We publish part two of Sam Mestman & Patrick Southern's popular workflow series. This time they look at setting up Final Cut Pro X ready for editing and using tools to organise footage within Libraries. As always, lots of very detailed & valuable battle tested information for film makers.


Part of the reason that FCPX has a hard time attracting some high end editors is that many of its core advantages are designed for assistant editors, who are in charge of organizing media so that editors can find it. For the most part, it is not the assistant editor who wags the dog in Hollywood.

Additionally, it is very rare for high end picture editors to need to know anything about the media management and organization process. Their assistants take care of all that stuff, and therefore, there hasn’t been much of a "reason" for change at the top end of Hollywood.

However, if you’re an independent filmmaker and you're pressed for time, money, and talent, you are extremely passionate about project prep, metadata management, and efficient uses of time.

Honestly, I’m not convinced that you edit that much faster in FCPX once you have everything set up and laid out for you… but I am convinced that it is significantly faster getting organized than it is with other NLE’s if you follow a few basic strategies. It is also exponentially faster finding the clips you’re looking for, as you get deeper into your edit, if you take proper advantage of some of the tools present in FCPX that simply don’t exist in other NLE’s.

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The metadata based approach in FCPX, when used correctly, allows my project prep to become more than 90% faster than it was in FCP 7. The speed at which I can get down to work and start cutting, searching, and finding footage in FCPX is exponentially faster than with any other NLE.

On Off The Grid, we took the search and organizational aspects of FCPX to another level. We automated most of the metadata management, applying that data to the original sound and picture.

We were able to automatically synchronize audio, batch rename clips, and add keywords and notes based on our Script Supervisor's log. This made it possible to quickly search by character, frame rate, frame size, shot composition, and circle takes.

Not only that, but we were able to pre-prep for a sound designer before a single edit was made. When I handed off an AAF to my sound designer at the end, she said,

“This is the most organized sound delivery I have ever seen. Thank you so much for putting all of that work into it. Can you tell me how you did it so that I can tell all of my other clients how to do it”

I responded, “I didn’t have to do anything to prep this for you. Because my sound recordist properly labeled mics using iXML, FCPX and X2Pro did it all for me.” Her mind was blown. She was able to spend a lot more time on sound design and mixing than usual, because she normally spends days figuring out which mic is which and laying them out in ProTools. Giving her an AAF from FCPX allowed her to spend more time on storytelling.

These automated organizational techniques can cut footage prep time from 3 days down to as little as 10 minutes from the time the footage hits your Jellyfish.

Instead of an elaborate dailies process, we worked directly from the original sound and picture files from capture through color using inexpensive or free third party tools (google docs and a couple Apps from the App Store).

When you are able to qualitatively explain the advantages of these techniques to your team and get them on board, it can streamline your process significantly. This enables you to start competing at a much higher level with a lot less money.  Here are some guidelines on the best ways to make the organizational tools within FCPX work for you, all of which were battle tested on We Make Movies’ Off The Grid.


Shot Notes X-Sync N Link Workflow:

For a definitive overview of how to use Shot Notes X and Sync-N-Link X with FCPX 10.3, we posted this video on it over on the Lumaforge YouTube Channel. It will give you a great overview.


Smart Collections

(Right click for larger images)

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On Off The Grid, we used the “One Smart Collection to Rule Them All” for a single library wide smart collection that Simon Ubsdell demonstrates:

For narrative work, when you have a lot of keyword collections broken down by type, a good rule of thumb is to put a letter and a dash in the front of the keyword to delineate its type (for instance C- in front of all character keywords, L- in front of all location keywords, F- in front of all format keywords, etc.) so that all similar typed keywords are grouped together properly in the smart collection filter area.

It allows for much faster search. In fact, with this approach you may find that you never go into an event at all, and you end up doing all of your search completely through smart collection filtering. Dedicating a third monitor purely to your smart collection search filter will give you a LOT of screen real estate to find things in your browser. If you have a lot of keywords, you may find yourself spending a lot of time with this open and giving it its own screen may be of real benefit to you.


Keyword Organization

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When your footage has come back from Shot Notes X and Sync-N-Link X, it comes with numerous new Keyword Collections applied. When you’re getting started, you’ll want to organize those Keyword Collections into logical Folders.

You can create a new Folder by selecting “File>New>Folder” or using the keyboard shortcut “Command+Shift+N”. You may want to build folders based on Scenes, Characters, B-Roll, Locations, Props, Camera Angles, Framerate, Ratings, etc. You may also want to delete any of the Keyword collections you find unhelpful.

Once you’ve built your initial folder structure, you can select your folders and Option+Drag them to new Events. Going forward, any footage with Keywords in those folders will automatically be sorted into your existing Folder/Keyword structure.



Rejection in FCPX is a beautiful thing. Rejecting a range or clip is completely non-destructive and helps filter out footage that you don’t normally want to look at. However, at the flip of a switch, you can get it all back.

When prepping footage for the edit, you’ll want to go through and Reject the beginning of each clip up until the director calls “Action”.

You’ll also want to Reject from when they’ve called “Cut” until the end of the clip. You’ll also want to Reject "No-Good" and "Wild" takes.

If you are working with series takes, Reject the dead space between takes. For MOS/B-Roll you can Reject portions that are accidentally out of focus or that are between camera resets for moves.

Once you’ve made all of your rejections, you can filter them automatically out of your browser by clicking ctrl-H (hide rejected) to hide them, and you can bring them back at any time by hitting ctrl-C (all clips).


Multiple Selection Ranges and Favorites:

There’s a better way to make subclips and stringouts than what you’ve been doing in FCP7, Avid or Premiere. In FCPX, as you watch down your footage, it’s now possible to make selections (or multiple selections) and turn those into something called “Favorites.”

To do this, as you go through your clip, press “I” (in) or “O” (out) to set an in/out point (or hold down option and drag across the clip to make a selection). To make multiple selections as you watch down a clip, press Shift-Cmd-I (in) or Shft-Cmd-O (out), or Cmd-drag across the clip. You’ll see multiple selection ranges appear that you can continue to add to and then either edit into your timeline or turn into Favorites.

When you’ve found all the bits you like from a clip, you just push “F” and all of those selections will become Favorites that will appear in green directly below your clip in the Event Browser that you can now rename (select the favorite and press Enter, and type in the name), and edit accordingly. They’ll work just like regular clips.

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QUICK TIP: If you’re using a lot of Favorites and it’s cluttering up your screen, you can show & hide them by selecting the master clips and using the left & right arrows.

You can also make "subclips" (called Keyword Ranges in FCPX) by setting an in/out on a clip and dragging it over to a keyword collection of your choice. There are a lot of different ways to leverage these tools, but when I edit narrative work, I prefer to use Favorite ranges for my preferred moments and add Keywords to the master clips so I can keep everything in one place. Being able to switch between Favorites and all clips in thumbnail view is an extremely powerful tool.



Roles in FCPX 10.3 have been majorly updated from previous versions. You should Subroles as more powerful and flexible versions of a Track in Avid or Premiere, and Roles are groupings of those Subroles. For audio, Roles have the added feature of acting like an audio bus to which all of its Sub-Roles are routed. Both Audio and Video Roles are great for organizing your footage, but only Audio Roles make any difference in the organization of the Timeline.

Because audio Roles will be important, both during the edit and when sending to the sound mix, it is important to make sure they are set up properly before you start editing. To do this, select a clip, open the Inspector and go to the “Info” tab. Select the “Audio Roles” drop-down and choose “Edit Roles”.

Both FCPX and Sync-N-Link take mic labeling from your sound recordist and add the labels as Subroles in FCPX using iXML metadata. Those Subroles default to the “Dialogue” Role, but can be sent to a different Role on Import as was mentioned in Part 1. To see the Subroles for a certain Role, place your mouse over the Role and click “Show Subroles”.

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If your sound recordist was consistent in the labeling of each mic, you won’t have much work to do. However, if there were any variants in spelling (e.x. Jeff, Geoff, Geoffrey, Jeffy) you will want to merge those Subroles. To do that, place your mouse over a Subrole you want to merge into another Subrole. When the three lines appear on the right side of the Subrole, click and drag to place the Subrole on the Subrole you want to merge it into. Additionally, if there are any extraneous Subroles, click on the minus sign on the left side of that Subrole. You can also rename any Subrole by double-clicking on its name.

You will also want to check that Subroles have been properly applied to the Role Components of a clip. In the Inspector, under the audio tab you will find “Audio Configuration”. Listen through each of your Role Components and change any that were incorrectly assigned.

If you are working with Stills, Stock Footage or Archival Footage, you will want to add and apply new Video Roles and Subroles as well. In this case, you’ll want to make “Stock Footage” or “Archival Footage” the Role, and make Subroles for each archival or stock footage source. This makes it possible to send a Project FCPXML to Producer’s Best Friend to generate reports showing which clips will need to be ordered from each stock/archival source.


The Scene Library

If you made your Scene Library from a duplicate of the empty Dailies Library when you started, your Library Properties should already be set. If not, go into Library Properties (Command+Control+J) and set your Media & Cache to the same location you set for your Dailies Library.

Make sure your Motion Templates are set to save “In Library” and leave you Backups set to their default.

If you’re working on a feature-length project, make sure you’ve built a Scene Library for each Reel and worked out which scenes will go into each Reel. If you Iproject isn’t feature-length, you can probably get away with having a single Scene Library that can be duplicated for each editor.

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In the Scene Library, you’ll want to create Events for each Scene. You may also want to make Events for the following:

  • Projects: Similar to a “Sequence Bin”
  • Active Projects: This is where you will keep the most up-to-date versions of cuts
  • Lifts: If you have a few shots or a short scene in the timeline that you need to remove, but you want to save it for later, you can make a Compound Clip (Option+G) and add it to the “Lifts” event for safe keeping
  • VFX: This is where you’ll keep an VFX shots you've received from your VFX artist(s)
  • Compounds: A place to keep your own temp-VFX comps
  • Archival/Stock Footage: For any stock or archival b-roll
  • Music: Good for both temp tracks and composed music
  • SFX: Sound effects

For each scene shot on a day, go through and add Keyword ranges to each clip corresponding to the Lines that are being covered. If you don’t have a Lined version of the script, ask for one from your Script Supervisor. Use Keyword Ranges to group every three lines and use Markers to designate the beginnings of lines within that range (e.x. Keyword: "L1-3”, Markers at the beginning of lines 2 & 3).

As your Dailies are completed, you'll want to copy a day’s Event from the Dailies Library to the Scene Library. To do this, you’ll need to have both Libraries open at once. Select the Event for the Day you want to move over. Then select “File>Copy To Library” and select your Scene Library”. Final Cut Pro X will ask if you want to include Proxy & Optimized media. Make sure “Proxy” is checked and proceed. Once the Event has transferred, drag the clips into the Events for their respective Scenes.

If you have multiple editors, make duplicate Libraries at the Finder Level for each editor. From here on out, Editors should use the “Copy Event” command to move over new events from the “Master Scene Library” to their “Editing Library”. The “Copy Event” command can also be used to pass Projects between Editors and Assistant Editors.


Custom Metadata in FCP X

I’m sure there will be some of you who don’t have the luxury of using Sync-N-Link X or Shot Notes X. This is OK. There’s still a lot you can do. Just look at your Event Browser as a big, giant spreadsheet. You can use the Inspector in FCPX to enter in large amounts of metadata across multiple selections, and then sort, or even rename your clips accordingly. Here’s a possible workflow for quickly renaming your clips:

1. For a single camera shoot, select all of the video clips from a given day. Then go into the inspector, make sure you're in “Extended View,” and enter in the word “Vid” in the “Camera Angle” field. For a multicam shoot, select all of the clips from each different camera, and in the “Camera Angle” field, enter Cam A, B, C, etc. for each camera’s clips.

2. Grab all of the audio from the day. In the “Camera Angle” field enter in “Z_Audio.” Why put a Z in the front of it? FCP X specifies its angle order alphabetically. You always want your last camera angle to be your audio. Therefore, always put a “Z” or "Ω" (type Option+Z) in front when labeling your Audio’s Camera Angle field.

3. Assign metadata to the “Scene” field for each camera setup. For example, within your Sc05 keyword collection, you would assign 5A, 5B, 5C, 5D to each group of takes that were slated that way.

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4. Immediately after assigning the scene metadata with your clips selected, go ahead and assign your custom name preset. What’s that? It’s part of FCPX's Batch Renaming.

Batch Renaming: Honestly, this semi-hidden feature can save you tons of prep time, especially for things like documentaries.

Despite that, for some reason, almost no one is aware of it, and almost no one seems to be using it. It allows you to create custom naming presets and rename your clips based on metadata rather than entering names manually. You can even add escalating counters to them.

My typical batch renaming workflow works like this:
From the Inspector, I select the “Apply Custom Name>New” at the bottom right. A new screen will popup, and I’ll make a new preset and use the following tags:

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Custom preset: Scene_Angle_Counter

I’ll save it, and then with “Extended View” selected in the inspector, I’ll enter in the following over five takes that have been slated Scene – 05A:
Sample clip metadata entered:

Scene – Sc05A
Angle – CamB

I select all five takes of SC05A, and apply the preset. Then names for the clips will be renamed as follows:


Still confused? I did a video tutorial about it. (It’s a little bit old (FCPX 10.0.6), but it explains the batch renaming feature pretty well.

Quick Tip: If you’re working on a doc, keep in mind you can use those Scene, Take, and Angle fields for things besides Scene, Take, and Angle

For instance, you might want to use them for Location, Type of shot, and person… it’s really up to you, but the key concept to be aware of is that you can do enter metadata in batches and rename accordingly with an automatic numbering system applied to each clip if you want to use it.

That’s all for part 2.  In part 3, we’ll be giving best practices for all things editorial.  If you have any deeper questions at all about how to make some of this work for your productions… please reach out to us over at www.lumaforge.com.  For existing LumaForge customers… not only did you buy the only shared storage specifically optimized for FCPX, but we have your back on the workflow side too, and when you bought our storage, you also bought our brains.  We want to work with you to take your productions to the next level.

Lastly, if you’re a filmmaker in Los Angeles looking to find other people to make movies with, there’s no better place than We Make Movies, and if you’d like to become a member, you can do so here.

Written by
Top BloggerThought Leader

Sam Mestman is a lead contributor for FCP.co, the CEO of We Make Movies, and the founder of LumaForge.  

He’s had all the jobs and done all the things… but and more than anything… he's a guy who likes making movies, telling stories, and making the film industry faster, better, and cheaper.  

You can follow him on IG/Twitter at @sammestman.  You can see his film community at @wemakemovies or www.wemakemovies.org

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