FCPX For Broadcast News
COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro X Tutorials : Michael Garber : FCPX For Broadcast News
When I was 16, I knew I wanted to be "in entertainment." That, of course, can mean anything. My father was a friend with one of the co-anchors at what was then the local CBS affiliate, WJXT, in Jacksonville, FL. As I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for my career, he kindly let me sit in for an afternoon to watch how the evening news was put together.
While there, I had the fortune of meeting an old-school tape editor named Larry Dickerson. I marveled at how quickly and precisely he chose shots on his Sony RME-450. He edited to the rhythm of the unrecorded news reporter's voice, which he knew like an old song. His style as an editor was staccato, fast, and involved a lot of snapping. It was exciting to watch, especially since the piece was airing minutes after he finished it and the co-anchor would be doing the VO live on air. This moment in time has stuck with me to this day.
I've been cutting news stories for different PBS shows since 2003. While it's not my main gig, I've retained one client, Saul Gonzalez, a news reporter and producer, for ten years. He's incredibly talented and is always interested in going the extra distance with his stories. He's also a great writer, which is so important in crafting a good news story -- and it makes my job as an editor not just easier, but a lot of fun.
I had my workflow down to a science in FCP7. In the beginning, it was a pain moving over to X. But, in time, I created a new workflow, which has benefits that are unique to FCPX [Ed. note: Michael is using FCPX 10.0.8] -- and, here, I'll share them with you.
Saul comes from the established ENG world: Shoot, screen your footage on a logging station, transcribe your interviews, log timecode interview selects and b-roll selects, and then write a script. Having all this work done before the edit session is key to efficient cutting.
Once the script has been approved, I'll get TC in and out points for the interviews. Saul lets me know which areas of b-roll to cull from. But the actual shot choices are generally up to me.
DAY ONE BEGINS! SCRIPT WITH INTERVIEW TIMECODES
We have two days to edit an up-to-10-minute segment. This has become the ideal amount of time, as it allows us to spend a little extra time fine-tuning the details, color correcting, and balancing audio. Generally, it's a very full two days.
First, I launch Event Manager to create a grouping for the show I'm working on. Since I already have one set up, I choose "Religion & Ethics." Now I'm just focused on that set of Events and Projects in X. I have my countdown, slate, and basic keywords pre-loaded.
"RELIGION & ETHICS" SET IN EVENT MANAGER X
RELIGION & ETHICS TEMPLATE ACTIVE IN FCPX
I select the template event and hit CMD-D to duplicate the event onto my work drive, which is labeled 5WE 6TB. You can also opt-click and drag the event onto the work drive. I then rename the event based on the name of the story.
The footage I receive is usually in great shape. But sometimes there can be issues. In this scenario, the P2 camera was set to span all clips, so FCPX (and every other NLE for that matter) wanted to bring them in as long clips. Essentially it saw each P2 card as its own tape with all the separate shots joined together.
In the old days, I'd place the fully captured tapes in separate timelines and cut out sections I'd need from there, separating selects on V2.
I don't want to work with spanned clips in FCPX because of the skimming and keywording features. I've determined that finding shots is easiest when they are captured as separate clips (DSLR-style), which is pretty typical these days.
I try not to spend too much time fussing about these roadblocks. The editing process needs to move quickly and I want to maximize my time spent in the timeline.
For this particular workaround, I had to encode one card at a time. After each reel was brought in, I quit and restarted FCPX, which flushed its memory of what reel was previously brought in -- thus allowing for separate clips. In the end, I couldn't avoid some spanned clips, but overall, it was enough to allow me to work efficiently.
THE IMPORT SCREEN IN FCPX SHOWING ALL 6 SPANNED REELS
Once the media is in, I perform a batch clip rename. This is based on an abbreviation for the story and the reel name followed by a counter.
SELECTING ALL CLIPS TO BE RENAMED
NAMING PRESET BASED ON A STORY CODE, REEL NAME, AND COUNTER
THE CLIPS ARE ALL RENAMED
Then, I keyword. Most of this has been covered on the FCPX forums here and is where I've learned how to keyword. (Thanks Tony, Bill, Oliver, and Jeremy, et al!)
My keywording strategy is to work in passes. I start with general keywords and then go back for more specific ones. The first three keywords I add are "NAT-SOT," "Interview," and "Standup." Since I already have these in my template, I simply drag selections of clips into these categories.
Then I go for my secondary pass with more refined keywords such as "name of location," "name of person," "signage," etc. It doesn't need to get too complicated for this type of work. I prefer to work in filmstrip mode with the clips minimized (shift-z to minimize or "fit all").
MORE SPECIFIC KEYWORD COLLECTIONS
Next, I add roles. This takes the place of panning the b-roll and interviews to the left and VO to the right (the "old" way).
All interviews get an INT audio role. B-roll gets a NAT/SOT role. VO gets its own role. I do this so that I can export a multi-track QT in the last step. This ensures that the network can repurpose the b-roll for future news stories without interview audio or VO overlapping.
ROLE EDITOR WITH SETTINGS FOR NEWS DELIVERY
SETTING ROLES ON CLIPS IN THE INFO TAB UNDER "BASIC VIEW"
It was an "aha moment" when I figured it out, and it's a great way to separate the channels and not pan the audio. It's key to working with audio in a trackless environment. But, Apple, please create some way to organize roles in the timeline!
Now, if I ever need to add music to a news story, it can actually air in stereo, as opposed to panning it off to one channel. I just have to remember to set roles at the beginning. It's such a new addition to my workflow that I often forget -- especially if I get new footage in the middle of an edit session. (Maybe writing an article about it will help me remember?)
After the footage has been organized, I focus on the VO. We used to record the VO at my office, but today, Saul records it at home on his audio recorder with a good mic or at a separate recording studio and emails it to me. Since I used to have a TC selects list of best VO takes, reviewing the VO takes a little longer than it used to because I'm screening it for the first time.
The file comes to me as an MP3. Once imported, FCPX automatically converts it to an AIFF in the background. I love that.
A typical VO strategy in FCPX might be to favorite the ranges of VO and then edit those favorites into your timeline. I decided against favoriting VO selects as I find it much easier and more precise to pre-edit them in a timeline. This is based on my FCP7 workflow. I will always need to remove a loud breath and cut a few different takes together. I like to be precise with the VO edit, and I need the flexibility of the timeline for this.
I create a new compound clip and add the VO to the timeline. All VO and VO compounds go under the keyword... wait for it... VO.
My trimming strategy is to watch the audio waveforms during playback and hit CMD-B to blade the in and out points. Then, I hit LEFT ARROW, C to select the clip, and CMD-OPT-UP ARROW to move the clip out of the primary.
VO SELECTS ARE NOW CONNECTED CLIPS
Now that we have the ability to edit audio down to the sample, I can easily remove a breath, a vowel, or a word. I'll cut these out of the primary storyline so that I don't change the overall length of the original VO. If the clip needs a dissolve or a gap, I'll turn them into a secondary storyline. This has a nice side effect in that it keeps the particular sound bite as a whole unit, representing the graph of narration it came from in the script.
SPLITTING HAIRS WITH VO EDITS
Now that the VO is cut down, I select all the connected clips and secondaries. They get copied and pasted into the main timeline.
EDITED VO SELECTS COPIED INTO THE NEW PROJECT ALONG WITH A SLATE
When I was first testing FCPX, I tried editing with the audio in the primary storyline since the VO is literally the spine of the story. I found that this method doesn't work in news editing because you can't edit with the keyboard-only outside of the primary.
Now on to editing! I like to start with the interview clips. This method has two benefits. It brackets the B-ROLL sections and it will provide me with the length of the project. We'll know early on how many minutes need to be cut.
When I'm working with interviews, I'll generally move between filmstrip view and list view in the event browser so that I can see what timecode the clip starts at. It's also easier to skim longer interviews when in list mode.
It would be nice to see TC on clips somehow when they are in filmstrip view. It would also be nice to have a better HUD for TC in X. I'd love for TC to be a metadata switch so that you could turn on burn-in TC through the info-pane. That would be a huge time-saver.
With all the VO in the new timeline, I insert edit (W) in all the interview bites into the primary straight from the TC labeled in the script. These "w"edge (thank you, Steve Martin) between the VO segments and when complete, shows me both an approximate length of the story and also shows me how many b-roll sections I need to fill.
If there are a lot, then I know I need to show up an hour early the next morning. Otherwise, it'll be a normal second edit day.
DAY ONE COMPLETE! VO AND INTERVIEWS CUT TOGETHER
Ok! It's 9AM on the second edit day. This day is all about b-roll and being creative.
Going back to what I learned at WJXT, I keep things moving quickly as there's a lot to fill and limited time to do it. Now that I have good keyword collections and I'm familiar with the footage, I can work efficiently. The skimmer and event browser are a great benefit here.
I have to work fast, so I have learned to edit "instinctively." It's about working with my knowledge of the footage from the previous day in tandem with an instinctual understanding of how the cuts should look and perform when placed against the VO. It's based first on content and then on what is available. In the best case, the shots follow a certain rhythm or flow, which comes from the motion of the shot, position of interview subjects, framing, and more.
Ultimately, Saul is the man with the plan and it's great to have the time to sit down together so that we can fine tune the edit. I work alone from 9AM until about 2PM when Saul comes in to screen the first pass of the cut. We'll usually lock the cut by 4:30PM.
AN ALMOST COMPLETE TIMELINE
I wrap up with audio mixing and color correction. It's always a balancing act (pun intended) trying to get the VO at the right level when mixed with the NAT sound.
Going back to my first time in FCPX, I was confused because the meters go +6. But after testing levels on my analog meter and in FCP 7, I figured out that dialogue should still land between -12 and -6 for broadcast.
Next, I add an adjustment layer and throw two separate Broadcast Safe filters on - one for chroma and one for luma. (Apple, please allow the broadcast filter do both so I don't have to add two filters.)
CLEANED UP TIMELINE
Adjustment layers can be created as a template in Motion. I downloaded mine from the App Store for free. There are lots of them available online and can also be created in Motion on your own.
In my last step before exporting, I open the timeline index and check that I have properly set all the roles on all the different kinds of clips.
LAST-MINUTE FLIGHT CHECK
From there I share the file to a private Vimeo page for Saul to review and I also export the QT file at XDCAM HD with audio roles on separate tracks tracks. The client would prefer Prores, but I need to get the file as small as possible since I'm hobbled by a slow Internet upload speed.
I upload it to WNET's server. Four to five hours later, the edit is done! And no, I don't charge for upload time. Oh, Google Fiber, where are you when I need you?
In my most recent edit session, we needed to re-track some VO after the first cut had been reviewed. Saul recorded in a different room and the EQ of the new VO was a lot different than the original. Since I'm not a sound mixer, I was presented with a challenge.
I have no budget or time to send this out to a mixer to EQ the audio. In this case, FCPX's audio EQ match filter actually worked. The trick was that I needed to make a compound clip of the sections of new VO and then add the filter.
VO REVISIONS ADDED AND EQ MATCHED TO ORIGINAL VO
I feel very fortunate to have straddled three generations of editing while I was learning how to work as a professional editor. Going way back to the sound of a splicer whacking a frame mixed with the ballet-like movements required to perform a single film edit to the snapping of Larry Dickerson's experienced fingers and the click-click, cachunk-cachunk, whirrr of the BetaSP decks performing an assemble edit, more than anything it's the rhythm of our work as editors that has changed.
So, why did I move to FCPX if my workflow in FCP7 was spot-on and time-tested? The answer: it's complicated.
For me, figuring out this new rhythm has taken some time and it's still changing as FCPX evolves. We're in an era of perpetual change. And, just when everything settles, it'll all change again! The key to success lies in how we adapt to change, and stay both nimble and flexible.
If you are working in FCP7 today and everything is working for you, that's great. But make sure you spend your evenings learning the other NLEs and workflows. Simply put, FCP7 will not work one day. It will be here sooner than you think.
As I hope this article lays it out, I've been able to leverage the benefits of the program so that they outweigh the negatives. And there are negatives.
FCPX is far from complete. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is an unfinished program. But, aren't they all? The key for me was to figure out how I could make it work for me so that my jobs run smoothly and my clients remain happy. I wouldn't use FCPX on every project. It currently seems to run at peak performance on shorter projects. While people are cutting long-form documentaries on it, I'm not ready to give it my thumbs up... yet.
My learning process took hundreds upon hundreds of after-work hours researching, reading blogs and articles, shooting fake projects, recutting actual projects and eventually dipping my toe with real projects. Because of my devotion to the brand that is Final Cut Pro, I feel the need to know everything I possibly can know, warts and all, so that I can sit down and start working without having to think about it. I also have faith that Apple's FCP engineers are working overtime to get the software up to snuff.
If I could invoice Apple for the time I spend writing bug reports and for the hair-replacement surgery I now need, I would gladly do it! It is by no means the perfect NLE for the time in which we live. In it's hey-day, FCP7 was close-to-perfect. It remains a very well-thought out, elegant piece of software, even given it's current limitations. FCPX has a long way to go. That day will come and I feel that metaphorically "starting in the mailroom" will help us all as the software advances.
At the time that I was creating my FCPX workflow, I felt that Premiere Pro CS6 was not an option. I look forward to trying Premiere Pro CC, as it seems to have matured to a point that I would work with it. The demise of FCP7 was devastating, but there has been so much development in all the major NLEs since then that it's become an exciting time for editors.
So buckle up, if you haven't already, and learn all the NLEs your brain can handle. But remember, to your clients, the tool should be invisible. To your audience, the story, with its own rhythm and flow, is all that matters. To you, the editor, the software tool you choose is crucial to your daily existence. It enables you to get paid and feed your family. At the end of the work day, your NLE and how you choose to use it is the most important decision you can make.
This news story for the weekly PBS series Religion & Ethics Newsweekly focuses on the struggles of Iraqi refugees who have been relocated to San Diego, a place that is a stark contrast to their homeland. Surprisingly, cities surrounding San Diego are home to a large Iraqi community. The story also shows how local Church-based support services provide aid and education to the refugees. Please be aware that some images may be disturbing.