In late 2015, I was the only video editor at a mobile fitness app startup called Fitplan, which provides workout programs by well-known athletes. There was a lot of video content being shot for these programs — mostly instructional exercise videos, interviews, and b-roll. One single shoot could bring in over a terabyte of footage. I started editing the videos on my own, but we realized quickly the volume was too much for one person to meet the required pace of production, so we brought in a few more talented editors and we started to consider the efficiency of our post-production process. Here is an outline of our situation at the time:
- Frequency: New fitness programs were being shot almost weekly. Our team had to be adaptive, decisive, and swift in order to produce video content at the required pace
- Delivery & handling: Footage was shot in Los Angeles and shipped to our team in Vancouver via hard drives in the mail. Some of us were occasionally on location for a shoot, and we doubled as videographers now and then, but occasionally an editor would be seeing the footage for the first time in the editing room
- Logistics: Multiple editors may lay hands on the same project, so it had to be well archived, organized, and metalogged. We also wanted to be cost-effective and be able to re-use footage from a shoot for promotional videos in the future
Early on, the video team began to notice a weakness in our process: project organization and metalogging. Because multiple editors may work from the same project file at different times, and we wanted our projects to be reusable in order for our shoots to be more cost-effective, clips had to be labelled and organized into bins/folders. This is the process of metalogging, and in a media company that works with lots of footage, an effective metalogging system is not only essential for an optimal workflow, it can save the business a lot of money.
What is metalogging?
Metalogging is the process of organizing, naming, describing, and ingesting footage. It’s a crucial process to optimizing editing workflow and efficiency. To an editor, opening a well-metalogged project is even better than opening a cold Coke on the hottest day of the year. That’s how helpful it is!
There is no one way to metalog a video project. One editor may use a completely different set of terms and metadata to organize their project than another editor, and that’s okay when working alone. When collaborating, however, (and even when working alone, if you find your projects to be disorganized and difficult to navigate), there is a set of best practices for metalogging which can help maintain consistency between projects on a larger video team and ensure that any editor can work with any project, no matter who metalogged that project.
A guideline for good metalogging
At its very essence, video editing involves two basic processes: 1) searching for footage and 2) laying out selected footage on a timeline. The latter is the creative part, and not what we’re discussing here. The former is mostly technical and sometimes frustrating. When you can’t find the footage you’re looking for quickly and efficiently, it can severely cramp your workflow. That’s why metalogging is so important.
The biggest uncertainties when metalogging are 1) knowing what words to use to describe footage, and 2) how best to use bins/folders to organize footage. To answer these uncertainties, let’s consider how we use another common search tool to find what we’re looking for: Google.
Google operates using keywords. Your search need not be a complete sentence or even in the correct order; you can simply search a series of words and Google will serve you with its best matches for those words. This system is intuitive and effective, and we should emulate it to our best ability with our footage.
A well-metalogged project is searchable and navigable, and allows the editor to search for footage by keywords, and organizes footage into the proper bins/folders that group like footage together. This organization should be thoughtful and deliberate, and most of all, useful to someone who may be laying eyes on the project and footage for the first time.
So, we need to consider what information is most pertinent to somebody searching for a specific clip. Here are some qualities or features of a clip we may want to look for to describe it:
- Shot size—Wide (W), Close Up (CU), Medium Close Up (MCU), etc (use consistent, documented language and abbreviations here, so a third party would know what words to use)
- Camera move—Dolly, Pan, Truck, etc (again, use commonly understood language here, and have a reference sheet so that language is consistent between projects)
- Shot content (depends on project, but only use pertinent nouns and verbs to describe the footage, don’t bother with conjunctions)
- Predetermined adjectives—Have a limited, predetermined list of adjectives to pull from to describe your shots (such as dynamic, glamourous, fast, shakey, powerful, etc). With no reference list, an editor won’t know what to search for, and with too many adjectives, it is no longer highly searchable.
- Slate information (if you’re using a slate—take number, shot number, scene info, camera info, shoot day information, etc)
Don’t bother naming your clips with information that already exists as metadata for the video file, such as frame rate or shot size. These are already attached to your file and sortable, so there is no need to clutter your clip names.
Your exact clip name structure will depend on the content you are working with, but should essentially operate as a brief list of keywords describing your shot as efficiently as possible. Some of these keywords will pull from a reference list (for consistency), and some will be unique to that clip (these will help find the clip again and differentiate the clip from other similar shots).
Any editor can go in and rename clips in a way that’s meaningful for them. If they’re the only editor working on that project, they may not absolutely need an established system for naming their clips. The problem is that two different editors may name the same clip two completely different things. In this way, metalogging is subjective. Even a single editor working on a single project may not remember what they named a specific clip, and hence won’t know what to type in the search bar to find it. Because the search bar is the quickest way to navigate a large project, this raises problems when it comes to searching through a large project for a specific clip.
With this in mind, I came up with a flexible but guided syntax for use in the metalogging stage. If we had a unified vocabulary to work from in describing our footage, it’d make it magnitudes more searchable for other editors, and even ourselves.
The system is quite simple. All footage in the document should be given a clip name which includes a category prefix followed by descriptive keywords. The general approach is to use an all caps abbreviated prefix followed by an underscore (ex INT_, EX_, GLAM_, BTS_, PHOTOS_, etc), followed by the descriptive keywords, like this:
- EX_flat barbell bench press rest drink water
- GLAM_pose smith machine flip hair stretch legs
- PHOTOS_GLAM_posing barbell jump run seamless
Non-fitness specific examples:
- BROLL_landscape mountain sunset ocean
- BEAUTY_model flowers dress field sunlight lens flare
- BEAUTY_BTS_model photos posing set photographer
In this way, the prefix acts as a category (so you’ll likely have many clips with the same prefix), and the descriptive keywords add more detail. You can combine multiple prefixes if a clip fits in more than one category.
Numbers fit comfortably after the prefix if there are take numbers or slates involved. For example, we numbered our exercises ahead of time on a shot list, used those numbers on a slate in the shot, and would put those numbers in the clip name for reference.
After some time, we’d become familiar with the general variety of footage we’d be editing, and came up with a list of categories to fit the footage into. Of course, these categories would vary depending on the context and type of footage being edited. Here is a comprehensive list of what we used for our footage:
- INT#_ (Interview) Primarily interview footage, ie question and answer with the athlete in any interview setting. Interview clip numbers (ie INT1_, INT2_, etc) should correspond between cameras/angles (INT1_ on tripod should be same section of interview as all other camera angles.
- EX_ (Exercise) Primarily exercise footage, usable as exercise demonstration footage. Should be slated at beginning with exercise name. If the slate includes additional pertinent information (EX#, superset), include that in the cip name. If it’s a superset, indicate with an “SS” at the end of the clip name. For example: EX_29_Lateral raise, EX_32_Pushups x Pull Ups_SS
- GLAM_ (Glamour) Posing, modeling, smiling, footage of athlete primarily for use as filler, coverage, b-roll
- CANDID_ Serendipitous moments like laughter, joking, asides, or between takes. These have a different look and feel to the scripted or planned shots, or when an athlete knows they’re being filmed.
- SWEAT_ Moments when an athlete is pushing themselves particularly hard, visibly sweating or straining themselves. This was particularly desirable footage for most of our edits.
- BTS_ (Behind the scenes) Footage showing crew, equipment, set, breaking the fourth wall. This was sometimes desirable for a certain style of edit.
- PHOTOS_ (Photoshoot) Footage of athlete during photoshoot (dark lighting with flashes going off/athlete posing for photographs).
- SBYT_ (Sound bite) Short sound bite, phrase, encouraging statement, or introduction from athlete that doesn’t fit as part of standard question & answer interview, ie “I’m Michelle Lewin, and this is my Fitplan”. Often off-the-cuff or unplanned/unscripted.
- MISC_ (Miscellaneous) Footage that fits in no other category.
If footage fits in two or more categories, list prefixes in order that you deem most appropriate. For example, if you have behind the scenes footage of a photoshoot, you might categorize it as BTS_PHOTOS_GLAM_ or just BTS_PHOTOS_
Descriptive keywords are added after the category prefix (directly after the underscore, ie “GLAM_Posing squat rack”). Use common terms to describe footage, so searching through footage can return expected results, and be consistent throughout projects.
Contractions should be avoided, and spelling is important for proper indexing, so try to avoid typos here. Also, conjunctions (the, and, as, is, by, between, etc) aren’t helpful as they won’t be searched for, and can be omitted. Grammar and sentence structure is not important. It’s important to see the description as a list of keywords rather than a detailed description of the shot. View them like hashtags on an Instagram post.
I didn’t go so far as to define a list of descriptive keywords, because we didn’t want the system to become too strenuous or detailed to be helpful. That being said, there were some terms that came up repeatedly and were often used in the description (namely actions like rest, pose, stretch, run, and breathe).
As you can see, this is a comprehensive system. As an editor searching for a specific kind of shot, all I have to do first is type in the category prefix using the established syntax, and all of those clips come up. If I as an editor wanted to search for a beauty shot of an athlete resting and drinking water, I’d just search for “glam rest water”, or even just “rest water”, and the clip, if it exists, would show up.
Using bins effectively
Organizing footage into folders (called “bins” in Premiere Pro) can help separate footage into broad categories. Too many folders, however, can become confusing and make the project over-complicated. In developing this system, I tried to take a balanced approach and used bins to collect like footage and separate it from unlike footage.
When organizing footage into folders, keep in mind any logical categories the footage might fall into. Specific camera angles, shot size, focal length, or stabilization equipment make for good folder titles (Ex: Tripod/Zoom, Wide, Ronin, Drone, GoPro). Also, for our purposes, we considered the athlete’s program. For us it was logical to have footage collected by program day or workout type (Ex: Back & Biceps, Chest & Triceps, Quads, Sprints, Beach Yoga) if specific days are clearly denoted by the program. It may also make sense to organize footage by shoot day for a multi-day shoot.
In the context of Fitplan, besides exercise demonstrations, interviews were the bread and butter of our videos. They formed the spine of our promotional content, as we focused on telling the athlete’s story and communicating their personality. Our interviews were often long and detailed, and so required metalogging to properly navigate.
On top of naming the interview clips, interviews should be marked with in & out points for each answer, with each marker labeled with the question & a rough transcription of the answer. Don’t worry about a word for word transcription. It’s important these markers are added directly to the clip and not to a timeline.
On the timeline, in the Workspaces > Metalogging layout, you will see the Markers box (right) and the source box (left). On the left you’ll see all your makers for the clip. On the right, the corresponding detailed markers. When you create a new marker, you’ll have to drag either the in or out points to give it a duration, then set the in/out to the beginning/end of the subject’s response.
As you watch the clip, tap the ‘M’ key twice to create a marker and open the Marker dialogue box. Once open, name the clip with the question being asked. Then, write the response in the comments section. Don’t worry about proper grammar or punctuation, just write quick and dirty.
I hope this metalogging system and overview is helpful for somebody. I had this document sitting on my Google Drive from my time at Fitplan, and thought I should share it in hopes that somebody else finds it useful. Happy editing!