Editing I Am Eora on Final Cut Pro X

16 October, 2012 by Paul Elliott

I’m primarily a director and cinematographer, but I have always really enjoyed editing. In the ’80s, I was cutting music videos on film on a six plate 16mm Steenbeck, including Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, and was an early-adopter of digital editing in the ‘90s, helping set up the Radical Transmission Syndicate, one of Sydney’s first community access NLE suites with a Media 100.

In December 2011, Larry Meltzer and I were commissioned by STUDIO, the SBS subscription arts channel, to document the creation of writer/director Wesley Enoch’s I Am Eora for the 2012 Sydney Festival, an indigenous rock opera with a cast of 45 singers, actors and dancers from around Australia, including Miranda Tapsell, from The Sapphires, international diva Wilma Reading and the legendary Jack Charles.

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We shot at Carriageworks in Redfern on a Canon 5D Mark II and a Panasonic AF102, using the 5D for interviews and time lapse and the Panasonic as the cinema verite workhorse – it had two channels of XLR audio inputs and better depth of field. Both cameras had radio receivers from sound recordist Graham Wyse’s rig.

Having just finished a project in Final Cut Pro 7, I felt it was clunky and past its use-by date. Intrigued by the new Final Cut Pro X, I went to the Apple store several times and spent an hour or two each session re-editing and colour-grading the movie pre-loaded into the floor demo computers. I immediately liked the software. Colour-grading directly in the timeline was brilliant.

I decided to upgrade to FCP X and bought the software from the App Store for a measly $300 – from memory, my first iteration of FCP 5 was over $1500. At that time, the on-line forums were full of rants against Apple for dumbing down the software and FCP 7 editor friends of mine were appalled at my decision to actually use the new software. They were deserting FCP like rats from a sinking ship, swimming over to Adobe Premiere and even Avid. I knew I was going against the tide, but I jumped in.

Working on a late-2011 model 27" iMac, 3.4 Ghz Intel Core i7, I wrangled my own data each night of the shoot, making two copies of everything onto 2TB G-Drives we had Fedexed in from B&H Photo Video in New York City. Using the “optimize while import” option, all footage was transcoded to AppleProRes 422 in the background.

As I got to work, I found the software fast but glitchy. Cursor functions would randomly disappear. Doing anything fancy with titles often caused it to freeze or crash. Re-starting seemed to fix the problem. I quickly doubled my RAM from 8GB to 16GB for around $300, and that seemed to make everything run smoother.

I graded the show as I went because I hate watching ungraded rushes and because I could do it in the timeline without round-tripping to Colour, adding multiple vignettes which were easily tracked with keyframes (once I discovered how to access them). Over the two months of editing, I was able to fine-tune the grades on an on-going basis, which meant I didn’t have a huge grading process at the end and avoided the rushed pressure of a telecine session.

Eora was an intricate musical edit, with live bands and vocalists, feeds from the mixing desk, sync dialog with live music in the background etc, and I laid up the music in FCP X because I wanted the flexibility of not having to lock off the picture cut. I ended up with 30 separate tracks laid up and I could still make picture changes right until the day before the mix, confident that my tracks were all staying in sync. However, it was when I came to export the audio to ProTools for the mix that I really paid the painful price of being an early adopter.

It was a risky move, but to improve stability of the platform, I updated from 10.0.2 to 10.0.3 halfway through the cut – and there was no going back. Automatic Duck, a little piece of free software that enabled exports of AAFs from FCP X 10.0.2 to ProTools, didn’t work with 10.0.3! There was no way to output the audio for a professional mix.

I was up shit creek for a few weeks, spending a lot of time on the phone to FCP X tech support in the USA, but I seemed to know more about the subject than they did. I even experimented using Apple’s pro audio software Logic (which I have used for over ten years) to export an AAF, but its integration with FCP X was hopeless. Then a new app called X2Pro came out, designed to seamlessly integrate FCP X with ProTools. It was an early version and I didn’t have any luck with it. Though they came too late for me, subsequent free updates of X2Pro have fixed the issues I was having and I will try it again on a future production, as it really has the potential to streamline this kink in the FCPX post work flow.

In the end, I assigned each region of audio to one of 30 different “roles”, a new feature of FCP X, and manually added handles where necessary. I output each “role” as a separate WAV file. Mixer Brent Heber, of SumSound at Trackdown, imported the 30 WAVs into ProTools and deleted any areas of silence, instantly re-creating the regions. Over the three days of mixing, if my assigning of “roles” ever inadvertently merged different elements into the one track, I was able to deliver fix-ups to Brent. The mix was a dream.

I did all the sub-titling, a multi-layered opening title sequence and closing credits in the timeline, without using Motion. I relaid the final stereo mix and output a flawless AppleProRes 422 [HQ] master, 56 minutes long, which took around 40 minutes.

At the premiere screening on a big screen at Carriageworks in Redfern, after tweaking the colour temperature of the digital projector for half an hour, the final result looked crisp, with rich blacks – exactly as it looked on my iMac screen. The 5D footage looked spectacular.

Currently, I'm cutting a feature length documentary called Putupurri in FCP X 10.0.5 and it’s stable. The titling glitches appear fixed. I have discovered a host of new features that were lurking in the GUI that eluded me on Eora. My favourite: to fade titles in and out, click the little icons at the right-hand edge of the clip and tweak away.

Working on FCP X really feels like I’m operating a genuine “media composer”. I’m editing, creating graphics, colour-grading, sound-editing – in one seamless workflow. It's quite addictive.

To keep everything running smoothly, I close and re-open FCP X every few hours. If I’m having a coffee break or lunch, I close it down, cool down the iMac, as it runs hot. Every evening, I back-up my project and event folders to two separate G-Tech hard drives, still connected via Firewire 800 I'm afraid. I'm waiting for the price of Thunderbolt drives to fall before I order any from B&H in New York.

More information about Paul Elliott can be found at vimeo.com/lightcorp or by contacting him at prelightcorp@bigpond.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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