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Final Cut Pro X: A Structured Workflow

I’ve been asked recently by first time FCP X users about how to actually go through the editing process, not how to use each individual tool. I also find in my classes and seminars many long time editors are using time consuming workflows that aren’t very efficient. Thus, here I’ll go through a basic run through a typical, basic project workflow in FCP X. Some projects require unique workflows and some workflows can be more simple or complex than what I present here. This is just a basic guideline to an efficient generic workflow from which you can tweak to your own needs.  More details about the individual techniques mentioned here can be found in the “Media Management For FCP X” video course here at macProVideo.


Phase 1 - Organizing

How things are organized is vital. Many of the troubleshooting I do for my clients and students comes back to poor media management, or a total lack of it. FCP X gives us tools for making asset management and organization very easy. Yet I hear people complain that doing all of this management takes up time they could use editing. Honestly, in practice I’ve never found that to be the case. You’ll spend very little time organizing in FCP X, but you can spend lots of time searching for the clips you need once your production starts to grow in size and complexity.

When you initially import your assets, FCP X offers ways to create analysis collections for people recognition (wide, close up, individual, group, types of shots, etc.) It will also use the names of folders your assets are already organized in to create keyword collections, if you are in such a situation.  Let’s say I’m handed a hard drive of assets to edit, and there is one folder with the name of the production, then a Photos folder, a Music folder, Interviews folder, Cutaways folder, etc.  If I select the “Import folders as Keyword Collections” option, I will get keyword collections based on folder name and contents.

Once our assets are imported, we should create keyword collections to sort them out into manageable subgroups. We simply highlight one or more clips, Command-K, type in a keyword. After the initial keyword collection has been created, you can drag and drop clips onto it so they are included.  Clips can also live in more than one keyword collection. Again, simply highlight the clip(s), Command-K, type in the additional keywords(s). If you want, set the Browser filter menu in the upper left of the Browser pane to “No Ratings or Keywords”.  This will hide your clips as you mark them with keywords, making the list smaller and smaller as you work, showing you only what’s not been keyworded yet.

When you start creating keyword collections, and if you have analysis collections made by FCP X during the import process, you can create folders inside the Event to put related collections in for further organization.

Once we have our clips sorted into keyword collections, it’s time to mark our usable segments. You can run through my clips in the Browser’s list view, turn on Skimming with the S key, and find the sections of clips that are usable. Click and drag the segments that are usable one at a time, and use the F key to mark them as Favorites. Don’t spend time trying to be super accurate about where the ranges start and stop. This is a roughing-in process, don’t waste more time than necessary. Make it quick and easy. Clean up comes later. Remember that Favorite Ranges cannot overlap on the same clip, or they become one long range.  Keyword ranges can overlap, and remain separate keyword ranges.

Keywords for selection


Phase 2 - The Rough Cut

Now that we have our assets organized, it is time to start editing. As with everything creative, we will begin with roughing-in our basic story, then coming back to refine it later. Start with laying down the basic story, what I call the core of your story. If you have several scenes or segments of your production, you may wish to create Compound Clips in the Browser with Option-G, naming each appropriately such as “Scene 1”, “Scene 2”, “Scene 3”, etc. When each of those are finished and locked down, drop them into a Project for final assembly. Otherwise just create a Project timeline with Command-N.

When we start to place clips into our new timeline, we will concentrate on the basic story. Use E to Append Edit clips into the Primary Storyline.  Don’t worry about In/Out points being perfect, we simply want a rough cut to be sure we pretty much have the correct asset segments in the correct order. If you spend time trimming edits at this point, you’re wasting a lot of time. The best trimming of each edit will depend on all of the other edit points throughout the timeline. They all have to match style and pacing. If you surgically trim edits during the rough cut, you’ll be going back to trim them again once all the clips are in the timeline.  Just rough things in at first. That’s it.

Trimming clips roughly


Phase 3 - Trimming Edit Points

Once the Primary Storyline clips, and cutaways if used, are all roughed in to place, we have a clear overview of how our timeline is going to work, how we want it to look, and are now ready to trim all the edit points very quickly.

With the playhead at the beginning of the timeline, we will never touch our mouse or trackpad at all, unless we make a mistake and are forced to. The more time you edit off of the keyboard, the faster you’re editing. Use the left and right bracket keys ([ and ])to highlight the edit point for ripple editing the In (left bracket) or Out (right bracket) points of our clips. 

We can use the Shift-/ keyboard shortcut to play around our edit point. Depending on the Pre-Roll and Post-Roll settings in the Playback tab of the FCP Preferences window. With loop playback turned off, Shift-/ will jump the playhead backwards in time the set amount of time, start playback, play through it’s original location, play past it the set amount of time, and then jump back to its original location at the edit point. This is how we preview our edit point and decide if and how we need to trim up our edit.

Use the backslash key (\)to select the edit point for a roll edit.  Then use the Less Than (<) and Greater Than (>) keys as our arrows to ripple or roll the edit points as needed. Then use Shift-/ to preview it again. Adjust as needed, preview, repeat until it’s perfect.

Finally we can use the Down arrow key to jump to the next edit point, or Up arrow key to go back to the previous point. Preview, trim, preview, next. The process should be obvious at this point. This workflow will take you through editing much faster in the long run than hunt-and-peck asset searches along with trying to trim in the rough cut stage of editing.

Trimming edit points


Phase 4 - Embellishments

Once we have these straight cuts perfected on our core story in the Primary Storyline, we can start to embellish our story. Transitions can now be added, as long as they contribute information to the audience about the story we are trying to tell.  Just as with adding cutaways, sound effects, music, visual and audio effects, adding and mixing audio is a whole other article by itself thus I won’t get in to that here. Simply bear in mind you are using these things to relay specific information about your story to your audience. Resist the urge to embellish simply because it looks cool or someone famous did it, that’s not the art and craft of editing.


Phase 5 - Export

When the timeline is finished, reviewed and locked down, we are ready to export it. Yet we should have had this final phase planned out before we started anything. Your delivery formats and methods should have dictated much of what we’ve gone through so far. From how the production was shot, lit, audio was recorded, asset organization, edit style, then finally here at the actual output. If we’re going to mobile devices be careful not to use wide shots, they don’t translate to small screens well. If we’re going to the web, watch the duration, coloring, clarity, and what type of shots you’re using. Thus, just because exporting comes last, it really should come first, heavily influencing if not flat out dictating much of how the production is planned out and handled. This can save you having major headaches once you’re ready to export, encode, upload and deliver, your final product to your client or audience.

Exporting the movie


Conclusion

I am a firm believer that the editor should be consulting from the very beginning of a production, along with all of the other specialists who’s input can help influence an efficient and trouble free process. Following the basic workflow phases I have outlined here can help save a lot of time backtracking, inadvertently created issues requiring extra time troubleshooting, unexpected surprises towards the end of the production, and more importantly the editing process.

Ben Balser

Ben Balser | Articles by this author

Ben Balser studied educational psychology at Loyola University, and after retiring from a 20+ year IT career, now produces, consults, teaches, and rents equipment for media production as a full time job. As an Apple Certified Master Trainer, he runs the Louisiana Cajun Cutters FCP users group, teaches Final Cut and Motion courses regularly in Louisiana at Louisiana State University’s Performing Arts Academy and annual Teen Filmmaking Bootcamp, Delgado Community College, The Orchard, and for AATC facilities across the USA. He has consulted for higher education, government, and private production facilities, as well as for film, video and broadcast projects.

Comments

May 31, 2012
sjc
I can't believe how much important info is packed in this short workflow piece. The shortcuts in "Phase 3" will change how I work forever. I need to read everything Ben's written. I see him keeping up on all the latest stuff around the web, so I know he's obsessed with getting better all the time. Thanks for a very clear teaching style. : >
May 31, 2012
BenB
Thanks, that's good to hear. It's actually just adapting what I've been teaching in FCP legacy versions for years, adapted to FCP X. I hope you enjoy the rest of the great tutorials here on mPV.
Dec 23, 2012
Good article Ben - as we know in a post house environment the first question to a client or client editor is "what do you need at the end?" and if they don't know yet then structure it to preserve your options.

I've noticed your strong advocacy of FCP X and I applaud your commitment to it as a fresh editing tool. To me it still seems a very linear vector - get some raw footage and put it in a folder (sorry, an Event), start building a single Timjeline (Project), cut it, output it somehow (Share) and no going back. FCP 7 was a very much more useful workflow tool in environments where projecst constantly move back and forth, and I'm still to see FCP X earn its stripes in that way.

Sound workflow advice nonetheless.
Dec 23, 2012
BenB
Actually it is a much faster, more flexible, easier NLE workflow than legacy FCP versions. A Timeline is not a Project. A Project is a type of timeline, as are clips, compound clips, etc. And an Event is in now way anything like a Folder, as it is much more flexible, powerful and dynamic being based on metadata and physical traits. A folder is simply a static container.

I'm not sure what you mean by in FCP 7 a project moves back and forth. You lost me on that one. How does the project "move"?
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