Editing for Dummies, FCPX is here


As I sit down here to write this blog post, I realized I definitely need to do this more often. Its almost an entire year since my last post, and that was when Avid had just released Media Composer 5.0. I guess we can see what gets me going, and it may have something to do with NLE's. This is also anything but a full review of FCPX, but it is from a slightly different perspective. I decided I would just throw it right into the fire and start using it, from the second the download finished. 

I am strictly writing from an editors perspective. I am an editor by trade and I also play one on tv. I am not going to just totally rip on FCPX, although I could probably make a career doing so. There are some positives, some glaring negatives, and an uncertain future that I am sure Apple has no intentions on letting us in on. While the "cloud of secrecy" on Apple products can be a benefit to them, they should also show some more discretion on when to back off of that a bit. A simple roadmap of their plans for FCPX may go a long way to stopping some of the whining and concerns, but they will never do that. I am not saying open up the patents and new ideas for the world to see, but let us know what's going on, at least a little bit. In a professional workflow, long term decisions need to be made, and Apple knows this. They just do not care. 

Them not caring is a good place to start. Do not think for one second Apple didn't know what they were doing all along. Its been widely stated on the internet over the last few days, that Apple shunned the 2% of the "High-end" professionals, be it Feature films or Network TV, for a much larger and lucrative crowd of high-end prosumers. I am not saying Pros will not use it, nor am I defining what a professional editor is. It is simply anyone that gets paid to edit, and that encompasses a lot of different levels. 

The major feature set short comings of FCPX are already widely known. Just search #FCPX on twitter and read away! I am going to address the issues strictly from editing a job, and how/when those issues affected me. 

The Edit : 
First thing I did was to bring in about 4 hours of Pro Res 422 (HQ) source footage. I did not have the options for analyzing checked, I simply had FCPX copy the media its internal "Event" folder. It wants thumbnails of everything, and that took awhile indeed. Just as with rendering, it creates them in the background, but it takes a long time for that much footage. I cant even tell you exactly how long, as I eventually went to bed and it was still going. So now we come to the issue of "Events" and media. Again, I am not going to repeat everything here, as you have heard it before. 

Jeffrey Harrell has a great write-up here : 

I agree with every point. I am not sure why we would need every piece of media on our drives accessible at all times, but I can think of numerous reasons why I do not. The upside is it makes glancing through your raw footage somewhat easier. You do not need to constantly keep loading clips into a source viewer, you simply drag through the filmstrips. On some level it works ok. 

You can create a "Bin" type structure, if you do it on a finder level first. If you have a master folder, with subfolders, FCPX will use those folders and automatically keyword the media inside. That's great if you can always have all your media in one master folder, but good luck with that. If you stuff is coming from 8 different drives and 10 different paths on each, that idea starts to break down a bit. Professionals do this all the time. With every piece of media keyworded, it works ok, but…. Who the hell has the time to keyword stuff? I sometimes get assignments at 10 am that have to be on the air by 2 pm. It would take me more time to organize the project than to edit it. If you are on a multi month project, where you can spend time organizing and keywording stuff, it actually might really prove beneficial. It is also good when you are using it to edit all your personal videos. Its great that I can organize footage of my kids through the years, but that's the consumer/personal side of my life. Not quite as good for the professional side. Even for wedding videographers, why do you need the footage of one wedding available while editing another at all times? Its not like you can interchange shots of the bridesmaids. Just doesn't make sense. Sure you can jump from "project" to "project" quickly, but I do not ever remember wanting that ability. 

Single Viewer : 
As far as the single viewer aspect that was one of the first gripes the internet had, long before the software was even released. Truth is, it actually works fine. The more years I edit, the more you realize you do not really need a source/record setup. Except in the rare instance that you need to "Gang" 2 images, you never actually run both viewers at the same time, so why take up extra screen real estate. High end editors like Autodesk Smoke use a single window editor style, and it works great. (Although it does have a source/record mode if need be. Apple should do the same.) You will find if they do add a source/record mode, you will most likely not use it as much as you think. That is a legacy type idea left from the tape editing days, and not as big of a deal as some have said. 

So now came the moment of truth, lets edit something. 

The "Scrubber/playhead" idea was a bit weird to me at first, but I have to admit I kinda like it now. Its easy to turn off, using the "S" key. For those unfamiliar with it, it is the ability to be able to quickly scrub through your timeline, without actually moving the playhead. You can keep the playhead at a specific location your working on, but look at another. You can also use it to compare shots, park your playhead on one shot, and move the scrubber to another. Then by simply moving your mouse in and out of the timeline, the viewer switches back and forth between the 2 shots. Also, like on Avid, the scrubber allows you to freely move through the timeline without danger of accidentally moving your clips. Try it, it actually works well. 

I am in no way comparing FCPX to Avid, but, the new editing tools work a lot like the new smart tools in Media Composer. Let me explain. The "A" key is what FCP editors know as the SELECT option, and what your probably working in more often than not. In the new Final Cut, things work a bit different. You work in SELECT mode, but you no longer have the freedom to move your clips wherever you want. Clips always want to be connected to the clip before it. I also like the new "E" command which puts your clip to the end of the timeline. Great while you are building up a rough edit. You can also grab clips, and drag them to another place, and the older clips move out of the way, and the new one snaps into place. In the old FCP, you needed to do that with the OPTION key, and come to find, many people rarely ever used that feature. 

The "P" key puts you into POSITION mode, which is what Avid users would know as "Segment Overwrite" mode, and FCP7 users would call "Normal". When in this mode, FCPX works much like the old version, where you can just pick up clips and put them anywhere, including overwriting anything you drop it on top of. If you want to put a clip down the timeline, as many people do as sort of a scratch editing area, you do this with the "P" mode. Just know, the black it creates in between clips is an actual clip itself, which you can trim just like a clip of actual video. SMOKE users would see this as a "Gap" effect. Avid users have seen this style of editing for years. Hit the Delete key, all clips ripple down. Hit SHIFT with delete, it performs a Lift, and leaves a black gap. This is all good. 

The "trim" mode is where the Smart Tools comparison gets a bit larger. When you activate the "T" key, the cursor them becomes position sensitive. Depending on where you are in the timeline, you can slip, hold the option key to slide, ripple, extend edits, etc. This is also all good. The new Precision editor is also quite good, but is hard to explain in words. You basically double click an edit point, and a new A/B timeline pops up, with your incoming clip on the top A level, followed by the B clip on the bottom. You can then edit the in/out points of either side, or perform a "ripple edit" on both. It works really well. 

Cmd-T still puts a transition, option drag that transition to copy to another edit. All the same from FCP 7, all good. 

Stabilization works generally well, and seems to render out in good quality. The rolling shutter fix work ok, but only on clips with minor issues. I did not test the faces recognition option, and do not know if I ever will. 

You are in a walled garden, I want to get my edit out to SMOKE or COLOR so bad, but I can't. Once your in, your in to stay. Nothing short of exporting your timeline, you are finishing in FCPX. The new Color correct tools are ok, its basically a new way of looking at the 3 way CC from FCP7. Apple has to rectify this, as I see no XML/EDL/AAF support the single most glaring issue. I expect they will, or at least Automatic Duck will. If not, stop reading. FCPX will be DOA. 

Having no true "tracks" is a huge issue also. While its does prevent you from accidentally overwriting things, or having clip collisions, they were minor issues compared to the Wild Wild West of where clips end up. It uses a "I was here first" paradigm and moves the other clip out of the way. So you end up with music on high "tracks", some on lower "tracks" VO's all over the place. I use "tracks" in quotes because they still line up like tracks, regardless of whether Apple wants to call them that. You simply have no control over where. Bad kitty. Very bad kitty. 

Apple can put all the marketing spin on they want. There are tracks. They are right there in front of you. You just have no control over where your clips end up, because you are a dumb editor, and the Apple engineers are saving you from your own stupidity. You just didn't know it. 

Audio files also have to be connected to some video, even if its a Black clip. This actually becomes a hindrance. I had edited up a song into 3 clips, but each one was attached to a different clip in the timeline. the work around is you have to essentially group the clips with a new feature Apple calls "Compound Clips". Then you attach that to a master clip in the video, and go from there. 

This can be rectified somewhat easily, and I suspect Apple will eventually realize this. How about a simple OPTION-UP/DOWN ARROW that I can prioritize what Audio goes higher or lower? Is that so tough ? If they wanna stick with the keyword BS, how bout everything tagged "music" gets a priority level 3, Sound Effects gets a 2, Dialogue a 1, etc. Something along those lines. Right now to disable your music, you would have to manually select all your music clips and disable, or key word them all for easy selection. (Append my review: You can drag clips up an down. Still havent found a way to do this via keyboard, and you need a good "patching" system regardless. One misplaced clip, and my whole setup will be destroyed.) 

Cross fading audio is now a 4 step process. First you need to separate the video/audio. Then you need to drag an overlap from side 1 or 2. Then you need to drag the new FADE dot on the audio clip on each side. Its not crazy hard, but again, unnecessary. 

Speed changes also ripple the timeline, which is a bad thing. It took forever for them to fix it in FCP7, and now we are back. In order to not ripple the timeline, you need to move your clip to the "secondary storyline", which actually is just video Track 2, then move it back down to track 1 when your done. Apple calls that "attaching it to the primary storyline". I call it Track 1. 

Surprisingly, performance was an issue. During one 12 hour edit session I had 3 full-out hard crashes. I also has playback stuttering problems, and this is using Pro Res on a machine with a RAID that gets 450mb/s, and runs Autodesk SMOKE smooth as butter. I thought if Apple got anything right, it would be performance. Now, I understand this is a 1.0 product, but the promise of moving to a new architecture was to avoid crashes and playback issues. I can use FCP 7 for that, and still get all the benefits of it that most editors know they need. Or I can edit on my Avid, which gets great performance, every bit as good as FCPX. 

The crashes brought out the good and the bad of the NO SAVING "feature". Every time I crashed, when I reopened, I lost absolutely no work. That's awesome. Downside was, I spent over an hour accidentally over writing some edits because I didn't realize I was in "P" mode. Do not criticize me, it is new mode, and Apple didn't write in a "Clip Collision" for idiots feature for that. In the end, I had no Autosave versions to go back to and recover that part of my project. 

Media Management...or not: 
You must keep the file structure that Final Cut want to see in order for any of this to work. This is exactly what all Avid haters used to complain about, and say FCP was light years ahead. Unfortunately, Apple realized its really the only way to do proper Media Managing. Right now there is no way to Consolidate with handles, but I do fully expect that in an upcoming release. You really should move and delete your projects from within the program itself, not at the finder level, exactly like Avid. It works ok, and has potential, just isnt quite fully feature rich. 

I also am not afraid of change. I learn things like this very quickly, and if someone comes up with a better way, I'll certainly adapt. Any FCP editors that have ever tried SMOKE knows that there are alternative but viable ways of doing things. Crazy as it sounds, FCPX has some cool new ideas, but it should not have shunned the features we really need to get them in. "Auditions" or alternate versions of an edit are great, but do not give me them before a simple EDL export option. I wonder if Apple released this a year too soon, because they felt like they were falling behind. They wouldn't feel that way if they were upfront about their plans. The uncertainty of what they were doing was worse than the reality of being stuck with FCP 7 a little longer. 

I skipped major parts of the program like Titles....effects....keyframing....etc. but I am as bored writing this as you probably are reading it, so we will save those topics for a later date.

Just like everyone else out there, I have just been using FCPX for a few days now. When the promise of a new FCP was coming to fix all our worries, we all kinda knew what was coming, just didn't want to admit it or think about it. No XML and no support for 3rd Party cards ala KONA are huge issues that have been talked about ad-naseum. I expect those to be rectified, and fairly quickly. The actual editing aspect of the program is generally quite good. 

The problem lies in the backbone and design structure Apple decided to go with, that we do not know if they technically can alter at this point, or ever will even want to.