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.

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 [email protected].

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5 Comments

  1. In the time since FCPX was released and the more vocal editors were jumping ship to Premiere and others, many have silently returned to Final Cut and, after REALLY having a look, have found the program to be worthy and far more useful than their initial look revealed. Regardless, I was less put-off than others, it seems, and found the transition from FCP v.6 to FCPX initially frustrating but quickly adapted and found I could move more quickly than I ever did in any previous version of Final Cut.

    I’m glad you had the candor to describe your transition without fear of the fanboy chorus deriding your choice. So many who have poo-poo’d FCPX, I’ve found, have never even used the program. That FCPX is so easy too use may be its greatest flaw. I remember mentioning someone attempting to insult the program by saying, “Even my grandmother could use it.” That helped clinch my decision to upgrade and I hope a lot of grandmothers are finding a great way to spend time with FCPX and a Mac. In the end, any decent editor should be able to create greatness with any of the pro editing applications of which I will declare FCPX is one.

    Thanks much for this.

    Dave Burckhard
    PicturePoint On-line

  2. Earlier versions of FCP X did suck but the latest 10.0.5 version seems to be a lot more stable.
    I’ve also been using a Canon 5D2 and I treat each CF card the same as we used to regard each 400′ roll of 16mm camera negative.

    All my ‘camera original’ CF cards are kept off site in a fireproof briefcase.( So far I have had no reason to re-transcode any of them again)
    When logging I affix every scene’s .MOV file number to the log description.
    Thanks for the article, it’s good to know others are getting to grips with this software. Matt Butler Sydney

  3. Thanks Paul, it is good to read your experience warts and all.
    As another early adopter of NLE from the Amiga Video Toaster days and first AVID, Media 100 and Draco Systems offerings I like to keep up with what is out there.
    I am curious though, have you worked in an great depth with other NLE’s other than Media 100 and FCP?
    Your comment “I’m editing, creating graphics, colour-grading, sound-editing – in one seamless workflow.” describes a my experience editing a doco for a choir’s tour through Europe in 2002 using Premier 6 (which was a couple of years old even then). I had FCP 4 at the time but it did not have the inbuilt features Prem offered straight off the timeline.
    Another 6 generations of Premiere Pro versions have since continued to improve in all thoses areas. Even Sony Vegas Pro does all that, and has done for years.
    So what is the advantage of FCP X?

  4. Paul Elliott replies:
    My experience with Avid is not hands on, only as a director working with editors and there always seemed to be a lot of rendering going on, something that bugs me as it shatters the promise of the digital world. One thing I enjoy with FCPX is always working real time in full res 1920 X 1080 without any rendering of grades or other effects, all on a home computer. FCP 7 was a nightmare of rendering.
    I assumed the other NLE’s had overcome the render nightmare these days, but I was surprised recently while shooting some projects for a friend who uses the latest Premiere in the PC world – he had to render his Magic Bullet colour grades and it was taking quite a long while. It has speeded up a fair bit with doubling the RAM and a higher power graphics card. Having said that, I now have Premiere and am learning the software. I can’t comment on whether Avid requires any rendering these days and I’ve never tried Vegas.
    I have recently exactly mirrored my desktop edit setup for location editing with a Macbook Pro 15″ Retina laptop running identical software and plugins, discovering that you can load FCPX on up to ten machines for the app price. By a miracle, all my computers, Canon 5D Mark III camera and digital sound recorder all feature SD slots, so data management is pretty streamlined.

  5. Good article Paul. I was wondering if in FCPX you are able to push audio out of synch and if it tells you by how many frames out?

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