Final Cut Pro Timecode Breaks

This post is mainly for users of Final Cut, and people who need to import footage via a miniDV tape. Digital cameras do not have this issue.

Following on from my previous post on how to make Final Cut Proxy files sometimes the hardest part of editing in Final Cut isn’t actually the editing itself. When importing footage from a miniDV tape you have a high chance of hitting an error screen (below) due to having a timecode break in the tape.

Your reaction to this pop up. Every. Single. Time.

But what is a Timecode Break?

This question is a very common question when a user gets the error message. Often followed by “how do I fix it?”

To put it simply, a timecode break is a break in the timecode. Okay, okay, maybe there’s a bit more. So in the camera the area (normally top left/right corner) that reads 00:00:00;00 is the timecode – that is hours, minutes, seconds, and frames respectively. What happens is when you have recorded some footage these numbers change to the last frame that was recorded. Now we usually like to playback the section that we just recorded – which is totally fine and acceptable.

However! The error arises when the playback has finished and you begin to continue to record footage. What happens is where you stop the tape after the playback is not before the last frame of the tape.

What do I mean exactly?

Okay, so you have a new tape in the camera and you record yourself playing the harp. When you stop the tape, the timecode reads 00:03:48;13 which means you have a 3 minute, 48 second, and 13 frame clip. Now when you were playing, you missed a note but aren’t too sure if you can pick it up on the playback so you rewind and play the footage. When the footage finishes, the timecode reads --:--:--;--. Luckily the note you missed can’t be heard, but you want to make things interesting. You’re going to film another angle of the song and cut between them. When you press record, the timecode starts from 00:00:00;00 again. That is the timecode break.

Okay so I know what it is but why the error?

Well what happens is when you begin to record again and the timecode begins at 00:00:00;00 again, instead of continuing from the last frame of the last clip. Now when you tell Final Cut (or any editing programme for that matter) to im port the section of 00:00:00;00 to 00:03:48;13 of the tape (the first play) you will receive the error because when the recording began at 00:00:00;00 a second time round, the timecode has doubled up.

What this means is when you specify an area of footage to import as a clip, Final Cut will find two instances of the same timecode, and won’t know which to import. Pretty much it pack up and doesn’t import anything after the error.

How do I fix it then?

Well there are a few ways to fix, or prevent (I prefer prevent) a timecode break in the tape.

Option One – Blacking a Tape

So as the name suggests, it means you blackout the entire tape. To do so, you just record in one long shot with the lens cap on. What this does is writes on the tape a continuous timecode. So when it’s complete, you just rewind to the beginning and tape over the black.

Pros:

  • Simple to do
  • No effort required

Cons:

  • Takes realtime of the tape duration
  • Needs to be completed well in advance of shooting (especially with multiple tapes)
  • Head and tape wear out

Option Two – Run in and out footage

Prior to calling action, allow the tape to record for 5-10 seconds as well as before you call cut. What this allows you to do is when you playback the footage, you have a little leeway to record over. This is my preferred method if I have to playback the footage.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy

Cons:

  • Need to remember to allow for the extra footage before stopping the recording
  • Excess footage equalling more tapes

Option Three – Dubbing Tape

When you realise that you’ve created a timecode break you can re-record the tape onto another tape without the timecode. What this creates is a duplicate tape with a new continuous timecode – rather than a broken one.

Pros:

  • Saves you from manual capturing (not the same as log and capture)

Cons:

  • Lengthy process
  • Must be able to record onto tape from another device
  • Need extra tapes

Have a flip through your manual and search for a feature called End Search. What this does is eliminates (most of the time) the timecode breaks. It actually searches for the last section of your tape that has footage, and continues the timecode.

Pros:

  • No need to record over footage
  • Allows you to review footage safely

Cons:

  • Subject to device availability

How to fix a timecode break…

The first option to fix a timecode break error is to use the dubbing option as above. However, as stated this is a lengthy process as you need to recapture every tap continuously – even the outtakes.

The other option is to log the clips individually setting the in and out points and logging that clip. You must repeat this for every timecode break. This process is also lengthy but less consuming than re-dubbing every tape (especially if you have only one break).

However…

The best option to not have to face this is to not get a timecode break in the first place. I understand it’s hard to do but sometimes its just good practice.

I have the ritual of not watching footage – a mixture of past timecode break experiences and maximise shooting time. This can make some people annoyed when you tell them to do the shot another time when you could review it and actually know if you need to do a reshoot. The other method is, as above, is to record a 10 second filler before and after the footage to record over if you must watch your recordings.

You may also encounter an error if you try to capture from the beginning of the tape (i.e. 00:00:00;00). To avoid this, film some colour bars at the beginning for 10 to 20 seconds.

Further Reading