Organization is a tough topic because the specifics depend so much on scale. A no-budget web video won’t require the same infrastructure as a feature film. We’ll start at the high end and move downward; hopefully this top-down approach will give you some ideas on how you can organize your project editorially, whatever the scale you’re working at. Here are some stats to give us context.
The first problem manifest here is that you’ll end up with a lot of material, especially if you’re shooting anything feature-length. It’s imperative to come up with an organizational method that you prove via testing and that you’ll stick to. Looking at the Marvel stats above should make it apparent why media needs to be accounted for, analyzed, organized and made searchable and available to teams of individuals.
Not just feature films, but big TV shows similarly require not just one, but many assistant editors, though teams are usually significantly smaller than on features. Comparing stats for kicks, Westworld transcodes proxies to Dnx36 and still filled 21 Terabytes of server space. That’s a lot of footage at 36Mbps. Timing can be dramatically different for TV, depending on the distributor and distribution schedule of the show. Episodic content is staggered to meet air dates so you’ll see the edit start almost immediately after the content is shot. TV often shoots with many (too many) cameras simultaneously, so the job of syncing picture and sound alone is a considerable one.
Regardless of the schedule, for big screens or small, the need is the same: get a lot of data from set organized into a way it can be efficiently used by those in post, and done as quickly as possible.
The necessity and methodology of the organization required might be easier to understand if we first address what the editors are doing with all this data. Aspiring Hollywood editors may benefit from the “Art of the Cut” podcast. This podcast has changed hands a couple times and is now part of Adobe’s acquisitions, but it has historically been excellent. As a primer for our purposes, watch this clip from the editor of X-men to get an idea of what a timeline for a feature film looks like and the amount of assets involved.
You’ll also notice that, though the clip is beginning to date itself, production and post were already beginning to overlap hugely in that the edit was completed 9 days after they finished shooting. You’ll also notice that this editor does a lot of sound and VFX work, designed to give the director/producers an idea of the final edit (something common to the role of a good assistant editor). Gone are the days of an editor just making cuts. Josh Beal talks about editing big TV in this clip and we start to get a better look at the assistant editor/editor collaboration on the organizational side.
On shows of the aforementioned size, much of this editorial organization work falls to the assistant editor(s), which you’ll frequently see abbreviated as “AE”. In a nutshell, the AE’s primary job is organizing and prepping footage for the editor and having the technical savvy to troubleshoot and fill in workflow gaps. There’s a bit of language here, but this video is insightful as we start to understand more specifically what an assistant editor does. There is often a high degree of technical ability expected from an assistant editor. A seasoned editor may even trust an assistant enough to let them begin a rough assembly edit of a scene. In this case, the job requires both a technical ability and creativity. Here’s a brief list of responsibilities in order:
But the definition of an AE is changing quickly. The effects of technological advances and shrinking budgets generally mean fewer people are wearing more hats in post production. If assistant editing is your dream, a multi-faceted skillset will greatly increase your chances of success. This post from Reddit is very revealing:
An AE’s job is much more complex when a project shoots on film. It takes longer to get ‘dailies’ and it’s more likely any given camera could have a mag rollout or a jam. Most people in post don’t love the decision to shoot on film. Currently, most projects shooting film scan the negative at 2K. Most films in 2020 are still finished at 2K.
But there’s a lot of work out there outside of Hollywood-level movies and TV. AE work is sort of divided between “Scripted” and “Unscripted”. Unscripted work, like documentaries and reality TV, generally benefits a lot from an assistant editors help. These jobs are easier to come by if you’re looking to “break in”. It’s a good way to see if you truly like the work.
They type of work you’ll do on reality shows is surprisingly similar to what you’ll have done in your home movies. Poorly exposed, low bitrate GoPro footage, for example, is a staple of the reality world. Much of an assistant editor’s job is making sense of a variety of camera formats so the editor doesn’t have to. This may include the following:
We’ve covered some folder structure best practices for on-set. Now let’s turn to a post structure that will accommodate a variety of asset organization. This is a difficult thing to teach, because it’s going to vary widely depending on the scale of the project you’re involved in and the preferences of the post supervisor. I like to teach a system that takes the best practices from the pro world and incorporates them into something you can use on the smallest of projects.
First, for the main directory, I prefer starting directory names with the date in YearMonthDay format (e.g. 20200314 for March 14, 2020) as it makes alphabetical organization simple. Sort by name and everything flows chronologically. Feel free to add hyphens to improve legibility if you find it necessary (I.e. 2020-03-14), but you’ll get used to them not being there.
Inside that folder, contents can vary, but here’s a good, general-purpose folder structure for a project that you’ll handle on your own, but that’s also navigable in a professional post production environment:
There are many folders which will be added to this basic outline, but it’s a good starting place and it’s logical enough that, even after archival, the project can be understood. I often like to add a “MM” folder for media managed ‘trims’ if I’m not archiving an entire project’s media. I use uppercase for my default structure simply because it’s easy to see what folders I add to it, but it’s not essential. If working in a collaborative environment, sometimes it’s nice to set up “To” and “From” folders for passing a project between artists. Most of these folder names should makes sense, but here are a couple clarifications:
This directory should hold only the final files delivered to client or broadcaster. The “Master” folder holds the highest quality “original”.
“Renders” means exported video that is not generated during production and is only a portion of a final product. I’ll use this folder for VFX renders, color renders, time-lapse renders, etc.
This folder exists so you don’t have to delete anything, but you have a place to put it when you *think* you no longer need it. It’s basically a recycle bin.
BTS is a place to put behind-the-scenes material if you have someone doing EPK. PRODUCTION is a way to stipulate media created during production. Inside, all the transcodes from production can live by date, straight from the DIT production drive, and on a smaller project, camera originals can live there as well. If you’re thinking that the “Video” folder may seem far too general an organization scheme to edit from, that’s because your footage is much better sorted for editing in the NLE than in a file browser; we’ll get to that shortly. You could have additional folders inside “Video” for other sources of video, like stock assets.
Posthaste is a piece of software that can speed up your workflow by generating these folders with the push of a button. If it’s just the folder structure you’re after, this sort of thing is easy to script and can save you a lot of time. Applications with an open API will also really let you customize your workflow if you’re ambitious.
This is a cool application that gets your bin into the NLE (if you’re using Adobe) and keeps the hard drive folders and the imported bins in sync.
The above-mentioned structure actually works fairly well in an NLE as well, but, as mentioned, the video organizational side will potentially be much more intense. Not only will you need a folder for the footage shot, but you’ll need a more granular breakdown into scenes and takes. Keeping the directory structures of your hard drive’s folders and your NLE bins parallel is a great organizational tactic if you’re disciplined enough to stay on top of it. Whatever you do, here are some standard ‘bins’ an assistant editor may create in an NLE for a feature film:
Similar to how the file explorer structure sometimes uses “to” and “from” folders to see how, for example, color files might be delivered pre-color to the colorist and received post-color from the colorist, there are frequently bins in the NLE for the different hands the media will pass through. As you can see above, assistants will often have their own bins for sync, for example.
Assistants set up bins and metadata, specifically syncing audio, adding scene and take info based on production’s reports and script, and assemble multi-cam sequences. Every production will be different and every editor will have different preferences. A common method is based on scene/take organizational structure since scenes are the building blocks of the narrative and you have a script as your outline (in scripted material). Check with editorial post supervisor. Do they want reel names assigned? ReelID comes with R3D and Arri files but not often with consumer formats, and it can really complicate the conforming process later on.
Features can be edited in a variety of ways. I’ve seen editors cut an entire feature-length project in a single timeline. It’s more common, however, to use the historical standard of “reels” to break up the edit. A standard feature-length projects typically has 5 to 6 “reels”. This means you might have each of those ‘reels’ as a separate AVID bin, each bin containing a sequence for that reel. AVID bins can be accessed by multiple users simultaneously, somewhat similar to Resolve’s collaborative projects. In Premiere, project files are opened on at a time, so it’s common to have each ‘reel’ as its own project as well as a master project to combine them all.
Here are key takeaways: Keep your timelines (AKA “sequences”) organized and duplicate them, incrementing version numbers or dates as you go. I like to use “v07” for versioning; others keep the current cut in a separate bin titled “current” but I like the versioning method best as it gives you a historical order of the cuts. This level of minutia in naming may sound silly, but it makes it easy for someone else (or YOU down the road) to know you’re accessing the latest changes. Make sure it’s easy to find the latest cut.
NEVER LABEL ANYTHING AS “FINAL”. Instead, use version numbers.
The “archive” idea can work in a bin as it does with the folder structure. On a feature, one timeline might represent a “reel’s” worth of time. On a reality show, a timeline may be one scene. Inside those timelines, some editors will use color coding to represent different beats within the story and have an easy visual of how lengths compare. On a smaller project, one timeline may represent the entire piece.
Oftentimes for unscripted work it’s easier to cut all the scenes down and figure out how they will interplay as you craft the narrative. In these cases, organizing via metadata is the most sane approach. In scripted work, scene bins can be auto-generated from metadata as well or manually populated. Having a dedicated folder for each scene can be invaluable on a feature film.
This is the term used to describe the good stuff that’s most likely to make final cut. It’s very helpful to establish a means of rating clips, so you can separate your “selects”, or best shots from the garbage. Some editors like having a ‘stringout’ of these selects to pick from. While these can be laid out in a timeline, again, utilizing metadata and smart bins is arguably the more modern approach.
Subclips are a very handy organizational tool. These are portions of a clip that exist as their own clips. Resolve, fortunately, allows you to change the in and out points of these clips after the fact if required. In and out points on the source media, then Alt+B to create the subclip, and right-click should you need to edit it later:
Markers can be placed on a given frame and used to specify aspects of that point in time. They can vary in color and be placed on a clip or the timeline. Duration markers are simply markers that define a range, rather than a point in time. Similar to subclips, these allow you to define portions within a clip that you want to work with later. They are easily searchable and modifiable as well. I find them more convenient than subclips since you still have easy access to points in time before and after the marker.
The concept of “Smart Bins” in Resolve becomes very useful here. Instead of having a fixed folder structure in which clips must be placed, the smart bin is dynamic and perpetually shows any clips that present a given set of criteria. For example, you could have a smart bin for a given scene and any time you add new media tagged with that scene it will populate the smart bin.
That said, often times it makes more sense to do this sort of metadata logging outside of the editing package and in a Media Asset Manager. In this way, anyone using the assets can benefit from the additional attributes you’ve tagged. We cover this aspect much more thoroughly later on.
Though neither of these are the most up-to-date, both the following book and website have good information on the role of assistant editor.