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You can't edit your videotapes if you don't know what's on them. The key to finding out what's on them is to (1) shoot with continuous timecode, (2) label your tapes, and (3) log your tapes. We've already discussed keeping your timecode “clean” (go back to Chapter 2 if you need a refresher), and we've already covered proper labeling methods. Now it's time to watch and log your tapes.

The purpose of a log is to help you find shots you want to use later. One of the most brutally boring tasks in “old-fashioned” editing is having to shuttle through miles of film or tape just to find the bits that are good. Computers make this chore simpler, but only if you have a log. It is a critical part of your setup. All the fancy computer and camera equipment in the world can't replace a good log book.

Logging your DV tapes can be tedious. If you fall behind in the process and your tapes are stacking up, you run the risk of not doing it at all. Don't let that happen. Make logging a game. In Hollywood, “screening the dailies” is a time-honored tradition. The director, cinematographer, editor, and actors all get together for an hour or so to watch the material that was shot. This is when they make notes about what is good and what is not, which shots must be used, and how the project might come together. It's fun, like a little party.

The term “dailies” refers to the raw footage taken the previous day. In Hollywood, film is shot during the day, goes to the processing lab that evening, is printed, and is picked up the next morning. Then, once a day—usually the day after being shot—the film is watched. Because it happens every day, it is called “dailies.” Some films, in particular those with odd shooting schedules, instead have “nightlies.”

While it is fun to shoot, keep the footage hidden, and then emerge from your editing retreat and surprise your family with a neat finished video, it can be just as entertaining to show the raw footage to everyone in the video. Watch dailies with your family, get their input, and create a log together. Many people actually want to see the raw video to catch all the special moments, but I think it's good to announce up front that unedited material is supposed to be boring and long, even for cool movies in Hollywood.

A simple tape log will contain the reel name and a list of shot descriptions and timecode references. Timecode, for our purposes here, is just a counter. It starts at 0 at the beginning of the tape and runs unbroken until the tape ends (generally about 1 hour). If you keep it continuous and unbroken, and the camera is working properly, the timecode is the perfect reference number for a bit of video. Professional timecode numbers look complicated because they are so long (usually eight digits). You should abbreviate your logged timecodes to just minutes and seconds—for example, 2:36 would be read as “2 minutes, 36 seconds.” (Listing hours probably won't be necessary most of the time for 1-hour tapes, because generally they run only about 3 minutes over an hour.)

If you still have problems reading or writing timecode, go back to Chapter 2 for more complete coverage of the topic.

Now that you can read and write timecode, you can log your tape. First, make sure the right tape is in your camera. Then turn on the timecode display. Different cameras do this in slightly different ways, but usually you look for a button marked Display. Like the date and time a shot was recorded, the timecode is always captured when you shoot, but it need not be displayed. I like to edit with timecode turned off, but you must log with timecode turned on (see Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3. One of the first things I do when logging (or even just watching) a videotape is to turn on the timecode, shown here at the top right of the LCD. Sometimes I turn on the data code on the bottom so I can see the date, but only if this tape covers a lot of dates.

Tape logs

Once your tapes are labeled with a simple and clear numbering system, you are ready to log them. Use one clean sheet of paper per tape, with the tape's reel name at the top and timecodes, dates, and descriptions making up the body of the log.

At left is an example of a tape log. You don't need to get fancy, but you will have to watch your tape and make some organized notes on this sheet. Keep all your tape logs in a book or at least in a folder. Better yet, here's an assignment for you.

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