Nobody is really surprised anymore to hear that yet another feature film has been edited on Final Cut Pro 10. But when Lance Bachelder posted a message saying he had used Final Cut on his latest production, he got my attention. Why? Because I knew that, although Lance has always had an open mind towards the new Final Cut Pro, he did not want to use it for his professional work. Until now...
I contacted Lance 6 months ago. We only publish the story now because he has been very busy, plus he had to undergo cervical spine surgery earlier this year. In the meantime the movie has been the opening night feature at the Oxford (Mississippi) Film Festival in April. It was selected to the Bentonville Film Festival (founded by Geena Davis) in May and it was awarded Best Feature Film at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando.
You will read an honest and objective opinion about FCP X, given by a battle-tested Hollywood editor who has worked professionally with every major NLE. Lance talks about every aspect of the post production process: from on-set logging and dailies syncing with Sync-N-Link X, to grading with Color Finale combined with SliceX/TrackX and mixing 5.1 audio right inside in FCP X.
So what made him embrace FCP X in the end, and what does he think about Final Cut now that he has produced a complete feature film with it? Let’s hear it from the man himself.
Hollywood based Lance Bachelder has worked in all phases of film and video production since 1986. He co-directed, edited and wrote the final draft for Cutback, the first feature film shot on the Canon 7D. He also worked with Steve Oedekerk on many of his projects for the big screen, Nickelodeon Channel and other productions.
Lance is an expert in independent feature production and post-production and has earned major credits on over a dozen independent feature films. His work includes title design, editing, post sound mixing, original music, cinematography and directing. His award-winning PSA for the AAFA featuring hip-hop star Coolio received over 1 billion viewer impressions across every major television market in the U.S.
About himself, Lance says: "I guess you could call me a 'Digital Handyman.' I make my living in all phases of production including director, writer, cinematographer, editor, motion graphics and post-production supervisor. I've worked on independent feature films, broadcast television, music videos, sports and corporate video. I'm half artist, half techno-geek and have been working with film, video and computers since film school in the mid 80's."
What editing systems are you familiar with?
Avid, Sony Vegas, Premiere, FCP 7 and FCP 10.
I know you were not a big fan of FCP X at first. What made you decide to give it another try?
In 2014, I took a documentary I cut in Premiere into FCP X for final 5.1 mix and color. I also tested it out on a couple of shorts and promo's that same year. I still wasn't convinced and continued to use Premiere for most work. It was a combo of the 10.2 release and hearing first hand experiences from the Directors and Editors of Focus, that finally made me change my mind.
What kind of jobs have you done with FCP X so far?
A few comedy shorts for a studio in L.A. along with some finishing work. I found QC/scoping in FCP X very quick and accurate, and sharing directly to client Vimeo sites was easy and the results very nice. We also tested the direct-to-Blu-ray feature on screeners for the feature film Like a Country Song starring Billy Ray Cyrus and the results were great. But Saved By Grace was really the first feature film that I have edited and finished entirely in FCP X.
You did not start editing the movie in L.A., you were also working on-set?
Yes. We started shooting in May 2015 on location in Canton, Mississippi. We shot on 2 Red Dragons in 4K 7:1 4096x2160. I believe we shot close to 40 hours of 4K 7:1 1:85 Red footage.
Rigging up the process trailer - a moving platform towed by a special truck that holds cameras, booms and lights to be able to film actors while they are “driving”.
We also used a DJI Inspire 4K drone for aerials and even a Samsung NX1 for some b-roll.
I used 5DToRGB to batch-convert both the Inspire and NX1 shots to ProRes 4444 masters. The clip count was around 1400 takes and the final reel much less of course.
I had my editing system in my hotel suite and was cutting for most of the 3 week shoot. I set up FCP X by dividing the film into four reels and used a Library for each reel. Inside that Library I used an Event for each scene, and various cuts were kept as Sequences in each Event. While much of my time on location was spent synching and organizing dailies (due to the lack of experienced Assistant Editors familiar with FCP X in Mississippi), I was able to finish many scenes during the shoot.
How did you sync the location sound with the dailies?
Location sound is where FCP X is unlike any other NLE and a dream to work with. I would get the dailies and audio masters each night after shooting, and I used Sync-N-Link X to sync the dailies. It is totally timecode based and a breeze when timecode matches.
The beauty of the FCP X/Sync-N-Link X combo is that Sync-N-Link X adds a "Synced" keyword for the video range (essentially trimming the clip to the video duration) in the FCP X browser. Any unused video and audio clips are marked with a "Not Synced" keyword. Sync-N-Link X also can assign audio Subroles to second-system audio tracks and camera audio, giving the user dynamic control over audio playback during editorial.
This was my first Red show and sadly one of the cameras had constant timecode issues. Luckily Sync-N-Link X allows frame adjustments, so with a little calculation I could get everything to sync. There were some shots that were just too far off, but those were easily synched up by right-clicking a clip and selecting Open in Timeline. Whatever you do to the clip while open like this will stay with the clip. So it was easy to visually sync the shot using the slate and the waveform - a great way to work when everything else has failed.
I had originally planned to keep the 4 Libraries (4 reels) to make the show more manageable, but I was surprised that the Mac Pro could handle the entire show as one Library no problem. I created an Event for each scene into which I dragged the synced dailies each night after shooting. I then simply used Projects for each scene and duplicated the projects for alternate cuts.
Once I had all the 4K clips cut into the four reels I was able to combine the entire show into a new Library called FINAL with a single sequence. This opened and reacted much quicker as I now had only the media that was in the cut. So now I had the entire show on one timeline - I wasn't sure the Mac or FCP X would be able to handle all that raw Red media and sound design, but it worked just fine.
What was your setup for the final edit?
The entire post was done in my home studio. I used a new 6 core Mac Pro with D700's and 32GB RAM. Media was kept on 2 OWC Thunderbolt raids in RAID 0 for speed - everything backed up of course to several other drives. I used 2 LG 27" monitors plus a new Sony XBR 850C 4K 65" TV fed from the MacPro's HDMI port for all color work - which came out great from X by the way.
I worked probably 6 weeks finishing the edit in my home studio and then handed off the audio files for the mix. While the mix was being completed the Director and I began creating a look for the film and color grading.
Although I did export the final show to Resolve 12 for color timing we were not happy with what we were getting (not to mention all the crashes), and went back to Redcine to do most of the color. There were radical white balance problems between the 2 Dragons, and Redcine has a great white balance tool.
We didn’t go back to Resolve at all. Instead, we found the combination of RedcineX and Color Finale inside FCP X to be a fantastic combo. I did the first color pass using the Alchemy tool inside Redcine, which is great for creating a really nice and filmic first-pass contrast and look.
The Alchemy tool in RedCine
The problem with Alchemy is it is only available in the metadata in Redcine and it does not show up in any NLE. So once we approved the look in Redcine I would render 4K 4444 XQ ProRes files out and cut those in to the final reels in FCPX, on top of the Red raw files. From there I would use Color Finale for the final look, scoping everything along the way using the FCP X scopes which I feel are far and away the best software scopes in the industry.
We used CoreMelt SliceX with Color Finale to track power windows. It worked great and was such a pleasure to do inside FCP X. I also added some adjustment layers, using the Color Board for final tweaks. Judging the final grading on my Sony 65" XBR 4K monitor, we were able to achieve excellent results that looked fantastic in theaters.
Can you tell us something more about the audio finishing?
We initially sent the project to an external ProTools studio. But we had a big challenge when, after waiting over 2 months for the final mix, it was not what we hoped for. In fact the Director had to postpone our big Hollywood screening and we were back to square one.
Because I've done a lot of audio work in the past, it fell to me get the show ready for the screening and delivery. We had used X2Pro to deliver stems to the sound department for Pro Tools mixing, but I don't own Pro Tools and made the decision to dialog edit, sound design and do a final 5.1 mix entirely in FCP X - in just two weeks!
Using Izotope RX4 directly inside FCPX I dug into the dialog and cleaned every shot the first week. I also added ambiences, car-bys, gun shots etc. as I worked frantically to clean up the dialog. The second week I switched to 5.1 and proceeded to go through every shot, even panning effects with ease. I have a very nice BlueSky Sky One 5.1 system connected via a FocusRite i/o, which helped me to work quickly and accurately.
Best of all though is the way FCP X handles a multi-channel audio file on the timeline. I would normally get 5 channels of audio from the sound dept for each take. These would be L/R mix down, boom and lavalieres on 4 and 5. We ended up using the lav's for most of the film, which meant I didn't need to see the other 3 channels and have them cluttering my timeline like with other NLE's. Using the Inspector you are able to turn off/hide whatever you like so you get a single track with just the channels you want to hear. You can even open up those channels and edit your characters dialog for super clean A/B dialog including fades etc. This is indispensable and there is nothing like it anywhere.
Another great feature, if you know your audio channel structure for a scene, is to highlight all the clips in the Media Browser and then turn off the channels you don't need in the Inspector which will affect every selected clip. I can't imagine doing the mix this quickly and with such a high quality in any other NLE. We completed the mix one day before our Hollywood screening in a 4K DCI theater and received rave reviews on the color and sound from many in attendance.
Lance with Joey Lawrence and Catalina Rodriguez
I also shot and edited a music video with Joey Lawrence that contains scenes from the movie. The music video was shot with zero budget using a Canon 5D MkIII with 70-200 f2 and two GH4:
What are your final thoughts about FCP X after cutting this feature on it?
It was a great learning experience for me, I had never cut a Red raw show before and never an entire feature from scratch in FCP X. Being able to complete the entire cut using native 4K Red files without the need for proxies was fantastic. While it took a little time to get used to on such a big and complex project, the Magnetic timeline ended up being something I could never live without. Also the scopes in FCPX are just so much nicer than anything else out there. It really makes tweaking final color a pleasure.
The one thing that FCP X has over any other app in existence is how it handles multi channel audio. The ability to scrub individual audio channels, turn off unused ones and being able to quickly isolate with lav's or boom mic from the Inspector is so elegant and so professional it made the whole cutting process much cleaner and easier. The biggest thing I would like them to add in a future update is some sort of audio bussing - a way to buss via Roles so Dialog, for instance, could have it's own final fx applied like EQ or Compression etc.
Those features alone, along with its speed and its beautiful interface, make FCP X a great NLE for any type of show.
©2016 Ronny Courtens/FCP.co