Film Scoring 101: Naming Files for Clarity

Posted By: ryan On:

Photo by Victor Hanacek courtesy of picjumbo.com

A seemingly innocuous subject when scoring for film is the importance of naming your files. It may not be as exciting as learning how to score an epic trailer, but in the day-to-day business of doing this kind of work, naming your files clearly is crucial.

When you send another person a file, you need to be very conscious of how that file appears on their computer. I can’t tell you how many times I get a file like “locked cut.mov”, “new edit.mov”, “song 1.mp3”, and so on.

Imagine either of these situations:

  1. A week from now I look at my desktop and I see “new edit.mov” sitting there. What the heck is that? I’m going to have to open the file just to find out what it is. A proper file name would save me that time.
  2. A director calls and says they need me to take a look at something in the latest edit for their film. How exactly am I supposed to find it?

I’ll explain the method I use for naming just about everything.

Two examples:

  • “Exile 1m3v2 RL 1042421.mp3”
  • “KLM Crime Scene RL NoDrums.wav”

The first is a cue from a recent short film project. The second is a track for a library. In both cases the very first thing is the name of the client or project. Either one word (the actual title of the film is Star Wars: Exile), or an acronym. For example Pastor Shepherd files begin with PS.

Next comes the cue number for a film, or the title of the track if there is no cue number. In the first case it was “1m3”, in the second it is “Tension 2015 2”.

Following the title is the version number. Every single time I make changes to a cue, it gets a new version number. If it is v1 and I do not expect future updates, I leave it off. If I re-print the file (perhaps there was a click in the bounce), I will update with a point. Meaning v2 reprinted becomes v2.1. This way it is very clear that the content of v2 and v2.1 are still exactly the same. ALWAYS use version numbers!

Then I put my initials. In the case of a film where I am the only composer this is usually not necessary.

Lastly I put any important information that would be helpful to the person looking at the file. For a film I will put the exact timecode that the file lines up to. 1042421 is 1:04:24:21. Even if the file is a wav with a timestamp, I use this as a backup so there is never uncertainty.

For the library cue I put the same of the specific stem, such as “NoDrums”.

It’s very simple, and the more you do it the more it becomes instinct without requiring any thought. But it makes a HUGE different when you…

  • …are dealing with many different projects at a time.
  • …want to make life as easy as possible for the people on the receiving end of your files.
  • …need to dig into your archives from years ago and find a specific file. It would take very little effort for me to find a cue from a film I scored in 2014 thanks to this system.

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