Also, it's simpler to type the reel name into any computer that works with this tape, and reel names are an important component in finding a specific shot (both for people and for computers).

S4 may not be a fun or descriptive name for a tape, but we can rely on log sheets for content description. And the name combined with a logging process really makes this system work. By glancing at my log sheets, I know for a fact that the best sunset shot I have ever recorded is about 45 minutes into tape S30—a tape that, under a different labeling system, would probably be called “Garden Project.” So stick with simple codes on your tapes, and if you must add text to the label, add it after the number. (Less than 5 percent of my tapes demand any kind of special notation.)

If you shoot enormous volumes of tape, here's a variation on the numbering system: Add a code for the year, as in S02-23 (meaning the 23rd source tape shot in the year 2002). That way, you begin again at tape 1 each year and don't end up counting to a million. I shoot a lot, though, and I still don't think adding the year does anything other than make me geekier than I already am. But it's a suggestion that I wanted to pass along. I am nothing if not open-minded.

Truth? I mess up this numbering thing once in a while. I'll put a new tape in my camera without being sure whether the last tape I labeled was S55 or S56—but I want to label this one right now. I try to mark in pencil until I am sure, but I will allow myself the luxury of guessing. And often I am wrong.

So, in my collection of tapes, there are a couple of gaps; I have no tape S25, for instance. I just missed that number somehow and decided, for better or worse, never to fill in the hole. It's a drag, but not a big one. I sometimes forget I never had an S25 and I look all over for it. I also have two tapes labeled S17. Again, I guessed and was wrong. I sometimes relabel incorrectly sequenced tapes to solve the problem. I have on occasion added a letter: There is tape S17 and S17B. Not very elegant, but I can sleep. Give your tapes unique numbers and try to keep them continuous, but do whatever works if you occasionally slip up. Try not to make yourself crazy; it just isn't worth it.

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