As Final Cut Pro X lets beginners cut high quality media from the moment they open the app, do they look at the software learning process any differently to established editors? Steve Bayes visits the recent Vlog University and Smartphone Studio Workshop to find out more. He also gives us some great FCPX editing tips.
“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”
-Shunyru Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
How and why do people learn new technology? Why are some — even experts — quick to adopt new methods and others are not? Why do some people refuse to learn something new for what seems like irrational or emotional reasons? Pride? Job security? Fear of failure? These kinds of questions are at the heart of whether new technology actually helps or hurts.
I recently attended two fascinating workshops that made me stop and re-think a concept that was influential to me in editing and managing creative products — the Beginner’s Mind. Here’s a quick definition from Wikipedia:
So this can even work for crusty types like myself! Originally a Zen Buddhist concept, Shoshin, it can be applied in a wide range of everyday situations, but immensely useful when continuing to learn creative software. This article looks at how the benefits of learning never really end depending on your approach and some tips for anyone improving their FCP X skills to the next stage.
The first workshop was with Sam Mestman and Aubrey Mozino’s Smartphone Studio Workshops along with We Make Movies and TSMA Consulting. They organized 2 days of professionals presenting a basic guerrilla style for making videos to a group of young, successful Instagrammers (5.85 million followers represented).
The Smartphone Studio workshop began on Saturday with an overview on using FilmicPro with the iPhone 11 Pro, gimbals and how to choose the best microphones from Apogee. The Instagrammers were all mostly unfamiliar with doing video for Instagram although there were some notable exceptions like TJ Wright. Teams of 4 were sent out in to the wilds of LA to shoot a short script and bring it back before the end of the day. It would then be ingested in to MacBook Pros with FCP X for the editing lesson on Sunday.
All of the teams came back before the deadline with professional looking material that was designed to cut a short, compelling story. The original plan was to restrict the creative process to “5 shots”, but it was clear right away that this would be ignored in the interests of a deeper dive into story. There were a few close encounters with security folk who are hip to low budget movies being shot on the fly in the city lost angles, but none were serious or resulted in jail time!
On Sunday morning the editing began in earnest. Sam stepped them through the basics of finding footage and dropping it into the Timeline. There was a quick section on color grading, effects, titles and, because I specifically requested it, speed ramping. I walked around the teams, proctoring like I have done many times before, and observed what was easy and what was hard for these Instagrammer students to grasp.
I spent thousands of hours teaching nonlinear editing to professional adults as the first certified trainer to teach for Avid in the early 1990’s. In those days we taught working editors how to use a mouse and to always switch on the external hard drives before you boot the computer! It was also hard work to re-train a linear mindset to non-linear.
One of the most common requests we got back then was for a “Preview” button just like on their tape editing systems. How can you make an edit if you haven’t seen it previewed? And you must have a 5 second pre-roll and a 5 second post-roll like proper professionals! Clearly Avid didn’t understand pro editing if they didn’t have a Preview button, right?
As I look back on the absurdity of this very real problem, I think again of the ones that learned it fastest — the one’s with no preconceptions, no judgements, no outright dismissal of the new way because it didn’t conform to the old way.
CMX keyboard courtesy of Wikipedia. CMX stood for CBS, Memorex, and eXperimental. (Looking a lot like the new Resolve keyboard! - Editor)
Eventually I came up with a catch phrase that I taught to all the trainers I trained worldwide — “No preview, only undo.”
This was true because it rhymed! But it was also a bit of an opaque Zen koan because many of the editors had no concept that you “undo” an edit after you made it. The look of enlightenment as we showed these working professionals how to use Command-Z was incredibly rewarding. Most were off to the next stage in their career, but not all of them made it. The difference was thinking like a beginner and learning to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Fast forward 25 years and now what would be the stumbling blocks for this generation?
The UI was radically different from anything having to do the with the tape suite mash up with the film flatbed like traditional non-linear editing systems. Did it make a difference to work with a brand new paradigm? To put this in perspective, the original training for non-linear editors was at least 3 days for the 101 class and 2 more days for the Effects class. These kids were cutting professional content in a matter of hours, so — yes, emphatically yes — it made a huge difference.
You could make the argument that this generation of Instagrammers and YouTubers don’t have to “unlearn” anything so their minds are not weighed down with the old way, but you would be wrong. They certainly were messing with iMovie as well as other iOS and consumer editing software. And they inevitably hit the restrictions of these simpler systems.
Some may have had media training from their high school or college focussed on working the way you need to “get a job” when you graduate. But with the speed of technological change, anything taught in the freshman year is going to be outdated by graduation so why not just teach Technical Story Telling?
These students didn’t really want more complexity — they had to see the need for it and this is where the important Apple design concept of “progressive disclosure” really shines.
Progressive disclosure is the philosophy that the initial impression of UI should be approachable; friendly even. And you learn the application because it is task oriented.
You may have heard the common metaphor that no one really wants to buy an electric drill, they just want to have some holes in the wall — the value of the drill is only insomuch as it solves the problem.
So you say to yourself “I can do this” and adopt the tools that allow you to start piecing the story together.
Then you begin to think wouldn’t it be great if you could just change this one thing and make the cut more precise? Or add in animated titles?
Or slow things down just a little and then speed them back up? And, since you’re already editing along, you go back to the tools you already know.
Only then you discover there are a bunch more controls and parameters that maybe you didn’t see before — they were one step below the surface of the UI.
Only move to the higher level of complexity as you need it. It comes with a little more effort and deeper learning but, you are motivated and that’s how it is supposed to work. Uncertainty becomes an adventure.
Do you expect a professional interface to be complex and hard to use? Perhaps by spending the time to learn all the deep controls of “pro” software you will dig a moat around your personal castle — no one else can do your job so there is a sense that the complexity protects you.
It does not, because complex things get easier all the time —this is a basic tenet of a very successful business model. And, as with the Instagrammers, there is no value in being proficient with complex software if it doesn’t help to be better creators.
The paradigm and the business model has shifted — a disintermediation has occurred because they work for themselves and are not looking on Craig’s List for the next gig. The real value is the result — the holes in the wall — not the model number of the drill.
And, for the record, almost every project used speed ramping with the Retime Editor.
So where did these students struggle after receiving only a few hours of training? There were 3 important areas and here are some of the things they became more comfortable with over time:
As to viewing the material, the main issue was just spending a bit longer to learn how to modify the UI views. Since they were working on 15” MacBook Pros, maximizing the screen real estate was critical and FCP X is designed to work well on the smaller, single screen.
Find the preset view buttons in the upper right of the UI.
- Learn how to expand and contract the size of the source clips in the Browser.
- With the Browser selected, Shift-Z will return all the clips to a single thumbnail for faster visual search.
- Start to use skimming more than J-K-L for basic navigation.
- Turn on the Continuous Play option in the Clip Appearance and Filtering Menu.
Use all the space you have in the Timeline and learn to manipulate the UI to maximize it.
- Shift-Z while in the Timeline will expand the clips to take up all the available space. It is one of my favorite commands and invaluable when making presentations to clients (or user groups!).
- Use Command + and Command - to zoom in and out around the areas for trimming after the initial assembly.
- For really precise zooming, hold down the Z key and drag over the area you want to zoom. This will fill the Timeline UI with just the section you want to work on.
- Combined with the search capabilities of the Timeline Index, jumping right to the spot you need to tweak is so much faster than any other editing app.
The Retime Editor of FCP X is unequaled anywhere in the editing world and is even more useful once you grasp the depth. It makes such a difference to any project to have that level of creative control which can be both subtle or stylistic.
- Add the Retime effect by selecting the clip and pressing Command-R.
- Position the playhead where you want the speed to change. Press Shift-B to blade the retime effect — not the clip — and click on the disclosure triangle before or after the blade point to change the speed. An automatic speed change smoothing is applied which can be modified later.
- The key to unlocking the full potential of the Retime Editor is to double-click on the blade point and that opens the Speed Transition dialog. Then click on Source Frame: Edit. A frame icon appears and you can drag it forward or backward to change the exact frame the speed ramp begins. This is magic.
Starting to work with key framing was a bit beyond what the beginners could get into with the time they had (they spent more time color grading), but the most important thing I helped them understand was:
- Be clear what actual parameters are checked when you start to add keyframes.
- Do not underestimate the power of the Motion templates with video drop zones and easily modified behavior in FCP X. Companies like MotionVFX are invaluable to this group with well designed animations that are key to personal branding.
Here is a short open made with Motion VFX with pretty much all the parameters left in the default settings.
In the LA Convention Center over 2 days, Future Media Conferences launched the version 1.0 of the Vlog University with iJustine.
As I write this, Google announced that YouTube earns $15 billion a year, so this kind of emerging knowledge continues to get even more important.
There were 3 simultaneous sessions focussing on different areas of vlogging with a vendor expo on Friday night. I enjoyed the presentations made by some of the best known presenters, but I also wanted to spend some time studying areas that I was unfamiliar with.
The group of attendees was quite diverse compared to the usual suspects at NAB. There was a wide range of ages, races, lifestyles and they looked a lot more like America. What was most interesting to me was: what do they not know yet? That would help inform future conferences and better serve this fast growing group.
iJustine’s presentations on collaboration, audience engagement, and mobile video were all speaking to areas I needed to think about more. As we watch the strategies emerge for social media subscription success, the areas I knew least about were in the areas of analytics, how to approach the YouTube algorithm and other methods to drive subscriptions.
Here is a brief overview of the sessions I attended:
Jeff Greenberg’s talk on color is always enlightening since it touches on the key areas all vloggers must learn:
- How to use the more powerful color controls of FCP X to set black, white and midtones.
- Neutralizing color cast.
- Matching shots.
- He was also brave enough to show how the RGB parade scopes are invaluable for making the best kind of color decisions.
I heard later that there were many in attendance who had never seen how powerful basic color grading could be even if you are just grabbing and running with a point and shoot video camera.
Steve Martin’s session on editing faster with FCP X was also at the perfect level for the vloggers who were self taught. It addressed many of the areas that beginners find frustrating as they expand their skills to intermediate:
- Changing the clip connection point or slipping it when adjusting clips in the primary storyline.
- Using the Position tool to change the default Magnetic Timeline behavior
- The mind-blowing power of the Timeline Index.
- Using the Share function with Bundles when exporting multiple formats for multiple deliveries all at the same time (and working in the background).
There was much more in this packed presentation, but I really appreciated how he focussed on the areas where users needed to know what they don’t know. Any one who works with a beginning FCP X creator, should help their colleagues with this next tier of power tips or have them sign up for Ripple Training courses.
PhotoJoseph showed great suggestions for an inexpensive studio including some DIY for sound deadening.
Mark Spencer demoed the incredible power of Motion and using Motion snapshots to change the formats for multiple delivery platforms — not automated, but the level of control ensures a higher degree of success.
Alex Lindsay (Twitter: @alexlindsay) went into depth on improving chroma keying, but most notably had a lively discussion with creators who favored TikTok. I relented and finally downloaded the TikTok app — maybe the haiku of social video?
Nicki Sun talked about the strategies in picking cameras and formats and then followed up with a second presentation on audio recording. Since I travel a lot and try to keep it all carry-on (last trip was 8 hotels and one before was 11), getting the best quality with the lightest gear is a bit of an obsession. And you can always record better audio — always.
If any of these workshops sound useful keep an eye on the Post Production World schedule for NAB this year. Future Media Conferences will have another great line up and, because of the success of the Vlog University, you just might see one in your area in the near future. Sam and Aubrey will continue to bring the Smartphone Studio Workshops to special venues as they did here and I expect to see many more.
The next time you approach new software or a difficult project keep your mind empty of pre-made opinions and conclusions.
Be comfortable with uncertainty because of the possibility that you might see a better approach that is not so “obvious” or “standard” — this could be in the technical approach as well as the actual content.
Even as an expert, using the Beginner’s Mind approach can be a part of what Buddhists call “skillful means” and can keep your mind and creativity fresh no matter what your religion.
As I prepare another 2-3 months of travel this year, I am working out new techniques for photos, videos and editing while on the road that might resonate with other Boomer travelers and I’m working with TSMA to expand my following on Instagram (TheSteveBayes).
Its still all a big experiment and a great excuse for me to continue to learn and fail and learn again. Or, using a more modern phrase from Silicon Valley: “Fail early, fail often” and that is currently the plan!