How Final Cut Pro is helping viewers come along for the ride in the cockpits of YouTuber's private jet flights.
YouTube has become an aspect of life for every video creator - both as the go-to online learning resource and as a distribution outlet for content. Many video professionals have turned YouTube into an important revenue source. I’m sure many of us have gone down the rabbit hole watching their product reveals and gear reviews. There are countless videos targeted towards nearly any niche you can imagine.
We recently ran across one such niche that might be less obvious to many content creators - aviation. There are a number of flying enthusiast channels, but two stand out - Premier 1 Driver and CitationMax. Together, they have nearly 300,000 combined subscribers and their videos routinely gain hundreds of thousands of views each.
Premier 1 Driver features Greg Mink, a corporate executive, who served time as an F16 military pilot. He has been able to convert his passion for flying into a valuable resource for his company. CitationMax is Max Weldon’s channel, who likewise started as a young pilot. Weldon was also able to convert a passion into a career in corporate aviation. In Mink’s case, his primary job involves routine travel to smaller markets, which are often not served by large airports. Travel by car would require a few days, whereas flying his private jet turns this into a day trip.
A passion for flight isn’t the only thing in common. Both produce excellent videos for YouTube that put the viewer in the seat next to the pilot. And both produce these videos through the help of Final Cut Pro.
Premier 1 Driver
I recently spoke with Sam Pittman, an Indiana University senior who handles the editing for CitationMax. He started with Premier 1 Driver, where Mink helped Pittman hone his production skills, before being introduced to Weldon. During his internship with Mink, Pittman cut the videos out of the company’s Indianapolis offices. But Weldon is based in New York, so files are sent via DropBox, which allows Pittman to edit while living in Indianapolis.
Sam Pittman walked me through the typical workflow for his videos. “These are usually recorded with five GoPros, which give us views out the front, over the left wing, a shot of the control panel, an overhead angle, and one facing the pilot. We use three quick handclaps to sync the cameras. The GoPros also record the headset audio.”
“The cameras break up the recordings into 17 minute chunks, so I combine each camera angle into a compound clip in Final Cut. Then I group those compounds into a multicam group. The headset audio becomes the audio angle in the multicam. I will cut the multicam angles first, then trim down the videos for time, and add additional jet sounds as needed.
Greg and Max usually record the taxiing and take-off and then shut off the cameras once they are in flight. Then they pick it up again to record the descent and arrival at the destination. I get about an hour of footage, which is then edited down into a 30-minute video.”
Occasionally some of these videos include a 360-degree camera angle, as well as some overlay graphics. Pittman continues, “Greg has a GoPro Fusion, which we can incorporate as a camera angle. He’ll record in 360, reframe the part that he wants to see in Final Cut, and export that as an angle. Unfortunately, there’s no way to mix VR and standard shots within the same timeline and still have the 360/VR angle controllable by the viewer.
The GoPro cameras also generate telemetry, which can be extracted using the GoPro desktop app. Those clips can be brought into Final Cut where we incorporate them with the other angles. Additional graphics are third-party Motion templates or are built and keyframed in Final Cut.”
Pittman pointed me to a YouTube video that explained the process for converting GoPro telemetry into video. GoPro cameras, like the Hero 7 and 8, can capture GPS, speed, elevation gain, G-force, and other data once you enable the camera's GPS mode. This data is represented as gauges superimposed over the video through the GoPro app or the legacy Quik desktop application. Import the GoPro files into Quik and select which of these to display. Then adjust scale and position using the on-screen controls. When you export the video, these gauges are baked into the file as finished graphics. That file is then brought into Final Cut Pro as a source.
Cockpits can be cramped, so gear is a concern. I wondered whether any gear upgrades where on the horizon. He says, “We have experimented with different cameras, like DJI. For now, the cameras are all GoPros. 4K video might be the next move, but safety is always the main concern. The pilots very much want a system that’s ‘set it and forget it.’
The cameras are typically mounted with either suction cup mounts on the glass or a clamp mount on a divider. At altitude frost builds up on the windshield and some types of suction cups won’t hold. We’ve found the JOBY mounts to be rock solid. Greg has also used a miniature tripod for some angles. I would love to have a camera mounted outside under the wing, but there’s no way to do that safely on a jet. And of course, you generally can’t fly drones near an airport, so no such establishing angles can be available.”
Why Final Cut Pro? Pittman explains, “I’ve had a passion for video since high school. We had a video production class and it was the only subject where you weren’t tied down. Math is math, but in the video class anything could be the subject and you could use your imagination. It was a Mac lab and I started with iMovie. I’ve tried the Adobe products, but I couldn’t really figure them out. Final Cut Pro is super intuitive and it runs well on a stock Mac, like my 13” MacBook Pro. I like the third-party plug-ins for titles and transition. I use the [motionvfx] mTuber package for some of the graphics.
Moving from iMovie to Final Cut is like moving from a Toyota to a Ferrari.”
To wrap up the conversation, I was curious about the appeal for these channels. After all, many of the videos run long, which is less common for social media videos. Pittman explains, “The first thing is that these videos are educational. People watch these videos during their training to become a pilot. It gets them familiar with the radio calls and standard operating procedure.
The second thing is that everyone thinks flying is cool. People are into it. The demographics skew heavily male and guys love cars and planes. So there’s a vicarious nature to them. Greg and Max fly single-pilot, so these videos put people in the righthand seat. It makes you feel like you are there with them in the cockpit. It’s a very immersive experience.”