The “completely random Final Cut Studio stuff” blog I’m Not Bruce yesterday posted a little entry called Clients don’t understand Container Formats. It’s one of the most identifiable client-related posts I’ve read, anywhere, in some time. It also contains the best analogy I’ve come across to help explain to a client exactly why you have to know a bit more about that file deliverable they need … i.e., you need a bit more information than a .mov file. I’m Not Bruce tells clients “.mov, .mkv, .avi and others are containers, which mean they’re like sandwiches….and not all sandwiches are good.”

We’ve all been in the situation where a job is finishing and the client asks for a QuickTime of the finished edit. When you inevitably follow up and ask them exactly what kind of QuickTime they need you’re met with a blank stare. Or maybe they are quick to respond, “Oh, a .mov file of course.” After that it might begin a conversation about how .mov is just a wrapper, or container, for what is the most important part of the file—the part any editor needs to be most concerned with, the codec.

The idea of a codec is often quite foreign to the client. H.264 is obviously an established standard for web delivery, but I’ve had experiences where the client needed a master file as a deliverable and had no idea what that master format needed to be, other than a .mov file. Further research into what they needed revealed it had to be a ProRes, DNxHD or XDCAM file. It was good to discover this, as we didn’t want the client to deliver the wrong file format and miss a deadline. After quite a bit of discussion and examination of files in Final Cut Pro, they finally understood the difference between the wrapper and the codec.

If only I had had this post about Container Formats. I won’t reveal all he talks about as, it’s worth it to click over and read the whole thing. But I’ll leave you with this tasty morsel:

You’ve specified that you want a sandwich (video file), with white bread (container format) but you have yet to tell me what kind of sandwich you want (codec).

Here’s hoping that will make it a bit easier for even the most non-technical client to understand. Or at least they’ll understand why you need more information to make their file, even though they might not be able to give you exactly what you need.