It's Working for Me...Kind of: A Broadcast Editor's Guide to FCPX
COW Library : Apple Final Cut Pro X Debates : Mark Morache : It's Working for Me...Kind of: A Broadcast Editor's Guide to FCPX
I'm a shooter/editor. That means "Mark the editor" is very good at making "Mark the photographer" look good. At our show we produce single camera stories in the field. No pro-tools, no colorista. If it's not in the NLE, we live without it.
That being said, I've been dabbling in Final Cut Pro X since it came out, and I've actually edited several stories that have been broadcast. Yes... within weeks, I was putting stories on the air.
Is FCPX ready for prime time?
I'm going to lay out my basic workflow for a recent story. Apart from learning the new software, I've been forced to adopt new paradigms, and like most adopted children, they aren't always angels. They usually arrive with their own problems, and need love and attention, but they eventually come around, or you do.
I'm not going to deal with many of the technical specifics of using the software. You can get that from the manual. I'm going to discuss the mental gymnastics and back-handed workflow I adopted in order to get my stories done.
The subject of this edit: "The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Seattle." It's a book by a local author, giving you page after page of great tips for cheap food and fun in an entertaining way. It is a natural for our show. We meet him at our TV station for a quick interview in front of a green wall, then select three locations for our taping, where I shoot some "walk and talk" of him with our reporter, and capture some soundbites and b-roll at each location. The green wall gives me a chance to do some cool effects with FCPX, and who doesn't like to do cool effects?
In addition to the tape I shoot, I also pull out some file tape to illustrate some of his points. I also have a pdf of the book cover that I animate in Motion, as well as music from our production library.
We shoot HDcam video on sony HDW-730 video cameras. We edit using Sony's Xpri system, which is built on WIndows 2000, and hasn't been updated for at least 5 years, but that's another article. We have one seat of FCP6 on an old G5. I use that for ingesting my video in ProRes 422. I have a 17 minute interview in front of the green screen, another 18 minutes of footage we shot with the author at our three locations. That plus some file tape gives me about 70gb of media and I throw it onto a small firewire drive to edit on my MacBook Pro.
Final Cut Pro X, is a familiar but alien landscapeAt first glance, the user interface is pretty sexy. The colors and layout are very attractive. The windows are welcoming. The buttons make you want to press them to see what kind of magic they do. The event browser looks like where you'd expect to find the bins. There aren't bins as we know it, but if you have iPhoto, you will understand the concept of events.
The good thing about the event browser is that you have all of your media from all your events available at all time. This is also the bad thing about the event browser. Having everything at your fingertips forces you to be more organized. The way FCPX handles the events takes a little getting used to, but it makes sense. All of your mounted drives are listed in the event library window. If you've created any events on a drive, it will have a "Final Cut Events" folder on it with your media, or links to the media, and that shows up in the Event Library. So whether I need the footage or not, it's there. This makes a very good argument for having specific drives for specific clients or projects that have no overlap. I always create an event for each edit project.
It's time to import my footage.I have my event created now, so I drag and drop, or CMD-SHIFT-I to import my footage. There are some options in the import window. I previously ingested my assets using FCP6, so they live in my capture scratch folder on my firewire drive. I'm going to keep them there. I don't want to duplicate all of my media, so I make sure "Copy files to FC Events folder" is not clicked.
I've tried importing folders as keyword collections. It works well, and saves time. Since I'm not using FCPX for ingesting, I can organize and folder my assets in the finder as I wish. This can save you a couple of steps as it automatically assigns keywords to your assets based on the folder names, and creates keyword collections in your event.
The other options I keep turned off. I'm not going to create more media on my drive if I don't need to. If I was editing H.264 footage I might consider using the proxy, but only after I see that I'm having playback problems while editing. You can transcode or analyze your footage at any time. I've used H.264 footage in some FCPX projects without transcoding, and so far the playback has been stellar.
The keyword collections are not bins.
When you tag a clip or part of a clip with a keyword, FCPX automatically creates a keyword collection. Clicking the collection icon will show you all of the clips with that keyword. This way I can have clips which live in several places at once. I miss being able to throw clips in a bin at will. However, if I drag a clip into one of the keyword collection bins, it automatically assigns that keyword to the clip, and now that clip lives in the keyword collection with the other tagged clips. By the way, I like the word "bin." It's short and conjures up a mental image of a container filled with good stuff. "Keyword collection" is as awkward to say as it is to type. This insistance on renaming everying in this program might be the root of some of the paradigm problems most people have with this software. What's the difference between a project and a timeline in FCPX? Not much. Who cares? If I say "timeline" or "bin," you know what I'm talking about, right?
Let's look at the usefulness of this new workflow.There is really nothing to lose by having to assign keywords to clips and having them automatically populate a keyword collection bin. Actually there is much to gain. With the metadata, it's quite easy to find groups of clips in your bin and in your timeline as well. It's logical and powerful. Anytime I miss my bins, I try to force myself into this new paradigm, and most times I surrender willingly to the alien logic of it.
I miss being able to create a bin of unused clips. I do that in FCP7 and it is difficult to do in FCPX. There's a filter pop-up menu in the top left of the event browser. I have put in an Apple feedback request to add filters for "used clips" and "unused clips." I'm confident this will be in the next update. You can thank me later.
In my project, I've tagged the music, the original HDcam footage, the file footage, and the effects I created in motion. This makes them easy to find.
I need to actually start editing. The first thing I do is to put my audio into my primary storyline. Finding clips is pretty easy with the new bins. I can select the keyword collection if I know my footage is in one of them. Because I give my assets useful names, I can easily filter my footage by typing into the search window. I start typing in "standup" and before I get done, the bin is filtered down to the single clip I'm looking. I love this!
The footage I shoot has 4 channels of audio, and my reporter's mic is on channel 1. Cmd-4 opens the properties window. Select "audio" and I can visualize the four channels of audio right there with waveforms.
Skimming for solos is very cool.
In the audio properties window, hover the skimmer over one of the audio waveforms and press the spacebar. You can quickly listen to a solo of that single track, just that easy. This is a great time to turn off channels 2 through 4 so that only the one channel is audible. If I do this before I make my edit, the clip goes into the timeline with the unwanted tracks turned off. If I have a series of soundbites to drop into my timeline, I select the clip or clips in the event browser, turn off the unwanted tracks in the audio properties window and even set an audio level, so now every time I splice in a soundbite, only the appropriate channels are turned on with the audio level I pre-set.
Now I can skim the clip in the event browser, and find my in and out using the "I" and "O" keys. If I'm going to assemble the story from beginning to end, once I have my clip boundaries selected, I just hit the "E" key to append the clip to the end of the primary storyline. To speed things up, I drop the reporter's narration as one long clip into the primary storyline. I use the trimming tools to quickly run through the narration, and remove the bad takes and pauses, leaving the best reads all in a row. Once you set an in and out point, you may want to set this portion as a favorite by pressing the F key. You will see a green line added to the filmstrip for the range you've selected. If you lose your in and out points (very easy to do in FCPX) simply clicking on the green line will reset them.
Next I insert the soundbites between her reads. I have timecodes for the soundbites in the script. It's quite easy to select the clip, CTL-P to enter the timecode, JKL to find the exact in and out of the soundbite, and press W to insert the soundbite into the primary storyline where it goes. In a minute or two I have a primary storyline with audio and soundbites. Some of the soundbites and all of the narration certainly will be covered with b-roll.
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The green screen interviews really could not be much easier.Follow this: After I drop my soundbite into the timeline, I select the clip in the timeline, then hit OPT-CMD-Up Arrow to lift the clip from the primary storyline. This creates a gap in the timeline below the clip, with my original clip now connected to the timeline. In Motion, I had created a frame to put behind the interview with an alpha hole to be filled with b-roll. Selecting the frame clip in my event browser I drag it to the gap below the green screen clip and release it. When the context menu comes up I select "replace from start" and the gap is replaced with the frame I made. Now I select this clip in the timeline, and again press OPT-CMD-Up Arrow to lift this clip from the timeline. Now the two clips are above the timeline, spiked to a gap where the previous clip used to be. Now I can replace the gap with the background b-roll that's going to fill the hole. I drag the key effect from the effect browser and without any adjusting at all, the green screen is transparent and my effect is nearly complete. I want to shrink the author just a bit. It's easily done, right in the viewer window, using the transform controls. Likewise, the b-roll on the bottom level that fills the alpha hole, is quite easy to scale and rotate so it fits the hole.
If I want to add a fancy transition to this three layered effect, I quickly trim the three layers to make them slightly longer, creating some handles, then collapse the three clips into one compound clip, trim it short again and add my transition.
Adjusting the audio levels is simple. In FCP7, I would select all of my primary audio clips and add "normalization gain" set to -6db and all of the clips would be pretty close to the right levels. From there I'd make finer adjustments until I was happy. I haven't found anything like that in FCPX yet. But the waveforms act differently in FCPX, and that is very useful. FCPX will create a waveform based not on the level of the original clip, but on the output after levels and filters have been applied. Now it's quite easy to adjust the level visually, and watch the waveforms respond. I usually adjust the level until the peaks start hitting the red, then back it off a bit so they stay in the yellow. If I can't get enough volume just by adjusting the level, I can add a gain effect, dragging the slider up and down until my waveforms look good. It is simply done. I miss the automation gain from FCP7, but it's easy to option-click on the volume level and add keyframes.
Now it's time to apply the "b-roll".I have some choices. I can connect the b-roll to clips in the primary storyline. I can also create a secondary storyline to contain my b-roll. Finally I can lift my audio clips from the primary storyline and drop the b-roll directly into the primary storyline. All of these work differently, and I haven't settled on a favorite. I definitely don't like using connected clips for more than a clip or two. You can't put transitions between connected clips. Putting the b-roll into a secondary storyline allows me to add transitions and quickly move them around. I've discovered that clips in a secondary storyline can't use composite modes to blend with clips on the primary storyline. That seems like a mistake, but I can work around it, until it's fixed in the update. Another fix I asked Apple for. You'll thank me later...AGAIN.
I like to use the primary storyline as much as possible, so for this edit I select the narration clip in the primary storyline and "lift from storyline." The audio clip moves below the primary storyline, which now contains a gap where the audio clip used to live. I now can "replace" the gap with a clip from the browser with drag and drop. I can also use my D key for some quick three-point editing.
Scrolling through the footage in the bin.
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This is quite magical in FCPX. You have two different view modes, list view and filmstrip view. If you set your thumbnail duration in the viewer to "all" you effectively have a third view, where each clip is represented by a single video frame.
The filmstrip is unlike any bin view in FCP7. I didn't like the filmstrip at first, but once I started using it, the power became apparent. I used to like digitizing my footage as long clips, up to an hour long sometimes. This allowed me to put a single clip with a lot of footage into the viewer window, and scrub around until I found my next shot. With the filmstrip view, I can set the thumbnail duration to 5 or 10 seconds, and effectively see every bit of footage all layed out in front of me, whether the footage is in one long clip, or hundreds of short individual clips. This is very powerful! I can filter my bin, and skim through as much footage as I want. I love this.
One thing that's missing is the ability to have FCPX remember my view for each keyword collection. For example, I don't need a bin full of filmstrips for my music. I prefer list view, where I can see each music title, then select one and see a waveform for just that one. Interview clips don't benefit from the filmstrip either, since each interview is generally a single lock-down shot and all the frames of the filmstrip are similar. I've asked Apple to let the keyword collections remember the clip views. I'm sure this will be in the next upgrade. Right?
The skimmer.Working with this sometimes feels like trying to stick a pin into a fly, while it's still in the air. I did not like it at first. It felt flighty and seemed to have a mind of its own. After using it awhile, however, it became easier to control, and now I've grown quite fond of the little bugger. When I'm go back to working in FCP7, I find myself instinctively trying to skim, and a wave of sadness comes over me when I remember that it only works in FCPX. The ability to scrub content without clicking is actually awesome. For those times you need to turn it off, you can toggle it with the S key. Single key shortcuts have a primary importance, so the programmers expected us to be using this key a lot. Learn to love it.
All the trimming tools are there. Trim, slip and slide are all the same tool now. No more double-punching keys to change the tool. Grab the edit, and you are rolling. Hover on one side of the edit or the other, and you perform a ripple. Click in the middle of the clip, and it's a slip. Hold the option key and the slip becomes a slide. I like the ease of this.
Using too many built-in effects just to fancy things up can come off as a little cheesy, but, with restraint, it can be fun. Besides, who doesn't crave a little cheese from time to time? I took the pre-built effects for a ride. There are a number of cool transitions in FCPX. I especially like the slide. You can go into the properties window and make it a push slide. FCPX even adds a nice motion blur to the slide making it look especially organic. Animating digital moves by creating keyframes is easy to execute in the viewer window.
This version of Final Cut is tightly integrated with Motion 5, which gives you some outrageous tools to create and share your own effects. Many people on the COW have come up with some pretty useful effects already, and they share them for free.
For final output, I export my clip using ProRes out of the share menu. After a couple of extra passes to get the audio stems out, I reassemble the project in FCP6 and edit to tape-. This should get better when Apple creates the multi-channel export they've promised, when I will be able to use the tape tools that come with our Kona card for input/output.
Overall, I had a fun time editing with FCPX. Too often I still fall into a frustration trap when I run into a workflow snag or bug, and try to find workarounds. Clearly the benefits I receive from the speed they've built into the program get offset by the workarounds I'm forced to use. I expect that will change. This isn't so much Final Cut Pro 10, but it's Final Cut X version 1.0. However, they've put Studio 3 back on the market. They are continuing to work out the problems with the program. I've received many compliments for the story. The future looks bright.
My relationship with FCPX has been a rocky one. She tempts me, abuses me, beats me up, makes me feel worthless, then in the end she comes around, gives me hope and finally, I can't stop thinking about her.
The qualifications in the title refer to things that it just can't do very easily, or at all. Watch the COW for a follow-up article about my work-arounds and speed tips. Thanks for reading!