Prep

File Naming

3 minute read

Before a single piece of footage is even shot, it is critical that you decide on a file naming convention for the entire project.

A file naming convention is a set of rules for assigning unique names to all your digital media files. Cameras, computers, and other recording devices have their own default naming rules, but they are generally just a sequential label.

WB2A2468.MOV

This is not a useful filename, because there is no way to know what it is unless you play it back.

A good file naming convention actually describes what a digital media file contains and how it relates to other files. These rules usually require important information like date of creation, project name, and various technical details.

20181004-wfg-filenaming-camA-01-001-4k30.mov

This is a much better filename. It gives the shoot date as YYYYMMDD, a project ID, scene name, source camera, shot and take numbers, and the format it was recorded in. Anyone can quickly understand what it is, whether they see it the day it was shot or many months later.

The exact structure of the file naming convention you need varies depending on the type of project and complexity of the workflow. For example, a narrative film will likely include scene and take numbers, while a broadcast program will list season, episode, and subject markers.

Narrative Film: 20180606-wfg-camB-roll03-shot05-take002-4k30.mov

Broadcast Program: 20180215-wfg-s02-ep04-bts-1080p60.mov

Whatever file naming convention you use, it needs to be clear and consistent from the very beginning. This will make your media management more efficient and reduce risk. For example, since good file naming rules forbid duplicate filenames, it is much more difficult to accidentally overwrite footage during camera offloads. Similarly, unique filenames decrease confusion during dailies prep and sharing.

But a well-planned file naming convention serves all files throughout the entire scope of a project, not just files coming off of a camera.

As media files move down the post-production pipeline, different teams will be handing off thousands of files constantly. Even simple deviations can lead to disaster. If the DIT uses one date format, while editorial uses another, and VFX doesn’t include it at all, then media files can easily be lost.

This is why everyone involved in the production needs to test and agree on the file naming convention before the project gets underway. A suitable set of file naming rules should be robust enough to meet the needs of every team, but simple enough that they can be used easily.

You will also need a plan for organizing files into folders/directories. There are a huge number of ways to set up a folder hierarchy, but in general, it should logically guide users to existing files, and indicate where new files should be put. It is important to make sure your organizational scheme can grow with the project, from the first 100 pieces of footage to the last 100000 VFX, color, and sound files, and everything in between.

Ultimately, file naming rules and directory structures are all about keeping your media organized and secure. If you are proactive about this seemingly mundane technical detail, then your team can focus more on the creative aspects of your project. You will have to invest some time and effort to do it right, but it will pay big returns down the line.

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