It's 3:42am, you and your editor have been cutting a scene for the last 14 hours, the edit room is beginning to look a little too much like home, you've got a delivery to the network in a little over 2 hours, and you can't find that beauty shot of your main character that your DP spent three hours lighting. Another three cups of coffee and a bag of peanut M&M's isn't enough to help you remember where that shot is in the 18 weeks you were in the field. The editor is frustrated and the AE has skimmed the footage at least four times. How do you track it down?
Most cameras today allow you to input and modify all kinds of metadata. Each camera is a little bit different, but creating a plan before you shoot can dramatically help you get the content you want into the final edit.
As an AC, taking as little as five minutes at the beginning of each day during my morning coffee and bagel can change how the entire production and post team deal with the project's media, from both a technical and creative standpoint.
On a recent project, we had four cameras, three different models: Sony F5, Canon C300, and Sony A7s (with an Atomos Ninja recorder - the XAVC-S codec isn't too friendly, just yet).
We were split into two crews. Each crew's A-Camera was the Sony F5, and the Canon C300 and Sony A7s were the B-Cameras.
A wonderful feature of the the Sony F5 is that it allows you to modify the clip naming in a number of ways that can support both narrative and documentary work. We ended up deciding to create our own clip naming syntax, instead of Sony's internal preset, because it allowed us to creatively include the information we wanted. The syntax we decided on was:
That seemingly random string of letters, numbers, and characters translates into the Project's Initials, Team Name (ALPHA or BRAVO), Date, Camera Model, and the clip number, respectively.
For the C300, we weren't so lucky with the clip naming options, but we changed the prefix of the clips to BB for BRAVO team, B Camera. If it were the ALPHA team, we would have modified the clip prefix to AB.
For the A7s, we used the Atomos Ninja, which allowed us to use a very similar syntax to the F5.
The biggest and most useful benefit of intricate clip naming is that it allows all media to be searchable by project, team, date, and camera at both the NLE and Finder level. This is a great opportunity in the field to have the media manger pull up media from two weeks ago to check continuity or make sure that you have the shot you need to complete a scene you got today. It's also essential for your post team when their SAN (Storage Area Network) has two reality shows, one feature documentary, and six development projects all in edit at once.
From a deeper post perspective, when using software like Avid, which uses managed media, it can allow you to dig into the MXF folders to find the editable media you're looking for. Ideally, you'd want to use the Media Tool, but sometimes there is corrupt media that you need to find outside of the NLE, and if you and the production team have worked out your clip naming properly, the prefix of the clip naming can allow you to find Avid's .mxfs quite easily. DISCLAIMER: Do not explore Avid's Managed Media/MXF Folders unless you understand how it works. It can cause the loss of media and/or metadata issues.
Now, back to 1:42am - how can your project's clip naming be beneficial here? Well, all you need is the date you shot those clips, and you can track the media down quite easily...
Depending on the post workflow and NLE, your editor may not have each day's media in it's own bin or folder, so a long list of media is much easier to scroll through when you know what you are looking for. By having the camera team first in the syntax, you can pinpoint that it was ALPHA team that shot the beauty shots of your main character (you just remembered that the BRAVO team was shooting scenics that day because they bragged about the incredible burritos the had on their trip into town). From there, just scroll down to the date and then your camera angles are right next to each other, so you can pull them up quickly.
Another great feature about proper clip naming in post is that your editor has access to the information they need right in the timeline. Let's say you already have a beauty shot in your timeline and want to find the reverse angle, you have access to all the information you need to track it down quickly. (Hopefully, the time-of-day timecode is perfect and when you match frame, it's right there in a grouped/multicammed clip, but not all post departments have the resources to group everything that comes in.) So now, all you need to do is follow the same steps as before to find the reverse angle from that day.
At this point, it's as easy as choosing your in and out points, overwriting the placeholder of your editor's adorable dog, and you're ready to export and upload. Phew, that was close.
Just imagine if you media was named Clip1638 through Clip6782... What good would that do you?