There are many ways to get work done, both in Final Cut Pro X and in any other app in any medium. But video is complicated, and if you’re not sure how to get started, here are a few tips that can get you safely through a few different kinds of video jobs. The process will be similar for each one, but you’ll want to emphasize some tasks and skip others, depending on the job at hand. But first, a few basics about data management...
If your camera can record to only one SD card at once, that’s a single point of failure until you get it copied. The most important shoots should be using backup recording, where two card slots (or an external recorder) record the same thing in case of media failure or loss.
Beware: if you do manage to accidentally eject a media card while a camera is recording, the entire current clip could well be lost. A shot is not “final” until you’ve stopped recording, and copied it safely.
Important to jam this in as quickly as you can after the shoot. If you’re shooting a job yourself, you’ll likely have different priorities (got to keep grabbing shots!) than you would if you had your editor hat on (got to make sure those shots are safe!) but both are important. As an editor, you need to be sure that your shots are safe, and a single copy, especially a single copy on a single spinning disk, is not.
Ideally, you’ll copy everything to external SSD storage in the field during shooting breaks, and you won’t re-use the media cards. That way, if the SSD fails (all disks fail eventually) you can just copy the cards again. SSDs are also fast, so you won’t have to leave your MacBook Pro in the open for too long.
My personal preference is to import directly to an FCP X library with internal media. I usually work alone (teams should use external media) and I prefer to copy just one item, a self-contained library, when moving big jobs between drives. If you prefer to copy files by hand, by all means use external media, but I would encourage you to get your shots into FCP X as soon as possible. Clients love seeing a (very) rough cut of a just-shot scene, and if you can spot a missing or broken shot on-set because you’ve tried to edit them and it didn’t work, you’re a star.
A side note on fast SD cards
Offloading will go much faster if you have UHS-II SD cards and a UHS-II card reader, but these newer, speedier cards still carry a hefty premium. If you need really fast in-field offloads, they’ll save you several minutes per card, but that’s all.
If you need their super-fast writing speeds for heavy duty data formats (like the 400Mbps GH5 modes) then that’s a good reason to go that way, but most people won’t need more than one or two of these for quick, fast turnaround jobs.
Back at the edit station — assuming you do get to go home before delivering the edit — you should back up your field SSD to your home storage, likely a RAID. This should have an automated backup system in place too. So long as your media is in three places, you should be OK, but remember that houses burn down, buildings flood, and you should include offsite backups as part of your planning too.
You’re safe for now, though — your media cards and field SSD have two extra copies of your shots, so if your home RAID explodes, you can recopy the shots to a new drive, then recover from your autosaved FCP X library backups on your Mac. If your Mac dies, you can move the RAID to another Mac and work there. The important thing is that your RAID is backed up (twice to be safe!) before your media cards and field SSD are re-used.
OK, so you have your media and you’re ready to cut. Right? If you need to turn around the job ASAP, such as for an onsite same-day-edit, then maybe you’ll be flying by the seat of your pants, too quickly to worry about backups or finding the very best shots. This is great fun, until something goes wrong, and then it’s not.
Most likely, you’re trying to deliver good content in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable cost. If you work too quickly, your output suffers. If you work too slowly, clients become frustrated. You’ll find a medium that works for you.
Or maybe you’ve got weeks to deliver the perfect edit. You’ll be spending a lot more time in prep, marking each shot to make sure you can find it later. When there’s a firehose of data coming in from a longer shoot, marking it up is the only way to stay sane.
For all jobs, the process is ultimately similar, and I covered these points in a series of articles back in the FCP X 10.0 days: Import and Organise, Rough Cut, Fine Cut, Primary and Secondary Grading, Finish (transitions/titles/effects), Export and Archive. You can find it here: https://www.macprovideo.com/article/final-cut/a-guide-to-fcp-x-part-1-import-and-organize (It was written a long while back, so ignore the references to FireWire 800 drives and cherry pick from the rest.)
Import and Organise very quickly, keywording whole clips (or groups of clips) as you go. Something is better than nothing, but don’t spend too long. Rough Cut by instinct. With the final edit in mind, throw clips quickly onto the timeline, picking good bits from good clips by using skimming and quick shortcuts: Select with mouse, E to Append, select with mouse, E, then R for Range Selection tool, select bad part of timeline clip, Delete, select cutaway in Browser with mouse, then Q to connect. Repeat. Fine Cut? If you have any time at all, watch the edit back and polish a few rough edges.
Primary Grading is going to be quick and dirty, so fix the worst exposure and white balance issues with the built-in tools, and maybe throw an adjustment layer on top to adjust contrast or give looks to particular scenes. No secondary grading.
Finishing will ideally include some pre-approved smart-looking titles and great-sounding music you were able to prepare ahead of time, some automated filters to fix bad audio, and some time-tested presets for basic sweetening.
Export to H.264, drop on a USB stick or upload, and you’re done. Archive tomorrow.
Import to your prepared event structure, then sync up multicams if you’ve used them. Keyword to organise the clips to the level you’ll find useful. Keyword parts of clips if that’s handy. Favorite the best takes to make client review easier. Reject the parts you don’t need if you want to. Use JKL and heavy shortcuts for marking up dialogue, and the mouse for b-roll.
Rough Cut with the spine of the story on the primary storyline, getting the audio sounding right first. Finesse the edit with cutaways, using as many more advanced techniques (secondary storylines, multicam, compound clips). Use auditions for alternate takes, for music options, for effects options.
Fine Cut to get the edits in the right spots, replace bad shots with better versions, and make it as good as you can. Repeat until good, or as time permits.
Primary Grading is a good idea before you send to the client, and you should be able to handle at least the basics yourself. Fix the basics, make it look good. Review, revise and re-edit. Secondary grading as needed.
Finishing will depend on the project, but you’ll want to make it all look good and sound good. Pick some great titles, buying templates if you’re not a motion graphics expert or don’t have one on hand. Use Motion over After Effects if possible, because the process is faster and far more efficient. Create subtitles for at least your native language.
Export to H.264 for online distribution, ProRes for archiving, and anything else you need. Trim the library down if you need to save space, then move everything (and your media if external) to your Archive medium of choice. If it’s going to be important a long way down the line, consider LTO. If you won’t need it in a few years, perhaps hard drives are good enough. If your internet is up to it, online backup may be a good option now too.
Import carefully and safely, possibly using an automated ingest solution. Have a plan for media management and stick to it. Sync up all dual-system sound and multicam media. Keyword every way you can think of, Favorite all the key moments, Reject the unimportant.
Feature films will go to the level of naming shots according to the lines of the script they cover, so that the very best takes can be found, and nothing is lost. Mike Matzdorff wrote a book about his experience as an assistant editor on Focus, so start there and do a ton of research before you go further. Long form documentary projects can have even greater needs, and you’ll need to plan early so you don’t lose control. Consider using a transcription service to make finding shots easier.
Rough Cut with the script (if there is one) then use auditions and multiple projects (one per scene or “reel”) to experiment with different takes, different shot orders, different approaches. Leave shots disabled above or below other shots if you like. Explore edits that don’t work out.
Fine Cut with as much time as you have, finessing each edit until it’s perfect, then take the best versions of each project, mashing it together with all the finesse you can muster. Review, revise, re-edit, and finally lock the cut down.
Grading might be sent to a specialist (hopefully your media management plan is solid) but if you’re doing it yourself, no problem. Fix the basics in each shot, return for more localised adjustment, use tracked corrections if needed, add adjustment layers to tweak the overall look of several shots at once.
Finishing tasks may be split between VFX and audio specialists, but you can handle it yourself if you feel up to it. Use whatever fancy titles and transitions you need to tell a story, make the audio sing. Prepare subtitles in any languages you need.
Export may well be handled by others, but if you’re back in FCP X, export a high quality ProRes master, along with any other formats you need to deliver. Archive everything many times using the best technology available.
Editing is, at its heart, an artistic endeavour, but it’s one that comes with a lot of technical baggage. If you know how to approach a task, step by step, you’ll be able to give it the attention it deserves, and you’ll be able to budget your time appropriately. These tips are only a starting point, and of course feel free to enhance/ignore as you see fit. Now get back into that edit!