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Editing a promo in Final Cut Pro X - Lessons learned

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Adam Scholes was given the task of editing a promo for the Canadian series Canada's Smartest Person. Although the show was cut on Avid, he turned to FCPX to get the job done. Here are the lessons he learned.

We will let Adam take up the story:

 

Recently we were contacted to help put together a promo for the second season of CBC’s Canada’s Smartest Person series. The deadline was tight; we had only a few short days to turn everything around and as a result we needed to make sure we worked as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Naturally I turned to Final Cut Pro X to help. I had a pretty good idea of how to tackle the project, and figured that despite the original show being cut in Avid that Final Cut Pro X was up to the job.

There were a few bumps along the way, and some lessons learned that I wanted to quickly share with my fellow editors so they are prepared should they ever find themselves in the same boat.

 

CONVERT MXF TO PRORES

On Wednesday we received several drives with media for us to work from. This included final master outputs of the series in MXF format, with 8 channels of audio (5.1 and stereo masters). Considering the tight turn-around schedule (we had to have something to show the produced by 5pm the next day, and the final delivery had to ready for Tuesday) I opted to just work with the MXFs natively in Final Cut Pro since it now supported the format.

Looking back on it this was probably ill advised, at least had we not had a tight turnaround. Because Final Cut Pro X now considers MXF an “optimized format”, there is no way to convert the files in Final Cut itself, so I would have had to use Compressor to do a batch, wait for the batch to finish, and then import those new files in.

We simply didn’t have time to do so, and so we stuck with MXF from start to finish. And while FCP handled the MXFs fine, I’ve also never had a project crash or lock up as much as this one did. In fairness, this could have been due to the fact that each episode’s file was over an hour and a half, and there were at least 9 of these, so it was a lot of media to handle. Also, it probably didn’t help that it was in XDCAM which Final Cut has never played nice with, but I’m still pretty confident that if everything was in ProRes things might have been a bit smoother.

I did try converting the material to Proxy, but found the workflow a little clunky, since it meant every file that came in needed a proxy version created, which again was time/friction we wanted to avoid.

Be that as it may, we were able to finish the project while using MXF the whole time, which proves that it is possible, just maybe not the best.

 

APPLE NEEDS TO DEAL WITH WAVEFORMS

It’s no secret that waveform generation and Final Cut Pro X is problematic. It will slow your project down to a crawl, and your life is so much easier if you turn off waveforms. But the reality is at some point you’re going to need to see them, and when you do the associated pain will come rushing back. I mentioned that I never had a project lock up as much as this one did, and while some of that could be related to the MXF files, I think a lot of it had to do with waveform generation.

Again, it didn’t help that we were dealing with incredibly long clips, but there needs to be a better workaround for dealing with waveform generation, because it’s affecting everyone.

(We should note here that 10.2 reprioritises the generation of waveforms into the background, so this might not be such a problem any more.- Editor)

 

ROLES ARE INCREDIBLE!

Most of the things I’ve cut to date haven’t required complicated outputs and deliverables, so I never worried much about roles. However, once it was brought to my attention that this piece would be sent out for audio mixing, I quickly made sure that I set up all my roles appropriately. And once you do it’s pretty magical. Not only does it allow for quick stems creation, but you can turn each role on or off in the timeline so you can isolate elements quickly. Most importantly, if you export an AAF file for your audio guys, each role will come in on its own track, and they’ll received an incredibly well organized project which will make them super happy.

(Click for larger images)

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With all your roles marked up properly you can easily toggle exactly what you need when you need it.

 

Moving forward I can see even more uses for being organized with roles. Hell, properly executed it could make textless masters a breeze - simply do an output and disable the "text" role. I'll definitely be using these more and more going forward, all it takes is a little organization and planning early on (though it's easily adjusted once locked too).

 

AAF WORKFLOW

As I mentioned, to date we never had need to do AAF outputs, which meant that we had to invest in some software in order to do so. The go to tool is X2Pro, and let me tell you it’s well worth the price of admission. While smaller projects could probably get by on the cheaper LE version of the software, because of the aforementioned 1.5 hour long files I upgrade (via in app-purchase, which worked just fine) to the full version of the application in order to set handles and trim away all the unused media.

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X2Pro makes AAF outputs a breeze.

 

It also took a little bit of trial and error to get the application to read my FCPXML file, mostly because I had used an “audition” in my project. Weirdly despite telling Final Cut Pro to “Finalize” the audition, X2Pro kept giving me an error saying there was an audition present. Sure enough when I re-opened the project the audition was still there. Ultimately I just flipped back to the original clip and replaced the audition with that and all was well.

Apart from that minor issue I had no real problems with the AAF prep, and the team working on the audio finishing reported no problems with the resulting file. While it’s unfortunate that Final Cut Pro X doesn’t have AAF export supported natively, and it requires you to purchase a somewhat costly third-party application, the results are far better than the native support Legacy Final Cut Pro had (remember the pain of doing OMF outputs!?).

 

OVERALL WORKFLOW SPEED

This was the first time I had tackled a project like this in Final Cut Pro X, and as a result I had to come up with an optimal workflow on the fly. I spent a lot of time front loading my organization; taking all the notes from the producers and building selects and keyword collections based on their selections. I then took time to skim through each episode and highlight any viz I liked and put it into corresponding keyword collections.

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The more you organize up front, the quicker and more efficient your turn-around will be down the road.

 

While this meant that my initial assembly/organization process took longer than usual it was incredibly helpful after we delivered the first cut to the client. I was able to address their notes so much faster because all of the elements I needed we already organized and at my fingertips. Need a different reaction of someone being frustrated, or celebrating a win? Just hop into the corresponding keyword collection and grab a different shot. Not wild about that celebrity's reaction? That’s fine, I have already built a collection with all of them.

I was able to turn around notes in a matter of minutes because I took the time upfront to make sure my library was hyper organized; which is especially important when working from 1.5 hour long clips. The magnetic timeline also made it really easy to switch out the temp audio we had recorded with the final performance from the host. Sometimes her reads were slightly longer than our temp audio but we were able to ripple and roll the project with great ease to accommodate these changes.

 

MISSING PIECES

Apart from the aforementioned issue with waveform generation there are still a few “missing pieces” I’d love to see addressed. The big one is once again, colour coded roles. Once I took the time to make sure everything was nicely organized with roles it’d be really great to be able to visualize it without enabling/disabling the roles themselves. Looking at the timeline can be a bit overwhelming, but having some colours to differentiated between narration, SFX, Music, and dialogue would help take away some of that anxiety.

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Look at all those clips! It's cluttered. Colour coded roles would make it much less overwhelming.

 

It would also be nice to see things like AAF outputs built into FCP X natively, and maybe one day that will happen (after all, MXF support used to require Third Party applications until Apple bought them out), but I also understand that it’s not a feature everyone needs which is why Apple is happy to let third-parties deal with it (including tech support, which is perhaps reason alone for them not to bother).

I'd also like to see Apple adjust how it deals with media reconnect. Files have to be in the same format, and frame size in order for Final Cut to reconnect, meaning that I couldn't just start out with XDCAM MXFs, convert them to ProRes over the weekend, and then reconnect to these new ProRes files. It'd be great to be able to force Final Cut to reconnect to whatever I tell it to so that this would have been possible.

 

Overall though, Final Cut Pro X was definitely the right tool for the job. Thanks to some careful organization up front I was able to turn the project around in record time, and everyone was incredibly pleased with the final product, which in the end is what matters most.

Season 2 of CBC's Canada's Smartest Person is now casting. If you're interested in participating, or know someone brilliant you want to nominate, please visit their website and apply!

 

Adam Schoales is an award winning editor and filmmaker based in Toronto. Make sure you read his blog here.

 

 


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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