Editing in Final Cut Pro X is faster than just about any other NLE on the market. It has gained a very solid reputation for giving editors the tools for fast turnarounds using its surface level features. In this tutorial I’m going to cover some tricks that will help you trim your edits ever faster, with more precision, and have a lot of fun on the way.
To start with, as outlined in my previous tutorial about professional workflows “Final Cut Pro X: A Structured Workflow”, just slap together a rough cut first. Select a clip in the Browser, set a Range by clicking and dragging and make it a Favorite Range with the F shortcut. No precision needed, just rough In / Out points. Append Edit (E) or Insert Edit (W) to drop them into the Timeline you’re working on. We’re not doing Connected Clips at this stage. The magnetic properties of the Primary Storyline let you rearrange clips super fast if needed. Pressing P gets the Position tool if you want to bypass the magnetic properties. Only after we have a rough draft of our core storyline roughed into the timeline do we start trimming edits. Let’s look at the tools and workflow in FCP X that let us fly through our edits in detail.
Once we’ve got our rough cut in place, before actual trimming we need to go to the Preferences to verify a setting. Command - comma will get us there, or select Preferences in the Final Cut Pro app menu. In the Playback section, look at the Pre-Roll and Post-Roll Duration settings. I set these to 2 or 3 seconds each. You’ll eventually tweak to personal taste. This is how far the playhead jumps to the left, plays to it’s current position (pre-roll) then continues playing past that point (post-roll) before jumping back to its original position. We’ll call this our Edit Preview. In the Editing tab of the Preferences window, make sure “Show Reference Waveform” is checked. Now close that window and press F2 to activate the Timeline pane.
If you’re editing the dialog, make the audio portion large. Go to the Appearance menu, the light switch icon in the lower right of the Timeline. Make the Clip Hight very tall, also.
Use the Home key (Fn-Left Arrow on a laptop) to position the playhead at the start of the Timeline. Be sure loop playback is off (Command-L). We will NOT select the Trim (T) tool, just keep our normal Selection tool (A). Move between edit points with the up and down arrow keys. With the playhead at the first edit point, we’ll Preview the edit with Shift-?. Hit the shortcut and take your hands off the keyboard. It’ll come back to rest on its own. You can do this as many times as it takes. Watch the Viewer first, then the Timeline. Watch the audio waveforms closely for your trimming queues. Once you decide what to trim, select one of our three modes: Ripple Out point (left bracket), Ripple In point (right bracket), Roll (forward slash). With these keys right next to each other, it is fast and easy to access the proper mode.
Now that you’re on an edit point, you’ve previewed it (Shift-?), and decided what trim mode to use, we’re ready to actually trim. One thing to point out here, the more time you spend editing on your keyboard, the less time you spend with your mouse / trackpad, the faster and more accurately you’ll edit. Thus I will NOT tell you how to use the mouse at this time. On your keyboard, use the less-than “<“ and greater-than “>” keys to edit one frame at at time. If you want to move through multiple frames quicker, just hold one of those keys down for as long as necessary.
If you want to trim a specific number of seconds and / or frames, you can type in the timecode. First type in a plus “+” sign to trim to the right (forward), or a minus “-” sign to trim to the left (backwards). That tells FCP which direction to trim in. Then type in a one or two digit number for the frames to trim. Or type in a one or two digit number with a period for a number of seconds to trim. Or type in a number of seconds, period, then a number of frames. Hit enter and the trim is done. You can always use Command-Z to undo.
L and J cuts are very common. L means the video cuts before the audio does. J means the audio cuts before the video does. Think of it this way. When we are watching a group of people talking to each other, we may tend to look at who is talking at the moment, until...
Until what? Think about it. Someone may say something that we know another person is going to react to. We shift our visual focus to that person, while still listening to the original person’s dialog, to see the expression on the effected person’s face. That would be an L cut.
What if we’re watching someone talk, then suddenly another person laughs loudly at what they are saying? We hear the laughter first, then turn out head to see what’s happening. We edit to mimic what our brains do to gather information and track the environment in real life. In this situation we would be making a J cut.
To do these is simple and the only time we have to use our mouse / trackpad in this workflow. Double-click the “audio portion” of the clip to either the immediate left or the right of our chosen edit point. When this separates the video and audio portions, click only the audio portions edit point, then use the < and > keys to trim with great accuracy. Audio waveforms really help in this operation making trimming super fast. Because when you preview, you watch the waveforms, they will tell you exactly where to trim to. Double-click the audio portion when done to collapse it again.
Now that you know how this system works, and you’ve gotten your first edit point trimmed perfectly, hit the down arrow key to move to the next edit point, preview, trim, move on. That is only nine keys you’re touching, and the occasional click for L and J cuts. That’s not really a lot considering the shortcuts you’re using are logically next to each other for easy memorization. If you look at them on a keyboard layout, they really make geographic sense. You’ll pick them up very fast. Just remember, it’s not nine keyboard shortcuts, it is only four very logical operations: Select an edit point (up/down arrows), Preview (Shift-?), select a Trim Mode ([ or ] or \), trim an amount you wish (< or >). Then preview again, adjust the trim, preview, when you’re satisfied, down arrow to the next edit point.
With these simple tools and workflow, you can get through the trimming phase of an edit in record time while achieving frame accurate timing. With a little practice it all becomes second nature very quickly. I’ve found students pick this up very quickly once they go through one or two Primary Storylines. When you’ve trimmed up all of your Primary Storyline edits you are now ready to add Connected Clips as cutaways, titles and compositing work. Of course there are more complex editing and trim operations, I just wanted to get you started in the right direction on this one phase of the editing process. I hope this tutorial helps you edit more efficiently and get through your trimming phase quicker, more comfortably and all the while having fun.
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 ran the Louisiana Cajun Cutters FCP user group for 8 years, taught post-production at Louisiana State University and has lead their annual teen filmmaking bootcamp. He teaches currently for AATC facilities across the USA and for The Orchard Solutions. He has consulted for higher education, government, broadcast and private production facilities.