Video metalogging & project organization in Premiere Pro
An essential guide
In late 2015, I was the lone video editor at Fitplan; a mobile app startup providing fitness programs by well-known athletes on a subscription model. There was a lot of video content being shot for these programs — mostly instructional exercise videos, interviews, and b-roll — and, at first, no established post-production pipeline. 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.
We brought in a few more talented editors to meet demand, and we started to consider the efficiency of our post-production process. Here is an outline of our situation at the time:
- 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
- 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
- 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, clips had to be labelled and organized into bins (we worked in Premiere Pro, so some of these terms may be Adobe-specific).
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!
A well-metalogged project 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.
It may be tempting for an editor to work as quickly as possible and skip the metalogging phase — especially if they were on location and are already familiar with the footage. For a personal or independent project with relatively little footage, this may work just fine. The problem is that this isn’t scalable or sustainable for larger projects, especially when multiple editors have to navigate them.
I began to think about this problem a lot, and came up with the following two adjectives to define a well-metalogged project.
A well-metalogged project is:
- Searchable — a well-metalogged project should index and label clips using consistently established keywords. These keywords should be pre-defined.
- Navigable — a well-metalogged project should collect like footage/assets into labelled bins, to the degree that they’re useful. Too many nested bins becomes confusing and unnecessary, but no bins at all mixes different kinds of footage together. Bins should be used to organize like footage, and clip names can take care of the rest.
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!