Timecodes: An Introduction

If you’re reading this post you either:
(a) stumbled across it, will be bored by this technical mumbo-jumbo and read something more exciting, or

(b) are one of our clients who has footage we’ve given you with weird numbers on the bottom and want to know why this is and what it’s good for.

So, what is a timecode, then?

A timecode is basically the value of time at that exact moment in the video. If you think about your DVD player or, in Paul‘s case: a VCR, it’s the time displayed on the front of your machine as you play your movie.

Ok, but why is it on my footage?

In some cases, we’ve shot footage for you, the client, but are not sure which parts to keep and which to cut.

For example, we recently shot a number of interviews for a client in an industry we know nothing about. Since it’s important to get the right soundbites from the interviews, we need the clients input on which soundbites to use.

Without the use of timecodes, we would provide all the video to the client who would then need to write notes like:

“About 2/3 of the way through he starts saying ‘I think the strength of the company…’. Use that until about a minute later after he says: “…which is why it’ll be a good year for us.”

Ugh. That’s a lot of work for everyone involved and can be a really inefficient way of moving through the editing process.

Timecodes to the Rescue!

Instead of just providing the footage, we send off a version of the video with the timecode “burned in” (meaning, the time of the video appears on-screen).   Here’s a sample of what timecoded footage would look like:

Granted, this example is pretty straight forward, but if the client wanted to use a section of this clip, they could simply provide the following notes in an email:

05:06:25;12 to 05:06:31;17

Since the 05 (hours) doesn’t change and the last 2 digits (the frame) are unnecessary, it’s possible to simplify this even further to:

06:25 to 06:31

Now the editor has the exact moment in time that the client wants to use from the scene.

Why are the numbers so complicated looking?

They are pretty intimidating at first glance, see has how we’re used to our DVD player you web video player displaying just minutes and seconds (3:23).  The same still applies; it’s just that there’s more information now. So:

05:06:25:12 breaks down to 5 hours / 6 minutes / 25 seconds and 12 frames

When professional camera records video, it also keep track of the timecode in the background. Rather than the timecode starting from 0 at the beginning of each clip, there is a running timecode that keeps going with each clip recorded.  In the example video above, the camera just happened to be at the 5 hour, 6 minute mark when we shot that scene.


In closing, timecodes (while intimidating at first) can be a valuable tool to use when we’re working together on a project to help us get the product you want.

As always, if you ever have any questions regarding timecodes or any other procedure we use, ask away; we’re here to help as best we can.

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