So you’ve gone out and shot your masterpiece! Congratulations! Now it’s time to get that bad boy off the card, into your computer, edited and on its way to a festival. Sounds simple enough, but one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong at some point. The smartest thing to do is be prepared for such a scenario. There’s nothing quite like the rage that builds inside of you after finding out that footage is missing or is corrupted, but it’s even worse when you could have done something to prevent it. That’s why I’ve put together a quick list of important information relating to backing up your footage and the steps you can take to secure your data.
While it’s nice to have a dedicated person on set like a data wrangler to take care of your footage, there isn’t always a budget for such a specialized position, so for the independent filmmaker, that person is typically you. It’s usually a good idea to have your computer on set so you can transfer video right away. A quiet place is nice, but don’t wander too far away from set. I had a laptop stolen once because of this and I learned the hard way to never let the computer out of my sight. Setting up a computer on set caries the advantage of actually being able to check footage beforehand and not have to wait to get home to find out it’s corrupted.
Once you have the computer set up, copy the files over in the exact file structure it is saved as. I recommend creating a master folder and a sub folder for each particular transfer. Now this is extremely important; if you change the name of any file, or forget to include any documents included on your card, your footage will not work.
Once you’ve transferred a copy of the card, check the footage in a program such as Quicktime or VLC to see that it is playing properly. This depends on the codec you are filming with, so use an appropriate program. Finally, duplicate your footage to another hard drive or flash drive and move it away from the film site. Technology is not perfect, and people make mistakes, so just in case something happens to the original footage, you have it backed up nice and safe on another drive and in another location. If this truly is your masterpiece, I might even backup on a third drive. Better safe than sorry.
Once the footage is confirmed, you should have the card formatted. Technically you can now erase the footage from the card from the computer, but DSLR’s from different companies use different file structures, and formatting in the camera is the best way to ensure a certain level of consistency.
Backing up your DSLR camera’s footage is not only smart, but in most cases, essential. It’s a good idea to practice good habits now so that you don’t look unreliable when you get hired to work on that music video or feature film you’ve been dreaming of like tomorrow's Ron Howard.
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