Part one of Carsten Orlt's story of the making of the Visible Farmer series was very popular. In part two, he goes into great detail about exactly how he edits with Final Cut Pro X. Lots of FCPX editing tips to follow and knowledge to be had!
If you haven't already read part one, you should! It gives a good outline about Visible Farmer, how it was shot and how to produce a documentary series on the road.
When it came to edit the films we will publish on Facebook @visiblefarmer, our website visiblefarmer.com and the YouTube Channel, I had a few years of working with Final Cut Pro X under my belt, so I knew what to do.
To prepare for the edit I assign a couple of roles to the video/audio clips after import. I only make two modifications. All original camera audio tracks are assigned their own ‘camera’ role in the audio roles section. I also add an independent interview audio role which I assign to the interview clips of the Zoom F4 recordings.
This way when I edit or do audio sweetening I can easily see where an audio source originates from. It is also really helpful to have these role changes assigned when I switch to audio lanes in the timeline.
By re-arranging roles I can have the interview audio on the top followed by ‘dialogue’ which is all Zoom F4 audio tracks, followed by camera audio, followed by effects and finally music. And I can also quickly export interview audio only from a project for caption generation.
As mentioned before, I initially create one event per shooting day. In contrast to what I do on long form projects, I then create an event per ‘scene’, e.g., Milking, Bring in Cows for Milking, Feeding in Paddock, etc.
On long form projects I create 1 event per shooting location and then create keywords for scenes, different people, animals, landscape, and quite a few more. I like to keep events small if possible, but also at the same time keep the overall amount of events as small as possible.
Because the final stories are only about 6 minutes each, the amount of scenes we shoot averaged 15 per story. That works well in the library list and is easy to scan visually when I’m looking for a specific scene.
Compare this to a long form project where I may have 10 scenes for each of the average 6 shooting locations. If I would create 10 scene events for 6 shooting locations, I end up with 60 events. Very hard to quickly find what you’re looking for. So in this case 1 event per location and the rest gets organised by keywords which are grouped in folders by topic.
For the Visible Farmer project I hardly use keywords because the event already covers my organisational needs for the individual projects.
I could add all sorts of keywords but it would just take time for not much benefit.
What I do though is use ‘Favourites’ and ‘Rejects’. I go through every clip before I start to edit and mark my ‘Favourite’ range(s) of that clip. I use ‘Reject’ only for completely unusable clips. This way I virtually create a ‘select reel’ without the ‘reel’. I then set the browser to clip view and ’show only favourites’ to start editing. I only switch to ‘hide rejected’ when I want to see the ranges of clips I didn’t mark ‘Favourite’ but without seeing the clips that are definitely unusable.
The only area where I make use of keywords extensively is for music. We use library music from Artlist and Audio Network.
I could start looking for music separately for every story but I do find that inefficient. I have sessions where I go through each library and download music that I like and I think might fit the project. I import these into seperate libraries for each stock music library. I then keyword the music with attributes that make sense to me.
I use keywords for Genre, Instrumentation, Mood, and additional attributes like ‘Build up’, ‘Driving’, etc. Anything that comes to mind when I listen to the music, not what somebody else might have thought is helpful. Takes a bit of time but it is amazing how quickly you can hone in on the piece you think will fit when you search by your own criteria.
When it comes to the actual edit there are now many articles and videos posted that show the power of the software so I will only mention 2 areas here that are most important to me.
One is audio. The ability to edit audio at sample level all the time was a game changer for me. I can clean up audio while I edit and don’t have to wait and second guess to what the audio guys will be able to do or fix.
I've done final mixes for my films from the beginning of my editing career, but was always struggling with the ‘only edit audio per video frame’ constraints. This is specially annoying when editing speech and music.
To also have multitrack audio contained within the corresponding videoclip, even after syncing with external recorded audio, is fantastic. Because when you edit you don’t want to worry all the time about 4 or more tracks of audio.
The stories narration is being based on only interviews, therefore a lot of the audio of the actuality clips can be pulled down during editorial without going into the tracks and deciding between radio(s) or boom or camera mic.
Being in the same container as the video also means most times you just trim one clip and audio just follows. Later when you work on the audio you can expand the tracks for more detail. So much easier and less cluttered than a track based system.
I never missed the classical mixer interface so many hope for in Final Cut. I’m much quicker and accurate using keyframes to control the volume right on the clip than I would be going through a classical mixer interface. And since the overhaul of the role setup allows to create ‘buses’, I’m very happy with the control I have over the audio in Final Cut Pro X.
The second reason why I like FCPX more than the rest is because of independent storylines.
Once you have made complicated edits to clean up an interview or make the music work to a given image sequence, you don’t want to mess with them anymore which unfortunately you can’t always avoid in a track based system. Having independent storylines also allows me to work in a way that suits the way I think/edit.
Normally you construct films which only use interviews as narration with editing the interview first in the main storyline. You then add connected clips, sometimes combined into a secondary storyline, for your ‘cut-aways’ covering the edits in the interview.
This approach never really worked for me because my ‘cut-aways’ (I never liked the word as I don’t cut away - I do cut towards) are as important to tell the story as the interview. I actually edit the 2 ‘storylines’ simultaneously.
What I call actuality, e.g. milking a cow, needs to flow as a visual story in it’s on right. I look at the interview and edit the section Gisela selected as the best bit e.g. either directly talking about milking or some overarching topic, like what it was like when the kids were small and she had to milk the cows at the same time as looking after the kids.
I edit the interview in a secondary storyline and place it under the main storyline.
The reason for this is complex. The number one reason is that I treat the interview the same way I would treat narration. I do not edit the picture following narration, I edit the narration following picture.
The second reason is that I’m not necessary sure were and when I want to have the interviewee on screen. Sometimes it is because she has a lovely smile or is super engaged while talking, sometimes it’s because I need to skip an actuality part and use the interview to seperate say the cows moving into the shed and the best part of putting on the milking cups.
It can also be that I want the interviewee on screen for pure edit rhythm reason, eg. we haven’t seen her for a while. When I place the interview into a secondary storyline underneath the main storyline I control the ‘on screen’ part by adding gaps to the main storyline. Because the interview needs to flow and sound natural,I often have to remove pauses, ohms, add an ‘and’ or combine 2 different parts of the interview talking about the same subject.
We very carefully try to achieve the best possible delivery from the interviewee without ever changing the meaning of what she talked about. Keeping these sometimes very complicated and fine detailed edits in its own container avoids me fiddling with them again.
And because the ‘secondary storyline’ is placed underneath the main storyline, I can also instantly see where I have a long enough section to have her on screen and where I can’t. If I want to change the actuality because I discover a wonderful moment or just want to watch what’s happening, I see what my options are in terms of edit rhythm and how to keep the interviewee present. It is also much easier to add a little pause in the interview to make it fit the actuality edit, then the reverse because I can’t make a cow walk faster without it becoming silly.
The decision between the 2 parts, interview and actuality, is always fluent but I guess I just slightly put more emphasise on my actuality to make sure it’s also telling the best possible story. Because this is more difficult than getting the story out of spoken words, I love that Final Cut allows me to put secondary storylines with video clips underneath the main storyline.
The only down part is that I lose the ability to get detailed trim feedback with the tail-head trim view in the viewer when that edit is between a clip and a gap in the main storyline. Even though I have a video clip underneath the gap, Final Cut doesn’t show you the underneath clip in the tail-head trim view in the viewer where the gap clip is but just black which represents the gap clip. I send feedback to Apple about this so I hope this maybe will be addressed in the future.
The second area I like using secondary storylines for is editing music. I’m very particular how music shapes ‘underneath’ my edit. I want beginnings, development throughout and an ending. Working with royalty free music you always have to edit the music to make all of that work.
Once I’m happy with the actuality and interview flow I only have to mess with the music storyline without having to manage the other parts. This is specially helpful when you have to edit already placed music and have lots of other music and effects etc, further down the ‘track’.
In a track based system I always had to add more and more tracks to not be restricted by what comes after. There is also another neat thing about music in secondary storylines. We know that you can expand a video clip to see the audio parts. You can actually do the same with an audio only clip. When you do this you can then pull the audio underneath the other audio inside the secondary storyline. For music this becomes super handy because you can edit different sections of music within a single storyline and match the beat by just looking at the waveform when you overlap the expanded audio. Saves a lot of time.
Graphics and effects
On the graphic and effects side we have a fairly minimal approach. We believe a story lives through an emotional connection with your talent and too much trickery only distracts.
I guess I’m quite a conservative editor that believes special effects have to have a meaning in your story telling rather than being fashionable. Slow-mo for instance is completely overused these days and very rarely used as a story telling tool.
For the series we developed a simple graphical look for titles, supers and credits. I used Motion to build the templates and published the text and other parameters I need to change so I don’t have to rebuild a new super or map for every story.
It also protects me from making mistakes if I would need to copy and paste lots of elements every time. It makes it super easy and fast to add those elements.
One little thing that I find personally annoying is that when you modify a motion template (and requirements change during editing which could mean you need another control published) you have to re-apply it by using ‘replace’. Unfortunately when you use title templates the already entered text and other settings are not always preserved.
Even worse is if you decide your titles should be in a different group for better organisation. Once you do this, all title templates already placed go offline. Again replacing them with the same template in a new location doesn’t re-create them but it starts from the default settings.
I think it’s good practise to store Motion templates in the library by selecting ‘In Library’ in the dialogue where you select the storage locations for media etc. This way at least you preserve the motion templates in your project in case you change things later. Makes it easier to see what you might have to recreate.
You really have to think hard about setting up your whole template system because changes are not always easy.
For colour grading I was looking into using Resolve, but after I explored the new colour correction tools in FCPX, I changed my mind quickly.
FCPX has now almost everything you need to do a high quality grade. The integration of the LUT workflow at clip level together with the possibility of unlimited colour effects lets you build complicated grades easily.
The only thing missing now are trackable masks. I do have the Chromatic plugin from Coremelt which has trackable masks, so I can use these for now until Apple implements tracking, which I hope they’ll do.
Staying within FCPX for all colour correction lets me start grading while editing, something I always liked because it helps to judge whether an otherwise unusable, but critical for the story, shot might be able to be salvaged in the grade. Using clips from one project in another also is so much easier because you can either copy and paste the clips with the correction already applied or just copy and paste the effects.
Resolve has of course a deeper tool set but this project is for online and on a budget so I have to find solutions that deliver great quality in a time efficient workflow that doesn’t cost me a lot in terms of extra software and higher hardware requirements. And the FCPX UI is optimised to work on a smaller laptop screen which doesn’t really work for Resolve.
I have now different workspace setups for editing, grading, audio work, logging and tagging and presentation. I hope these will be accessible via keyboard shortcuts in the future. Right now I use the system keyboard shortcuts to access the workspace names in the menu.
As mentioned before, the term online has a different meaning for me now. I do 95% of all ‘online’ work with the proxies and only have a final pass with the original media with minimal corrections for the final output.
My basic colour correction workflow starts with a Canon LUT applied at clip level. We shoot in Canon Log2 and I can disable the LUT at any time if I need to, to get more control over shadows or highlights in super high contrast shots, but more times then not the LUT does most of the work.
For further adjustments I start with the ‘Colour Curves’ effect to make contrast and level adjustment. This is followed by a ‘Colour Wheel’ effect to control overall cast(s) and saturation. And finally one (or more if necessary) secondary corrections which can be either another ‘Colour Curves’ effect to add a vignette to darken specific parts with the help of masks, or a ‘Hue/Saturation’ effect to make very specific colour changes.
If I need a tracked mask I of course have to use Chromatic from Coremelt. I’m not trying to create a special look for our series. What I want is as truthful representation as I can get for how a farm looks in real life. I might use Vignettes to focus the viewers attention to something but otherwise the natural colour palette is what I’m after. Our films, and the farmer in it, should look ‘real’.
Other than colour grade I might stabilise an odd shot, flop it, or create a time ramp for an aerial to combine the wide and the closer part without taking up too much screen time. As mentioned before, I’m quite conservative in this regard as every visual choice is part of telling your story. And our story is the real life of a female farmer, not the advertising or reality show version.
On the audio side I have a preset for interviews which consists of an EQ, Compressor and Limiter. All these are the built-in effects in Final Cut. I might adjust the individual effects slightly per female farmer, but mostly the preset I created with all 3 effects in it works as is.
The rest of the sound work is cleaning up the audio of the actuality, choosing which mic to use, at what level and whether I need to replace audio with a different section because of some problems like background noise, extra voices not in shot, etc. I might add the odd atmosphere track or specific sound effect from the library. Because the dominant audio for all stories is the voice of the female farmer this is done sparsely to not overload the sound track.
I start mixing while editing by adjusting volume graphs as I go. Once the edit is locked this of course needs another pass.
The rough rule I follow is that the interviewee is 100% present and the most important audio. If we can’t understand what she is saying, I've lost the audience.
Actuality audio is the colour to make the story ‘real’ and authentic. Spoken words are roughly at 80-90% presence to distinguish them from the interview. Effects are used to help tell the story on screen and off screen and to enhance the atmosphere of a place. Sound effects can also sometimes work as a little ‘pay attention’ device.
Finally the music shapes around all the other parts and always tries to tell the mood of that part of the story. Once I’m happy with the audio I compound the whole edit into one clip and apply the Final Plug effect from Wavearts. This ‘magic’ effect is used as a final mastering pass. I chose the DVD preset and voila audio is at full level and has just this great dynamic and loudness without clipping or pumping.
I export my 1920x1080 25p master to Compressor and create a 1080 master for Youtube, which is also embedded on the website, and a 1280x720 master for Facebook.
Another big thank you to Carsten for taking the time to share such a fascinating FCPX user story with us. We are currently arranging for Carsten to be a guest on our live show on our YouTube channel, so please make sure you subscribe and hit the bell to get notification when we will be on!