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Editing Comedy on FCPX: A troubled journey

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We have had many Final Cut Pro X user stories here on FCP.co across many genres, feature films, sport and episodic programming to name a few. One area we haven't covered is comedy, that is until now. Nuno Bernardo from beActive entertainment tells us how the TV3 documentary 'The Stand Ups' was cut on FCPX. 

We will let Nuno dive straight in with his 'journey' from hating FCPX, to it becoming his company's edit system of choice...

 

My story with Final Cut Pro X is very similar to many other directors and editors that bought it when it came out and couldn’t understand how it worked. Why, Apple, WHY?! So, after a few (not that many) hours, FCPX went to the app cemetery, the place where installed (but not used) software rest. After learning non-linear editing with Premiere (the first 1.0 version back in the nineties), using ImMix VideoCube and many other editors in the last two decades, I thought that I was too old to think different.

Like many others, I pretended that FCP7 (or legacy as it’s called now) was enough for my needs. During that period, at beActive, my production company, we edited two feature films and one feature-length documentary using FCP7, while slowly trying other options for the inevitable upgrade: Media Composer or Premiere CC - but none of them were appealing to us, so we kept using the legacy FCP as our NLE of choice, avoiding opening the X and giving it another try.

The Eureka moment came later in 2012 when one of the editors I worked with, suggest to me to edit a music video I directed a few days earlier with FCPX. Very reluctantly, I accepted, mainly because this was a short-form piece, all editing and mastering could be done in the same box and the editor seemed very comfortable with the software. Sitting next to him for a few days to give notes, I could notice how fast he worked and how easy it was to move things around and try new things. The project went flawless and I got intrigued with the X edition.

Later that Christmas, I shot a video with my kids and decided to try FCPX. It was a personal project, no deadline, so nothing at stake. I imported the 7D footage, started dragging the footage to the timeline, moved things around and got frustrated. Again! Although, this time I gave it a little more time and saw a few Ripple Training tutorials to try to understand how this beast works. A couple of hours later, I couldn’t believe how fast and easy it was to assemble and trim footage. I crossed the wall and finally saw why Apple changed the NLE video-editing paradigm.

Things got clearer to me when I was sitting on the edit room supervising another feature film that was being cut in FCP7. Everything I was doing on my personal video with one or two clicks was taking too long on the legacy FCP. Suddenly, X started to make sense and 7 started to feel old and outdated. After this experience I went to investigate more about the X evolution, downloaded a few tutorials and started to plan the switch. Later in 2013 we started using X for short-form and in 2014 we moved the long form projects to X too, finally abandoning FCP7. RIP!

Harland-Williams-and-TSU-Director-Nuno-Bernardo

Harland Williams and The Stand Ups Director Nuno Bernardo

 

The first long-form project we used to test our new workflow, built around FCPX, Resolve and ProTools, was a two one hour documentary series about Stand Up comedy for Irish broadcaster TV3, which I directed. The Stand Ups explores the trials and tribulations of modern comedy while following five stand up comedians in their attempt to make it big at the famous Edinburgh Comedy Festival. The documentary mixes talking heads of some established comedians with fly on the wall segments from the new comedians, previously broadcasted TV footage and a few stand up comedy shows shot multicam.

Robbie Colm Chris Alison Niamh

Robbie, Colm, Chris, Alison & Niamh

 

During a 5-month production we used several cameras including a Sony FS700 (recording ProRes in an Odyssey 7Q), Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Canon C300 and 7D. Our frame size was 1920x1080 and we shot everything at 23.98, except the C300 that was 24 (more on that later). ProRes 422HQ was our codec of choice and the 7D footage was converted to ProRes using 5DtoRGB. Our DIT technician (also assistant editor) used FCPX to log all the footage. Everything was imported on a single library using the new library model introduced on 10.1.

TSU1 Documentary Timeline in FCPX

The Stand Ups documentary timeline in FCPX (Right click for larger image)

 

We also followed a Proxy workflow so everyone could work separately at different places using only the proxies. A hard drive with a copy of the library and the proxy footage was given to the Editor, second assistant director and myself. Whenever new footage arrived, the Library was updated and the proxy video files directory was updated.

TSU6 Stringouts with Metadata

TSU5 Stringouts with Metadata

Stringouts with metadata

 

The first assistant editor was using keywords and the metadata features of FCPX that allowed the editor to easily identify stories, themes and string-outs. Basically, we were doing manually what a tool like Lumberjack System now does automatically (we are testing Lumberjack and we plan to use in our upcoming documentary productions). We used multicams for editing the comedy shows and compound clips to organize the string-outs.

Everything was going smoothly until Apple came out with 10.1.2 and modified the library model. Suddenly there was no way to have a separate folder for proxies so our proxies workflow was gone. I know, never upgrade a system during a project! By September 2014 we synced the different cuts and versions and all the footage in one library before moving forward. During this process, we had problems importing around 30 video files (out of hundreds of files and 5 TB of footage). FCPX simply refused to relink a few files.

We also had problems with resolution, as our off-line proxy editing timelines were set to 960x540. We needed to go back, and manually change the resolution of the multicam files. When we were able to consolidate and conform all edits in a master library, we had lost a couple days but we are able to get back on track. After the 10.1.2 release, we stopped sharing Libraries and importing timelines this way and started swapping XML files between editor, director and assistants.

TSU8 All the Doc in Resolve

The whole documentary in DaVinci Resolve (right click for larger image)

 

We did a picture lock by November 2013 and then grading started. We were now moving the project to Davinci Resolve. When we imported the XML from FCPX, Resolve was not detecting the right files. In some segments of the edit, Resolve was choosing other clips or just putting black slug instead of the original video. We tried this process a few times but the outcome was always the same.

After loosing three days we found our problem. We imported the C300 footage from the cards using the Canon XF Plug-in. FCPX converted it to ProRes 422HQ but the converted files were not being accessed by Resolve. On top of that, we realized that the C300 recorded the footage at 24p and everything else was 23.98p. That was not a problem for FCPX that was able to handle that and make perfect sync multicam at different frame rates, but Resolve was not able to read the correct TC on the XML file to the correct files so that was the reason for wrong video segments and clips appearing on the timeline.

We were able to solve this problem exporting a master file of the final edit ProRes 422HQ and importing it on Resolve. Again, manually we substituted the non-linked or wrongly linked video files with sliced pieces of the ProRes master. This laborious process took us an additional two days. Lucky for us, the process of exporting the project to ProTools using X2Pro Audio Convert was painless. Everything went smoothly as expected (this was a more proven workflow that we’ve been using for more than a year with our short form projects).

TSU2 X2PRO AudioConverter

Exporting the audio to Protools using X2Pro

 TSU10 ProTools Project

An exported project audio in ProTools (Right click for the large image)

 

The final versioning and delivers were done in Premiere CC. The main reason for this choice was that the tracks layout makes it easier to import the final graded master from Resolve, import the mixed audio from ProTools, add titles and check levels. From Premiere we were able to export the final different masters, with different audio versions and different text and text less versions. That said, one of the deliveries required us to go back to FCPX. We were asked to deliver an SD 16:9 25i interlaced version of the show, converted from the 1920x1090, 23.98p master. Doing different tests, we concluded that FCPX and Compressor provided the best quality for the task (the conversion out of Premiere was full of artifacts).

 

After this 6-month journey I’m now confident that FCPX is the right tool for editing any type of long form, but specially documentaries and factual shows. The metadata facilities included make it the right tool for the job. The ecosystem created around it makes it more manageable. Tools like Producer’s Best Friend allowed to create a Music Cue Sheet in less than 5 minutes. Finding the right shots and editing is way faster than with other NLEs.

This first journey was not easy and was full of small bumps and problems, but I’m convinced that we made the right decision. And with the lessons learnt, we now have the best workflow and the right tools for the job.

 

Nuno Bernardo

Producer/Director Founder and Managing Director of beActive Entertainment, a TV, Film and Digital Studio based in Ireland and Portugal.

 

Nuno has also supplied some more information about workflow:

 

Our new workflow:

Now with all the lessons learnt and the many mistakes made, we are establishing a more robust workflow for upcoming projects. Here are some of the things that we’ve been testing and improving and will definitely be implementing in our upcoming documentary and feature films:

-Different frame rates: Define the project frame rate, the one that will be the editing and deliver frame rate. If the footage has different frame rates it’s recommended to convert to the edit frame rate before importing into Resolve. Compressor does this really well. Use the converted file as a master file and import it to Resolve. Resolve supposedly is able to handle projects with mixed frame rates, but the deliver page on Resolve can only export individual clips at their original frame rate and, in my experience, sometimes Resolve mishandles footage with different frame rates when we do a roundtrip to FCPX. 

-Use Resolve as a DIT tool: import all footage into Davinci Resolve, do the first grading if necessary and export proxies in ProRes LT for editing.

-Import Editing proxies into FCPX: Import the proxies created in Resolve and sync the separate audio if necessary. Use tools like the Lumberjack Systems, Shot Notes X or Sync-n-Link to add extra metadata to the imported footage. It will make the process of finding the right takes and shots easier. Create a master Library (use external media) and then create exact copies of the footage plus the Library and share it on a SAN or create several Hard Drives and share it with editors/director. Export XML to share cuts and string-outs between assistants and editors.

-Grading: Export XML from FCPX to Resolve and relink to the original HQ media on the database (and not to the ProRes LT used on editing). Resolve remote grade feature allows you to grade master clips before picture lock, as all the work can be re-used when the final XML is imported. This way we can start grading before we have a picture lock.

-Sound Mixing: Export XML and use X2Pro Audio Convert to create and AAF for ProTools.

-Versioning: use the new edit tools and OFX plug in architecture now available in Resolve to do versioning and output to different formats inside the tool. Add titles, import final audio mix, do the final adjusts and export to different formats and codecs from the Delivery page. 

 

A workaround for using master clips in FCPX: 

During The Stand Ups post-production process the big limitation we found in this FCPX workflow was the lack of the master clip concept, i.e., be able to color grade and apply effects to a long file, and that effect automatically be applied to all the segments and instances of that clip.

I know that you could open a video file as a timeline and grade it or apply a noise reduction sound effect, but then as soon you start editing instances of that clip, when you want to change the look or apply a new effect, there is no way to automatically update all the segments of that clip in the timeline. You needed to go back and do it individually to all segments. We really lacked this master clip concept (or remote grade like Resolve calls it). 

TSU9 Workaround Create Single Clip Multicam

Colour correcting using a single came multicam clip.

 

The workaround we discovered was to make each of these long video clips a multicam clip with just one angle. Then go inside the multicam do the grading, apply filters and change whatever was needed. From this multicam clip create as many segments as needed, marking in and out points and bringing it to the timeline (so insert from the multicam not the original clip). If later we needed to make all the segments brighter or darker or do any change, we go to the multicam clip, apply the changes and then, all the segments in the timeline took from that multicam clip will automatically be updated with the new look. The best part was that this single angle multicam clips transfer perfectly to Resolve.

 

Our most desired feature for FCPX:

The feature that I would like to get out of next NAB is not from Apple itself but from Blackmagic Design. I would love if they could create a plug-in version of their Davinci Resolve. Something similar to what Filmlight did with Baselight for FCP7 and Avid. Not a full grading tool inside FCPX, but a tool that we could import XML (or ACL or any other metadata file) from Resolve and automatically apply a grade to the footage used in a timeline inside FCPX. Instead of rendering footage, send it back and forward to applications, we could just share metatada.

With this solution we could start and finish our projects inside FCPX. A separate copy of our footage will be sent at the beginning of the project to the grading artist and he could work almost simultaneously with the edit process. Every week we could send our XML with the updated version of our cut so he can identify the clips that he needs to grade. And by the end of the week, he could send us the updated grade as a XML file. Our FCPX will then update the timeline and show, in real time, our graded footage.

Using the proxy feature in FCPX we could edit fast using proxies, and then switch to full resolution and quality graded master with just one click. When the picture is locked it will be almost fully graded. This workflow will be key to TV work and projects that need a quick turnaround.

 

 


Written by
Top BloggerThought Leader

I am the Editor-in-Chief of FCP.co and have run the website since its inception ten years ago.

I have also worked as a broadcast and corporate editor for over 30 years, starting on one inch tape, working through many formats, right up to today's NLEs.

Under the name Idustrial Revolution, I have written and sold plugins for Final Cut Pro for 13 years.

I was made a Freeman of Lichfield through The Worshipful Company of Smiths (established 1601). Though I haven't yet tried to herd a flock of sheep through the city centre!

Current Editing

great house giveaway 2020

2020 has been busy, the beginning of the year was finishing off a new property series (cut on FCP) for Channel 4 called The Great House Giveaway. I also designed and built the majority of the graphics as Motion templates. It has been a great success and the shows grabbed more viewers in the 4pm weekday slot than any previous strand. It has been recommissioned by C4 for 60 episodes, including prime-time versions and five themed programmes. The shows have also been nominated for a 2021 BAFTA.

Tour de france 2020
Although both were postponed to later in the year, I worked again on ITV's coverage of the Tour de France and La Vuelta. 2020 was my 25th year of editing the TdF and my 20th year as lead editor. The Tour was the first broadcast show to adopt FCPX working for multiple editors on shared storage.

 

BBC snooker the crucible

BBC's Snooker has played a big part in my life, I've been editing tournament coverage since 1997. I'm proud to be part of a very creative team that has pioneered many new ideas and workflows that are now industry standard in sports' production. This is currently an Adobe Premiere edit.

amazon kindle BF

Covid cancelled some of the regular corporate events that I edit such as trade shows & events. I was lucky however to edit, from home, on projects for Amazon Kindle, Amazon Black Friday, Mastercard and very proud to have helped local charitable trust Kendall & Wall secure lottery funding.

As for software, my weapon of choice is Final Cut Pro and Motion, but I also have a good knowledge and broadcast credits with Adobe Premiere Pro, MOGRT design and Photoshop.

Plugin Design & Development

I'm the creative force behind Idustrial Revolution, one of the oldest Final Cut Pro plugin developers. It hosts a range of commercial and free plugins on the site. One free plugin was downloaded over a thousand times within 24 hours of release.

I also take on custom work, whether it is adapting an existing plugin for a special use or designing new plugins for clients from scratch. Having a good knowledge of editing allows me to build-in flexibility and more importantly, usability.

FCP.co

Now in its 10th year and 4th redesign, running FCP.co has given me knowledge on how to run a large CMS- you are currently reading my bio from the database! Although it sounds corny, I am pretty well up on social media trends & techniques, especially in the video sector. The recent Covid restrictions has enabled live FCP.co shows online. This involves managing a Zoom Webinar through Restream.io to YouTube and Facebook. 

The Future

I'm always open to new ideas and opportunities, so please get in touch at editor (at) fcp.co. I've judged film competitions, presented workflow techniques to international audiences and come up with ideas for TV shows and software programs!

 

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