The importance of logs

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It’s easy to lose track of things on a film shoot. That’s why film crews keep meticulous logs of everything that happens. On Albert, we didn’t, and that was a mistake.

The reason we didn’t was quite simple: Albert was never meant to be a movie. Our plan was that we would shoot a complete, short film each summer and spend winter just shooting individual scenes, for practice.

But then Albert, which is a single scene, grew into a self-contained film.

Oh well, enough of the excuses. So what happened?

I decided against asking Mandy, our sound recordist, to keep an audio log. The main reason (I thought) that I might need such a log is to enable me to rename files. And I reckoned I could just listen to the beginning of each audio clip, where the shot and take numbers were announced by camera assistant Morgan, who was also doing clapper. And mostly, that worked. Mostly.

We did have a camera log. We use the excellent Movie*Slate app on an iPad as our clapper and this automatically keeps a log of all shots, including camera settings and filename.

Slating with an iPad

Slating with an iPad

In post-production (actually, each night after shooting), I load all the video and audio files on to the production hard drive, back them up, then rename them.

The renaming is important because it makes later administration much easier. The camera saves files in the format ‘’, where the XXX can be anything I want (I usually set a two-character code for the project followed by a number indicating the day). The sound recorder (a Zoom H4N), on the other hand, saves in a date/serial number format – eg, ‘131211-001.wav’.

Matching audio to video, and both to the shot list, would be a nightmare if the files weren’t renamed. So, I laboriously go through the files renaming them. Rather than replace the current filenames, I just add shot and take number to the beginning. Let’s say that video file and audio file 131211-142.wav both relate to shot 9C take 2, I would rename them to:

  • 9C-2
  • 9C-2 131211-142.wav

That way, the files appear next to each other in any file listing (either in Finder or in Final Cut Pro X). Making a new synchronised file from these two will also result in a file starting with the scene and shot numbers.

Renaming all the files is laborious. With the video files, it’s made a lot easier thanks to Movie*Slate. The app can output its logs in a variety of formats – I use the XML spreadsheet format which I have the app email to me. Because the app automatically saves the camera filenames (you set it once and then it automatically increments), I can glance down the spreadsheet to see which shot and take relate to which filename.

But somehow, I made a mistake. And it only came to light during editing. It caused me some considerable head-scratching and not a little wasted time.

I’d made a sync file from what I thought was take 4 of a shot. But the audio and video were out of sync. This will happen sometimes with FCP X if you try to sync using an audio clip where a section of the clip has been selected that excludes the clapper. I deleted the sync file, made sure the whole of the video clip was selected, and made another sync file. It was out of sync too.

I also thought we were missing audio for one shot. We’d grabbed a few MOS shots as cutaways and so I figured maybe this was one of them. It was odd, though, because it was a shot (of pills being poured into a container) that had distinctive sound that really needed to be synced. I figured I was going to have to use the on-camera sound (used mostly just for sync purposes).

But when I looked closer I discovered that I’d mis-labelled a couple of files. With the out-of-sync shot, the audio was from take 4, but the video was take 3. And the ‘missing’ audio was there all along. I won’t bore you with the full details, but suffice to say that, if I’d had a proper audio log to compare with the video log, I don’t think this would have happened.

On the next shoot, we’ll be keeping strict logs, although in a slightly different way. That will be the first shoot with our new Ninja-2, which has its own format for naming files, which includes scene, shot and take numbers. (Movie*Slate’s file naming can’t match it, so that feature will be obsolete).


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