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A Guide to FCP X, Part 3: Fine cut techniques

This is a 6 part series on using FCP X:

Part 1: Import & Organize

Part 2: Rough Cut Techniques

Part 3: Fine Cut Techniques

Part 4: Primary & Secondary Grading

Part 5: Transitions, Titles & Effects

Part 6: Export & Archive

Step 1 - Review your edit with keyboard shortcuts

Now that you’ve got a rough cut together, you should take a closer look at what you’ve done. Press Home (or Fn-Left on a number-pad-free keyboard) to skip back to the beginning, and press Space. When you get to a part you’d like to review, press Space to pause, then / (slash) to play around the edit. Once you’ve made an assessment, play with Space, or jump from edit to edit with the up and down arrow keys. Fix small problems now if you like, or just leave yourself some to-do markers for later review.

Step 2 - Cut it down with quick trims

Don’t like to pause? Work a little faster. While the movie plays, you can instantly make the movie shorter. Pressing Option-[ moves the in point of the current clip to the playhead’s position. Pressing Option-] does the same with the out point. While the playhead travels down the timeline, you can make an instant series of judgements:

Press Space to start playback

Press Space to start playback.

This clip should start… now! (Option-[ pressed)

This clip should start… now! (Option-[ pressed).

…and end… now! (Option-] pressed)

…and end… now! (Option-] pressed).

And the next clip should start now! (Option-[ again)

And the next clip should start now! (Option-[ again).


The downside? The edit can only get shorter with these commands. While that’s normally a good thing (every frame must justify its existence!) sometimes you’ll want to go the other way.


Step 3 - Finesse with Ripple and Roll

For a speedy, yet more careful edit, you can quickly access ripple and roll with shortcut keys. While your playhead is over an edit point (up and down arrows help with that) press [ to select the nearest out point, ] to select the nearest in point, and \ to select them both together (for a roll). To move the selected point(s), use , and . (comma and period) to nudge the edit one frame back or forward. Add Shift to those “nudging keys” (making < and >) to nudge by ten frames. After each adjustment, just press / to play around the edit again, to check your work, and use the up and down arrows to move around the timeline, edit to edit.

After pressing \, this point is ready to roll!

After pressing \ this point is ready to roll!


An alternate strategy for rippling and rolling your way down the timeline here is to double-click on an edit and use the Precision Editor instead, with a little more visual flair. All the same keys work, and you can still use the arrow keys to jump up and down the timeline.

Double-click an edit to see this

Double-click an edit to see this.


Step 4. Finesse with Slip and Slide

Even if you’ve got all the edits placed properly, you still might not have all the right media in the right places. Slip lets you change just which parts of a clip are visible while keeping its length on the timeline constant. Imagine that each clip in a timeline is a window onto its media, sitting beneath it. Slipping a clip leaves the window in place, but moves the media underneath it. To perform a slip, press T to access the trim then drag on a clip sideways. Alternatively, just click on the clip you want to adjust, then use the nudging shortcuts (, and . or < and >).

T for trim, then click a clip to slip

T for trim, then click a clip to slip.


Another related edit can help if you have a clip between two clips you’d like to roll. This is called a slide, and you can access it by holding Option, then dragging on that clip in the middle. Dragging to, for example, the right, means that the first clip gets longer, the third clip gets shorter, and the middle clip stays the same length, but moves down the timeline to the right. A little like moving a connected clip above two other clips, but all on the same storyline. And yes, you can select the Trim tool, then Option-click on a clip and use the nudging keys.

T for trim, then Option-click a clip to slide

T for trim, then Option-click a clip to slide.


Step 5 - Revisit your auditions

If you’ve been using auditions, now’s the time to take a second look. Select an audition, and press Control-left arrow or Control-right arrow to switch from clip to clip. Wait, what happened? Probably, you flicked across to a different Space. By default, Mac OS X uses these keys to skip between workspaces, so head to System Preferences, then Keyboard, then Keyboard Shortcuts, then look for Mission Control in the list on the left. Select it, then uncheck it on the right.

This is how it works in Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) at least

This is how it works in Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) at least.


Back in FCP X, you can now use the built-in shortcuts to instantly flick from clip to clip within an audition, without opening the audition pop-up at all. Much faster. Use / again to play around the playhead if appropriate, or just use J-K-L for quick review.

You won’t be needing this

You won’t be needing this.


And a quick note if you shot multicam — you can treat your multicam clips somewhat like auditions. Press Option-1/2/3/etc. to switch the current shot to a different angle without introducing a new cut.


Step 6 - Split some edits

Not every edit cuts audio and video at the same time — sometimes one changes before the other. These “split edits” come in two varieties: where audio starts first, it’s a J-cut, and if video starts first, that’s an L-cut — named for the shape of the edit in the timeline. Though you might not have noticed, you’ve seen and heard these before. In fact, if you’ve put a video-only cutaway over the start of a clip, you’ve already created something similar.

Even within the primary storyline, it’s easy: double-click the audio waveform under a clip, press Control-S, or choose Clip > Expand Audio / Video. This lets you move the visual edit point with a roll, or trim the outgoing or incoming audio clip shorter or longer. Depending on the edit you want to perform, you may wish to split that clip’s neighbor as well.

A typical J-cut, with audio expanded on both clips

A typical J-cut, with audio expanded on both clips.


With audio expanded, press \ to select both video edit points, then use the nudging keys to trim the video without the audio. (You could also select the Trim tool with T and drag that same point left or right.) For audio adjustments, use the mouse to drag one or both audio edits shorter or longer. Extending one across the other causes it to politely and conveniently move out of the way. If an audio edit starts or ends harshly, hover just inside the top edge of the audio clip, until you see a different cursor: simply two small black arrows pointing left and right over a small downward-pointing marker, the fade handle. Now, click and drag that fade handle towards the inside of the clip to apply an instant fade to soften the cut. Done.

The same edit with some audio softening applied

The same edit with some audio softening applied.


Step 7 - Tweak the audio levels

Especially after a little softening, you’ll probably want to review the audio levels. If you can’t see the full-size audio meters in the bottom right corner, click the mini meters to the right of the dashboard in the middle of the interface. Now play the edit, and watch the levels dance. Essentially, you want them to average around -12dB and peak around -6dB. Anything much different to that will sound too loud or too quiet.

Each clip has a volume level line that can be dragged up or down. If you want to lock a volume at a point in time, Option-click that line to make a keyframe. For example, to remove a short, loud noise, you might add three keyframes very close together: just before the noise, right on the waveform spike, and just after the noise. To reduce the spike, just drag that center keyframe down until it matches the surrounding waveform.

Three keyframes, middle one down

Three keyframes, middle one down.


A more efficient way to make a larger section louder or quieter, though: select the Range Selection tool by pressing R, then drag over an area of a clip, and finally drag the volume level inside that region up or down. This makes four keyframes (two at each end) and changes the volume automatically.

Range selection is useful for adjusting anything bigger than a spike

Range selection is useful for adjusting anything bigger than a spike.


You’ve tweaked it, and it’s all too loud, or too quiet? Select the lot, then use Control-plus to make it 1dB louder (or Control-minus to make it 1dB quieter) while keeping relative volume changes intact.


Step 8 - Use audio enhancement, if needed

It’s always best to record good audio in the first place, but a little audio enhancement can help a nearly-good recording turn out just fine.

If you want to make two recordings from different locations sound more alike — for example, a studio overdub that should sound like a location clip — that’s not hard. Continuing our example, select the studio clip you want to change, then press Command-Shift-M (or choose Modify > Match Audio). The viewer now gives you instructions: click on the sample clip (the location clip) and press Apply Match.

Also available in the Enhancements “Magic Wand” Menu

Also available in the Enhancements “Magic Wand” Menu.


Other options hide in the Inspector’s Audio section. Select a problem clip, then press the right-pointing-arrow in the Audio Enhancements section. Go for the Noise Reduction or Hum Removal options — then promise yourself that you’ll fix them in the studio next time.

If you use Noise Reduction, beware the underwater robot

If you use Noise Reduction, beware the underwater robot.


Step 9 - Summary

We’ve now reviewed the piece, tightened up all the edits by making them shorter, then finessed with ripple, roll, slip and slide to get everything in the right place. Auditions have been reviewed, at least some of the edits have been split and softened, and made the audio sound more consistent. Next up: color grading.

Part 4: Primary & Secondary Grading

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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