For your Bovine Mastication and Consideration: FCPX Can Work
COW Library : Creative Community Conversations (was FCPX Debates) : Charlie Austin : For your Bovine Mastication and Consideration: FCPX Can Work
Recently I came across a post on the COW forums asking whether perceptions of FCP X had changed in the year since its release. I added my response, and a couple days later, I got an email from Tim Wilson asking if I'd mind expanding on my thoughts for an article. What follows are my uh... expanded thoughts. This is by no means a complete review, and I am by no means an FCP X expert -- just a working editor trying to see if X works...
A bit about me... I cut trailers and TV spots for features, DVD release campaigns for features and TV shows -- that sort of thing. I've been editing full time for around 15 years, and for 5 years or so previous to that was a sound editor and post production mixer. Before that, I worked in the production side of the business, location audio, grip, gaffer... I've worn a lot of hats. I was also a beta tester for versions 2 and 3 of FCP and was one of the first, or maybe even the first person, in Hollywood anyway, to finish a TV spot cut (off line) on FCP. I cut it on Version 1 point something or other, and I think it was for Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo. Glamorous huh? But I digress...
The subject at hand is FCP X. I was among the multitude of "pros" who eagerly opened X when it first appeared, stared at it in horror and confusion, pressed a couple buttons, watched it crash, and then downloaded the latest offerings from Avid and Adobe to see what I'd eventually be working with. They hadn't really changed much. Some months later I downloaded the free trial of FCP X 10.0.3. Went through the same process, but I spent a little more time with it, and it took a while longer for it to crash. I was disillusioned. Then 10.0.4 came out, and with it 7toX, so I figured what the hell, and bought it. I got a spot that I had cut in 7 imported to X and started to mess with it.
That was around a month ago and I've gotta say, FCP X is pretty awesome. Yeah, it's sometimes sluggish, has some bugs and is currently missing a few key features, but that'll change. A bunch of stuff that FCP 7 users like me are used to is done differently too, but that just requires learning where things are. Not a big deal for me. I'm still primarily cutting stuff in 7, but I've got 2 projects... uh... events... living in X right now. Real ones, with lots of sequences, er... I mean projects... and clients and deadlines, etc. It's a little scary since they're close to finishing. That'll be fun. In any case, I won't rehash all the missing things, and bugs we all know about. I'm confident features will reappear and bugs will be fixed. Now, if you believe Apple has abandoned the "pro" market, which I don't, then nothing I say matters, but here goes...
First, the Event Library/Viewer
I didn't initially understand it and therefore, didn't like it. Turns out I was wrong. Once I realized that Events are like projects in 7, and that Keyword Collections are analogous to bins, I easily organized my stuff just as I had before.
Hey look, bins!
I actually think Keyword Collections are way better than bins. Here are a couple of reasons, and I'm sure there are others. I know many editors like to make sequences, or bins of subclips for selects. I don't, I just make lots of detailed markers in my source clips. In 7, I have to either jump from mark to mark in the source viewer, or read the markers in the bin, find the one I want, and double click it to see it. In X, the markers are searchable and just show up in the Event Viewer window ready to preview and cut in.
Way less clicking involved. If you like to make sequences or bins of subclips, that seems easier in FCP X too. Just skim or play your source clip, set in and outs on what you like, and hit F to mark that range as a favorite instead of cutting it into a sequence. When you're done, select the clip and use the filter menu to view only favorites. All you see are your "selects." Really easy.
As everyone knows FCP X has no source window. The horror! Once again, I thought this was a terrible idea. The main reason being that I often need to overcut spots with new source material as features evolve. "How will I ever find a match frame?!" Well, here's how... CMD-1 to see source, CMD-2 to see timeline -- in the same window. It's actually easier to see if you've got the right frame or not. Who knew? I'm waiting on the return of match frame replace edit. Currently you can only replace from the start or end of the target clip, but that'll come back I'm sure. Supposedly they're going to implement a source window again, and I really hope they don't mess with the "new" way of viewing things because It's growing on me.
I've never been a huge fan of scrubbing, so I thought this was for sure the dumbest thing ever. It's not. First, you can turn it off, and second, being able to skim through a feature and just hit play from wherever the skimmer is, is really nice -- way nicer than dragging the play head around. It also acts as an in point for an edit in the timeline just like the play head, which is a pretty quick way to do a rough cut. I also hated the fact that I/O points clear when you click on a clip/filmstrip in the viewer (source). Hated it! Then I realized that you don't need to click things. X is all about hovering, baby. You can also save I/O points as favorites if you want, so that's become a non-issue.
The Project Library was another leap for me. I mean, I get that Projects are sequences, that you can duplicate them a million times for versioning, organize them in folders... essentially everything I did in 7 was the same, but why did all those stupid giant filmstrips have to be there?!
The Project Library
Then, accidentally, I discovered that you can skim through them. OK, kinda nice. A little more poking around and hey, you can play them too! That's cool. I often need to look through old versions of spots to grab a shot or something, now I don't have to open it in the timeline to see what's in it. I also think the multiple open timeline navigation will be improved. Contrary to popular misinformation X does do it, it's just a weird back and forth button/menu thing now. Like a web browser. Whatever, it works. ;-)
THE EVIL TRACKLESS TIMELINE
On to the big one, The Evil Trackless Timeline... LOVE it! Seriously. I'll be honest, I really don't get Storylines, reminds me of old skool Avid cutting. I've come up with a brilliant solution though -- I don't use them. Well, unless I really have to for a transition or something. I'll reserve judgment here, at least 'til I figure them out a bit better. For now, I just cut everything in as connected clips and use the primary storyline as a separator between the A/V sections of my timeline. Just like 7.
But the magnetic timeline is great! I've always been annoyed having to carefully assign my audio and video when I cut something into a sequence so as not to drop it on top of something that's there. And I hate playing "Track Tetris" when I want to slip or copy a bunch of clips from one place to another. In X... just cut it in, no stopping to figure out where it should go. And Just like 7, you can pile up as many video tracks as you want. Unlike 7 you can create adjustment layers, and do other really cool stuff. Honestly, it's evolving and takes some getting used to, but it makes cutting stuff into sequences way, way faster than anything I've ever used. And yes, you can cut in specific tracks from a multichannel split audio source really easily.
Now, as a former audio guy, I like organizing my timeline. Initially I was in the camp -- fueled by internet hyperbole -- that this wasn't possible anymore. Which I -- again not having really used the app -- hated. Now, having actually used FCP X, I realize how much FUD is floating around. It's ridiculous. In a recent Variety article, the head of the ACE *tech committee* said; "Pros need dedicated dialogue, music and sound effects tracks, and Final Cut Pro doesn't support that yet." Yes, pros do need them, and... he's wrong. Why? Roles.
Roles are really freaking cool. Roles make tracks superfluous. And they haven't even scratched the surface of their possibilities. Take a couple minutes to assign roles to your clips, and it doesn't matter where they are in the timeline. There's no reason to waste time carefully arranging (audio) tracks anymore. Soloing and muting is super easy even without roles because you solo the clip(s) not the track. But you can also solo and mute roles, no matter where they are in the timeline. It's so easy it's kind of mind boggling. This coming from someone who typically has between 16 and 24 tracks of audio in my timeline for a basic cut. And you can export roles for stems, and there are apps (well, at least one, X2Pro) that will export AAF's and group the roles for mixing.
I have an Effects project in 7 with close to two thousand clips, all organized nicely in bins. They're just loose in one folder in the Finder, so using the media browser in X kinda sucked. I got the project into X (7toX), all the bins became KW collections so it's exactly the same as it was.
I spent about 15 minutes assigning roles (mono fx, stereo fx, etc) to everything... EZ. Now if I want to mute or solo my gazillion tracks of fx in the timeline... click one button. If I want to slide a couple fx in relation to one another I don't have to move all the fx next to each other to find them, or scrub around to see what's what in my timeline, I just highlight the fx. I go back to 7 and curse it now. lol :-)
Hey, which tracks are effects?
Ah, here they are!
If you prefer to have all your music/effects/dialog etc together, I think Roles will be able to eventually do it for you. All they need is a button that groups clips by Role in the timeline... and I can't see any reason they won't do that. Everything would just get automatically organized. How cool would (will) that be?
There's a lot of great stuff in X, and I could go on and on, but I'll stop writing this novel now. I guess my point is, FCP X doesn't suck. At all. It's not iMovie either. I can't do a thing with iMovie. :-) And I'm not some wide eyed evangelist, I just forced myself to work through the "WTF is this?!" moments that I treated as show stoppers when messing with it earlier. Now, having worked with early, buggy, sluggish, feature incomplete versions of FCP, I'm probably a little more forgiving than a lot of folks, but don't let that stop you. I'm back to the point where I can just cut without thinking about how the app works, and I'm really liking it.
Don't listen to internet opinions though -- especially mine. ;-) It's not all roses and kittens but give it a chance, 'cause when this thing gets dialed in it's gonna be a killer. I can tell you from experience that the original version of Final Cut was way more clunky and buggy than this, and look where we are now! Playing with it on a fake project for a few hours or days doesn't count though, dive in head-first, chickens! If you don't like it, then don't use it. But if you think FCP X is not a pro app, you're totally, completely, unequivocally wrong. IMHO of course...
Oh, FCP X does crash now and again, and as everyone knows, there's no save command. Idiots! :-) But here's the thing, I have not lost a single edit. If I was trimming a clip and it crashed, that trim was still done when I reopened it. And *that* is amazing.