Create a Media Composer Project Structure That Will Last For Years

By in Tutorial Thursday, Video Editing

I love user groups. We need more of them. At a user group, editors break down the walls that divide them (competition-wise) and share ideas. The topic that comes up time and time again:

“Hey — How do you set up your project file structure?”

Boring question, I know. On one hand it makes you realize for the moment that a user’s group is really a High School A/V club reunion session. Yet when someone starts to answer that question, ears perk-up, crowds tighten-in, and pencils (or iPads) come out.

So here is—so far—the best system I’ve heard… so far. It is a combination of over 100 editor’s personal practices, and I’ve been using it flawlessly for years to make everything from national PBS programs to TV ads to wedding videos and more.


  1. Turn on your computer. Mac or Win – I don’t care. First thing’s first:  do NOT start your edit software!
  2. I’m sure you have more than one INTERNAL hard drive, right? The one you have the software running on (C: drive; or MacHD; or whatever), and a second drive NOT for media, right? No? Go get one. It can be internal or external, as long as the connection is fast like Thunderbolt or USB-3, and the drive itself is fast. So no 5400rpm drives. This will be SOLELY for your (drumroll please) Editing File Structure.
  3. Got the drive? Great. On it, create these folders: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. And create one last folder called “Shelf”.  You will be using the 2013-2017 folders for ALL your editing projects. 100% everything except the media itself. The “Shelf” folder will be your generic in-box. “Hey, I like that picture of the light post in front of my house, and I may use it for something someday, but I don’t know what. Where does it go? Shelf. Where does the media go? Ideally for the least amount of playback issues, ANY edit system will prefer an internal drive to an external one, unless the external is a shared storage system or a RAID. Designate all your media to go to a place separate from your main OS drive as well as this second internal drive. (Obviously the past years are for your old projects.  Let’s tidy them up too, shall we?)
  4. In the Shelf, create a folder called My Default Project. In it, the following folders: AMA, Animations, Audio, Avid, DVD Blu-ray, Graphics, Logs, Promotion, Scripts, Slates, Sponsors, and XPORT. These will be the heartbeat by which you set your rhythm for the rest of your life! Copy the “My Default Project” folder and paste it into this year’s folder. Rename it whatever your next project is going to be called. Do this for EVERY project until the end of time, and you’ll NEVER lose anything again!

AMA – For most projects, it is always best to keep all raw camera files on a separate hard drive. However if someone quickly sends you small clips, archive videos or reference videos, this is a great place to keep them.

Animations – This is where finished After Effects animations go. Only motion graphics though. No still-imagery.

Audio – Raw music files, voice-overs, you name it. If it’s audio, it’s here.

Avid – When you start Media Composer and create a new project, click on the folder with the magnifying glass and tell it to save the project HERE.

DVD Blu-ray – This is the place to keep all disc-based files—DVD and Blu-ray stuff. Photoshop-generated menu screens, QuickTime files, captioning files for a DVD, you name it.

Graphics – This will probably be your largest, most disorganized file. When I work, I create new versions of everything— sometimes 42 versions of the same image, just for safety. Please feel free to create as many subfolders as you want.

Logs – Creating tape logs is becoming a scarcely used tactic, but I’m hopeful it’ll come back like vinyl records and Rhodes electric pianos.

Promotion – QuickTime files, screenshots of your finished project, teaser videos, stuff for your reel… just anything you’ll be using specifically for promoting your work.

Scripts – A MUST for editors using Avid’s script-based editing functionality, but great for anyone getting even the most barbaric of scripts from a producer.

Slates – I like having a separate folder for Photoshop-generated slates that go at the beginning of a video (for broadcast), but you can certainly make this a subfolder in Graphics.

Sponsors – Logos, logos, logos!

Xport – Whenever anything is exported directly out of Avid Media Composer, it is sent here. Videos, graphics, audio mixes… everything, no exceptions. Inside this folder I create many subfolders – one for YouTube uploads, one for screen grabs, and so on.

(Note – Please feel free to change these to suit your own needs.)

Now, WHY do all this? Simple. Pretend it’s 2021. You want to get into your 2015 project and work on it as if time didn’t pass and everything was still there. Well, now it is! Did you get a new computer since then? Of course you did. But before you did so, you dragged all your years worth of work onto an external hard drive, and then back onto your new computer’s drive. Cool! It’s like it never left.

So that’s it for starters. I work in a collaborative broadcast environment where an editor can go on vacation for two weeks and I need IMMEDIATE access to his files. Using this structure, I know exactly where to go—and I’ve done so recently with a project that dated back to 1996! Whammo—found the thing and was using it within minutes.

Hope this helps!

A leader if the Avid ACA, I’ve been in the entertainment business for 30 years, 25 of them as editor and story editor. Primary genres have been PBS documenraries, TV shows and independent films - hundreds of hours of programming - all made with Avid Media Composer. I’ve also many years as an educator, writing curriculum for film schools, producing tutorials and user group outreach.