February 4

Video Editing: File Management

Are you always losing your car keys; or do you know precisely where they are?  Needless to say, hunting for lost keys is a frustrating waste of time.  So is hunting for lost video files while you are editing.

drawing of car keys

To avoid that problem, it helps to know how your program creates and stores files.  Do yourself a big favor and develop a good video editing file management system and stay organized right from the very beginning.

File management when it comes to video editing is one of the basics that rarely gets talked about. Probably because it’s kind of boring, but it’s so critical, let’s risk a bit of yawning.

external hard drive

The first thing you should do when you begin a video editing project is launch your application and create a brand-new project.  Immediately do a “save as” of your empty project.   Give it a logical name that will be easy to recognize or remember.  Save it in a specific place that you have set aside for video projects.  Set yourself a clear pathway of folders that is logical, so you will not want to move them later.  Some programs do this for you by default, others need to be told.

It is especially important to have someplace specific on your computer where you put all your big media files.  When you capture video or audio on your computer, you need to know where it is going, so you can locate it later.  As you capture, one of the decisions you make is to tell the computer where you want it saved.  Moving media files after you begin editing can create huge headaches, so put it in a good place right off the top.

The single best tip is TO NAME YOUR FILES IMMEDIATELY AND NAME THEM IN A LOGICAL WAY YOU CAN REMEMBER.  Please don’t capture a file and then let it stay unnamed.  I promise, developing a good file naming protocol will save you lots of headaches.  I usually put the client name or the project name first, so everything will be organized under that one word.

Let’s get some terminology down before we go any further.  In video editing, there are various types of files:

  • Media Files: All video and audio clips you use in your project.
  • Project files: Created by your editing program while you edit.
  • Sharing files: For your finished video.

Video Files:  Project Files vs. Media Files vs. Sharing Files, What’s the Difference?

Let me explain the difference between media files, project files and sharing files. Project files are the skeleton of a video editing project.   The media files cover the skeleton, so to speak.  The sharing file is what you actually upload to the web or duplicate on disc.

  • Media files are your actual clips of video or audio.  If you shoot ten minutes of video at the beach then capture it into your computer, it becomes a video clip media file.  If you record some narration, it becomes an audio clip media file.  Media files are huge.  Video files are substantially larger than audio files, but both need plenty of room.
  • The project files are what your edit program creates to tell itself all the critical information about the project settings and all the edit decisions you make.   Project files are created and read by the program you are using.  No other program will be able to read these files.  Project files are tiny compared to media files, but they represent a lot of work!  Project files contain information about where the media files you are working with are located and tell the program how you want those media files manipulated and presented, but they do not contain the media files themselves, just notes on those media files.  The project files can be thought of as a list of detailed information about where your media is stored and what to do with it so that it’s edited in the way you want.

Video Editing File Management

When you save your project, you are saving all your editing decisions, the media files were saved when you captured them.  Now, this is important….NONE OF YOUR ORIGINAL MEDIA FILES ARE ACTUALLY ALTERED BY ANYTHING YOU EDIT.  Those media files remain exactly as they were when you captured them.

This is called “non-destructive editing,” and it is a good thing.   You ALWAYS want to keep your original video and audio.

Your editing program and all of its project files manipulate the media files and create new media files if need be. 

That is what rendering is all about.  When your video editing program renders, it is creating a brand-new media file that contains all the video, audio, graphics and special effects you just edited together.

The new media file is called a render file and will be located in a render folder by default.  Older video editing programs had to render constantly, and it’s time-consuming.  Newer programs usually do it automatically.

A sharing file is the video file you create at the very end of an editing project.  Once you have everything the way you want it, you convert it all into one file that can easily be read by any one of the common video players.  Remember, project files can only be read by whatever program created them, but your final video needs to be read by anybody with a computer, so sharing files are used for that.  These are the common file formats you hear about like .wmv, .mov, .flv, MPEG4, and so forth.

Sharing files are for sharing your final video, but what if you want to share your project with another video editor?  If you want them to have access to your project, so they can work on it on their computer, you will have to give them not only the project files but all the media files too.   If you just gave them the project files, it would just be the bare-bones skeleton, and they could not do anything with it.

If you want to learn the meaning of “panic” move your media files in the middle of a big video editing project and watch your project files get confused and lose them.  This puts your media files “OFFLINE” and as far as your program is concerned, they are gone.  This is much less likely to happen with today’s programs.

The project file contains the path to locate your media and if that changes, then the program has no idea where to fetch it.  Now, fortunately, as video editing programs get more sophisticated, they are able to keep up with changed locations better.  The new version of iMovie I have does not show “media offline” but the old version (4.5) of Final Cut Pro I used did.

Your video application will send you some kind of warning message, maybe a big red X to let you know it’s missing the media it needs.  If you know where it has been moved, reconnecting is simple.  But if you moved them without a thought to a logical file management system, then it is a lot like hunting for your lost car keys you laid down at 2 a.m. without thinking!

Thanks for reading Video Production Tips.

Lorraine Grula


  • In general, how organized are you?  Do you think it will be a challenge to organize computer files for editing?
  • Describe both media files and program files.
  • Define the word render as it refers to video editing.


file management, nondestructive editing, video editing file management, video editing non destructive editing

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  1. This is good info. I currently keep this following folder structure http://www.twitpic.com/11cigl (screenshot) zipped up in a ZIP file, and I simply unpack the ZIP file each time I start a new project – rename the parent folder to the new project # – and am instantly off & running with a familiar structure.

    I’m always tweaking over time to get things down as quick and easy as possible; would love to see what others are doing to make life easier too!


    Harold Green
    media producer | vision creative media
    twitter: mediaguy777

  2. Hi Harold.
    What a great idea. Thanks for the tip. Especially if you have a lot or presets or elements you use in each project (like an open or close) then this would make life easier. Appreciate it.

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