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How to Make a Master Video File

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Every video creator needs to realize this truth: It’s critical to export a master video file whenever you complete a project.

Even though it’s important, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re currently doing it.

I’ve talked to folks who make a video, upload it directly to YouTube, then delete their project files from their computer to free up space — retaining basically nothing except the YouTube version.

And they don’t even have that video. YouTube does.

When I hear folks tell me they do this, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard — very disturbing.

I’m fairly confident that YouTube has a long (and profitable) future ahead of them. But what if something goes wrong? What if YouTube goes out of business? What if someone accidentally pushes a wrong button somewhere and a certain YouTube account gets deleted and all the videos disappear forever?

Like I said, it probably wouldn’t happen, but why risk it?

Everyone needs a master video file for every completed video project. Making a master is a fundamental thing to do.

That said, I still sometimes get questions about it. My goal here is to make it clear how (and why) you can export a master.

What is a master video file?

The master video file is the full resolution, full quality version of your final edited video.

In other words, you’ve gone through the editing process. You’ve completed your project, and now you’re thinking “I’m done.” (Good for you! Take a moment to celebrate, because plenty of folks never even get to this point…)

Now you export a master version of your video.

Because it’s a full resolution, full quality version, the master video file size is usually huge. It can’t help but be huge because it’s likely not very compressed. This is a good thing. Compression reduces quality, so you don’t want much of it here.

Now that you have this master video file, what do you do with it? First of all, you’ll retain it forever. You’ll archive it, catalog it, and transcode copies of it for delivery to your viewers, clients, etc. It’s the perfect original. Think of it like a valuable asset. Treasure it.

Why you should always export a master video file

Of course, I’ve already mentioned the possibility of websites not being around in the future. If your only copies of videos are in other people’s hands (virtual or otherwise), that’s pretty risky.

You should always have your own copy of the master video file at your home or office, and if you’re following good media management habits, you should also have another copy of the master off-site somewhere.

Some folks ask, “Why not just keep the original project files? This is better than a master video file because I can edit the original video if I need to…”

I agree that retaining the original project files and media is a good idea, because yes, it’s flexible and easy to change.

But it’s not a good idea to keep only the project files and media, because project file formats change. When you try to open that project file 10 years later, you might find that you can’t open it anymore.

Your only hope will be that some genius programmer will have created a converter you can buy. How likely will this be? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that the rest of the world will have moved on to other project file formats, and yours will be a forgotten memory from the distant past.

That’s a brick wall you might not be able to run through.

Another reason you should have a master: Sometimes people want to use your video in a project they’re making. This means they’ll want a high quality source. Master file to the rescue!

You don’t want to hand them a highly compressed, web-quality version of the video if you can help it.

And finally, your future self might need the video for something your current self doesn’t know about. Do your future self a favor and make a master video file. (Your future self will thank you for it.)

Why do so many people not bother making master video files? My experience is that it usually comes down to three reasons:

  1. They don’t realize they should make them. Ignorance in this case, is not bliss. Too many things can go wrong if you don’t have a master. If you’re still reading, hopefully this doesn’t apply to you.
  2. They don’t want to use so much hard drive space (master files are large files, so it’s understandable — though still not a wise choice). Hard drive space is cheaper than it’s ever been, and it’s only getting cheaper. The smart choice is to make the master file even though it’s big.
  3. They don’t want to take the time to make master video files. Video already takes so much time, why devote even more time to it? The answer to this question should hopefully be clear now.

I hope at this point, you can see that these reasons aren’t good reasons. We need to make masters of all the videos we create.

How to make a master video file

Now that we know what a master is and why we need one — it’s time to make one.

Every piece of software is different, but the steps to make a master video are typically similar.

In Final Cut Pro X, this is how to do it:

  1. Make sure the project you’re working on is open in the timeline and that the timeline is active.
  2. In the menu, click File > Share > Master File…
  3. master video file

  4. Click the Settings Pane and make any adjustments. (I usually create masters with the “Apple ProRes 422” codec.)
  5. Click “Next” and give the master file a name and location on your hard drive.
  6. Wait until the master video file is created.

That’s it. It’s not a difficult process. Sure, it takes some time, but it’s worth it.

Please make a commitment to yourself (current self and future self), that you’ll make and retain a master video file for all your projects. Consider it non-optional.

It’s a simple, important step to make a master video file. I’m always surprised how many people don’t do it. Hopefully if you’re one of those folks, this will convince you it’s important enough to start. It’s one of the many good habits to build as a video creator.

There’s a lot that goes into getting to the master video and a lot that comes after it. If you want more helpful video information, take a moment to subscribe to my newsletter.

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20 thoughts on “How to Make a Master Video File

  1. Hi Izzy,

    Great article by the way. I know you use Final Cut primarily but do you know a good method or setting for exporting a master file out of Premiere Pro?

    Thanks!

    1. Looking on a PC, you would choose File>Export>Media, in the encoding options, choose AVI (uncompressed), and it will export a full quality, uncompressed version.

      On a Mac, not sure. :-) My mac is at work at the moment, and I’m working out of home.

      Izzy, this is a great article… file/media management is my biggest concern when I think about my future self, and this is a great reminder to all those I too have run into that don’t take care to have something to work with in the future. I keep unedited footage, project files, and an uncompressed final version of each project I do…. it does take a lot of storage space, but I know it will pay off later.

      1. Neil, thanks for the feedback and the Adobe Premiere tip! :)

        To make master on a Mac in Premiere, a video creator might want to choose File>Export>Media, then “Quicktime” for the format and “Apple ProRes 422” for the video codec (if you have it). I like the ProRes422 codec for mastering because I think the codec will likely be around for a long time. And master video files definitely need to be readable in the future.

  2. Excellent advice. The only problem is that this requires you to have massive storage space. I create three ~50 minute videos each week. These are “shared” out of FCP as ProRes 422 masterfiles. Each file is 110- 125GB for a total of roughly 360GB per week. It doesn’t take long ( 10 weeks) to fill up a 4TB storage hard drive. If I keep these “forever” I will need 4 or 5 4TB drives per year. And this doesn’t even take redundancy into consideration. In my case I only really need to store the masters for a year or less. So I can just recycle my storage drives.

    1. Hi John — Thanks for the comment! And yes, it sounds like your masters are “disposable” after a year, but I want to be careful communicating to other visitors. Most video creators don’t want their videos to be disposable. They want to retain them and go back to them in the future if they need to.

      Regarding lots of storage — This is very true with video. I’ve covered my archiving process in the past. I buy lots of hard drives and these days, LTO tapes as well for long term archiving. I consider these drives and tapes part of the cost of video.

  3. I have wondered about this. Thanks for the Article. My goal is an image file for a DVD. So i skip this and go straight to the DVD. I feel i can re-edit (to shorten) and share to Youtube if i need to, but maybe it would be better to make a master file and then edit that for uploading to where i need to.

    1. The best practice would be to make a master of every project. DVD’s are highly compressed versions of the video, so it makes sense to have a master too. The master can become the source of all the other transcoded versions of the video.

      I hope that helps… :)

  4. Good elementary article … But you forgot to mention one very important and essential point.

    Always save master files to an External Drive or as in Semi and Pro Production, save to RAID or SAN.

    Regards

    Dean Reynolds

  5. You’re so right Izzy, I made the mistake of copying my so-called masters to DVD (6 yrs back) and now they play back with error messages relating to disk damage & skips etc. Unfortunately I didn’t have the knowledge or foresight to save them as master copies. Anyway, “once bitten twice shy” as they say. I’ll definitely take your professional advice for the future. Thanks heaps!

    1. Bill, thanks for the “case study”. :)

    2. Bill,
      I am positive that the last person to say ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ was George Michael, back when he was still in Wham..
      :-)
      (you’ll hear it again around Christmas)

  6. I miss the hint to remove the render and proxy files. especially because the reason for this article was “to make space”. Or am I wrong?

    1. That’s a good way to make additional space, but it’s not the purpose of the article. The purpose of the article is to share what a master video file is, why it’s important, and how to make one. :)

  7. Great idea. Fortunately I learned to do this when I started taking video. Another good practice is to create an archive file of the memory card from your camera. This way the card can be reused and you have a fully functioning source file to return to in the future.

    1. Another possibility to consider is take your library and dump all render and proxy files. You can also take a quick look to see if there’s some trash files you can get rid of, after that just store the Library file which you can bring up at anytime in the future re-render it and if you want even make some changes. This process works really nice when you have a client come back a year later and state he would like to change a few things including prices. That’s just one example. There of course are many more. Also a lot of us have old USB 2 drives that probably are not used much. But they can make a good place for long term storage. If needed just transfer them back to a faster USB 3 Drive and start editing.

      1. Hi Grant, yes you can do this, but I always recommend retaining the Master File too. Here’s why: it’s easy to open a Final Cut Pro X Library file right now, but we don’t know what the future holds. Will we be able to open it and make edits 10 years from now? Maybe, maybe not. Just in case, it’s a good idea to retain both the Master and the Library/Project files.

        I have old Final Cut Pro project files from many versions ago that I simply can’t open anymore. I wish I would have made Master Video Files back then, but I didn’t have the foresight to do it at the time. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

        Anyway, thanks for the comment! :)

  8. Izzy, thank you for providing such a clear concise explanation of master files and how to create them. Question: could you explain the role of the “consolidate files” option in media management? Should this be done before or after one creates a master file? Are media files actually being moved when one chooses this option? If so, what happens if you are using the same media (simultaneously) in more than one project?

  9. I always save a copy of my finished videos along with my clips on an external hard drive. I’ve never saved it as a master file as you suggest. Is there a difference in saving what I have made “as is” versus the master file? Also, I agree with the reasoning, since my OS was updated and my FCPX had not been, I eventually had to delete the old version to install the new and a few hundred projects were not converted, or convert-able, so they were lost, although I have the original clips and final projects on my external drive.

  10. Thanks Izzy for this How to “Make a Master Video File” I have ben doing this for my videos, wish i could reply to you more, thanks again and have a merry christmas this December 2014 bless!!!

  11. Hello Izzy!
    Thank you so munch for that information. I have been playing making promo video for my shows (I’m a comedian) and that was something I was wondering about when I finish my last promo project.
    You are the best!

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