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Log Jammin' Part 1
by Patrick Storck

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Once again not quite following the logical path of a production, I want to talk about logging footage. You might think this is something to worry about once you have the footage. It is, and generally that's how a lot of folks operate. Truth be told, this is one place where it doesn't ultimately have to show in the final product whether you planned ahead or not.

Still, the more you plan ahead, the better your game plan, the more you can have the end in sight, the smoother post-production will be when you get there. If you can take the time now, in the middle of production, you won't be wasting it and getting impatient and possibly sloppy later.

There are no real absolutes, since every project is different, sometimes the nature of source material doesn't lend itself to preparation, and we all work in different ways. Still, this is what I've found works best for me.

Step one is to label your tapes. It's amazing how obvious this is, and yet how often it can be overlooked. You need to switch tapes because the shot is set up, the last tape ran out, and you'll label it later. Then the same thing happens when the next tape runs out. At the end of the day you might have a bag full of tapes that you have to go through and label. If you number them then, they might not follow the production schedule order. Now when you go through them in post you might go needlessly searching through the wrong tapes because you know you shot this before you shot that, so it has to be on one of these.

That's why I also recommend labeling each location on the tape and keeping a shot log in a note book. When you crack open the new tape, take a moment to fill out a label with the name of the project, the tape number, and the current location. Leave plenty of space for more. Also label the card in the tape case. It takes two seconds, and there's more writing room if needed. Then go to the next blank page in the notebook and write the same information up at the top.

In the notebook you'll want to add some extra notes. You can do these on-set or as you review footage, but if you have time between set-ups use it. Write down the characters in the scene, the time of day, what pages you're shooting, and anything else that can help you identify the footage without actually looking at it.

Also, if you're using more than one camera you should note which one is used on each page. I don't just mean if you use two cameras on one day. I suggest always keeping track of what was used where. You'll note which ones pick up information in low light, which are better saturated to your needs, which have less dropped frames or pixels, and in general can inform you for future shoots.

Beneath that jot down the time code readings for the start and end of each shot. Note what the shot was: Close up, medium two-shot Bob and Ray, overhead shot of Joe's car pulling away, b-roll of neighborhood, you get the idea. Something short and descriptive.

On the far right, create a column for any adjustments you've made. Note the shutter speed, sound levels, zoom, level, etc. Maybe have a code for hand-held (H) versus tripod (T). This will also help inform you while you review footage as to what's working and what isn't.

If you cut because of an error like a dropped line or the set collapsing, note it. If other flubs are spotted, like a dipped boom mike or a brief view of the crew in a mirror, note it. Review performances and pacing later. That can still be potentially usable footage. Something with a boom in it, not so much.

When you pull the tape at its end, add the list of locations to the label. All of the other information can just stay in the note book. If the notebook has all of that information, why label the tape as well? More than once I've seen new tapes get started and they aren't sure what the next one is. Instead of asking someone or finding the last tape, they pick a random number. Maybe it's one that has already been used. More likely it's one from well into the future. "Did we just call that one tape three or four? I'll just call this one tape ten." Eventually you might get to tape ten. The person removing tape nine might not know about the existing tape ten. When you start logging, this will be a lot easier to sort out.

When you return from the shoot, make sure to pull the tapes, organize them, and store them properly. Don't leave them in the camera bag in your car since there's another shoot tomorrow anyway. That's just stupid, but again it is done. Don't toss them in a random drawer or on a coffee table or counter top. Pick a place, make a box, designate a "footage only" drawer, get some tupperware storage systems, whatever works for you.

This should be enough to get you started on organizing. Your homework will be to go buy a note book, shoot a feature, and bring your tape logs back here in two weeks for a look at how to best organize and upload footage onto your computer for editing.

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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