FCPX Feature Film Workflow

FCPX Feature Film Workflow

It’s an exciting time for FCPX and its fans, for it has finally come of age and out of the dog house of popular opinion and into the spotlight. Not that it wasn’t already there, but now it’s abilities have come into Focus for a whole new wave of editors. (I promise that will be my only terrible focus related pun!) Like Adobe Premiere Pro and Gone Girl,  having a Hollywood studio cut a major motion picture on your editing software of choice is course reason for celebration, and it really does seem that FCPX is finally having it’s Cold Mountain moment.

Before we dive too far into the details, if you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself, you can download a free trial of FCPX from the App store or buy it for $299 or £229.

“I created Smart Collections beforehand that were automatically collecting everything from scene information from our script supervisor to dialogue tags,” says Editor, Jan Kovac. “They were a great help because everything was at my fingers instantly. I was able to try out more shots. And I got moments that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

Apple has written up a fairly lengthy case study of Focus‘s workflow and has some choice quotes from the main contributors. It’s a great place to start if you’re curious about the workflow as it will give you a good sense of the overall process, from on-set ingest to the final colour grade, before we dive into ever increasing fine grain detail, that this post will head into.

“There’s no mysterious industry tool or process anymore,” says Sam Mestman, cofounder of FCPWORKS and one of the chief workflow architects for Focus. “The bottom line is that all of these deliverables can be created from your living room. With just a few third-party apps, you can easily take your media through Final Cut Pro X to 4K output. So anything the big guys are doing, you can do too.”

UPDATE: Oliver Peter’s has an excellent and fact-packed write up on the film’s entire production and post production process, including his own interviews with the key players. This is well worth taking the time to digest too.

While many veteran editors experienced in other systems might scoff at the claims that FCP X is a faster editor, Mike Matzdorff was willing to put a finer point on that for me. He says, “I find that because of the magnetic timeline, trimming is a lot faster. If you label roles extensively, it’s easier to sort out temporary from final elements or organize sound sources when you hand off audio for sound post. With multi-channel audio in an Avid, for example, you generally sync the clips using only the composite mix. That way you aren’t tying up a lot of tracks on the timeline for all of the source channels. If you have to replace a line with a clean isolated mic, you have to dig it out and make the edit. With FCP X, all of the audio channels are there and neatly tucked away until you need them. It’s a simple matter of expanding a clip and picking a different channel. That alone is a major improvement.”

Jan Kovac on editing Focus

UPDATE – At the recent LACPUG meetup, editor Jan Kovac is interviewed by Michael Horton on editing Focus in FCPX. In the video above Jan is joined by Kevin Bailey, who also presents this 10 minute overview of how Shot Notes X, Sync-n-link and File Maker Pro were used in Focus, and that workflow was subsequently updated on the next FCPX edited feature film the team are working on.

UPDATE – June 2015 – In the interview below Editor Yan Kovac is interviewed at the NAB Supermeet by Ripple Training’s Mark Spencer and Steve Martin.

Editing Focus on FCPX

If you missed Ripple Training’s latest Creative Caffeine email newsletter, then you missed out on 4 interesting nuggets from Steve’s chat with Focus editor Jan Kovac. Steve was happy for me to quote his email in full for my readers, but be sure to sign up get tutorials, offers and insights direct to your inbox.

I spent some time with the film’s editor Jan Kovac, to get his take on what he loved about using FCP X to cut a major Hollywood feature. There were 4 essential things I learned that you might find interesting:   

1) He used Final Cut Pro X’s multicam feature to cut back and forth between characters in dialogue scenes. Having access to all the takes in one clip container gave him a lot of creative freedom. 

2) He loves the Skimmer and he used it almost exclusively to locate material (as opposed to the conventional JKL method he uses when cutting on Avid). 

3)  Working at 2K ProRes with burned in Color LUT from the Arri camera allowed him to preview his rough cut directly from FCPX at nearly the quality of the final movie. This blew everyone’s mind, including the suits at Warner Bros. who are used to seeing rough cuts at much lower resolution and without finished titles.

4) All the titles that ended up in the film, were the ones that are built into Final Cut Pro’s Title’s Browser. 

There was even more cool stuff I learned, but I’m going save that for our NAB SuperMeet presentation in April.  – Steve Martin, Ripple Training

For the most detailed write up you could possibly hope to find, of Jan’s experience of editing Focus in FCPX, you should definitely check out Part Two of FCP.co’s extensive write up on the editorial team’s journey to complete the film.

There’s a lot more technical as well as creative detail about Jan’s day to day editing experience, from his customised keyboard shortcuts to how they created a keyword style emulation of Avid’s Script Sync, to how the assistant’s work dove-tailed into his workflow and the final steps they took to hand over to the DI and sound department. This post is packed full of detail and a good few ‘how-to’ steps!

On the movie I mainly used the list view, I switched back to the icon mode just for a quick visual overlook of the scene. If I was searching for something in list view I’d make the filmstrip as large as I could across the screen. I might then push the viewer over to a second screen so I could skim through the whole scene.

The list view is also important because in the notes field, the assistant editor had entered the scene description from the script supervisor. So without playing the clip I could see what it contained. – Jan Kovac

Quotes from Mike Matzdorff Interview

Sam Mestman of FCPWorks, also runs a podcast called We Make Movies and in this episode he and 1st Assistant Editor Mike Matzdorff discuss the process of persuading the studio that FCPX was a viable option for editing Focus and how they came to collaborate on the workflow.

It’s a great interview and another valuable way of learning more about editing a feature film efficiently on FCPX. Editor Jesús Pérez-Miranda, loved the show so much he’s pulled out some great quotes from the interview and shared them with via Twitter. Be sure to click on each image to get a closer look.

In this presentation from the October 2014 LACPUG you can hear more from Mike on his personal journey with FCPX, the pros, cons and misconceptions for new FCPX editors and some answers to workflow questions from the audience, as well as seeing how he used the metadata functionality of FCPX to speed up his workflow using keywords, roles and more. This is well worth a watch if you want to see some of the topics discussed previously, in action and get a closer look at his FCPX interface.

If you want even more from Mike you can also check out this podcast from FCPXGrill in which he discuss similar ground, and post NAB, I’m hoping FCPWorks should have some more FCPX/Focus related goodies, fresh out of their FCPX Presentation Suite at the Renaissance Hotel. So check back here for those updates!

UPDATE – As promised FCPWorks shared this talk from Mike and Sam, hosted by Chris Fenwick of FCPX Grill. Mike delivers a talk punctuated by plenty of audience Q+A and the hour long session is rounded off by a panel discussion with Sam and Chris.

Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow by Mike Matzdorff

Pro Workflow for FCPX by Mike Matzdorff

If this is FCPX’s Cold Mountain moment*, it only makes sense to have a book about it too. Mike Matzdorff was the 1st Assistant Editor on Focus and in this book he shares the precise workflow he used to help bring the film safely through post production. (*To read about Walter Murch’s experience of cutting Cold Mountain on Final Cut Pro 3, check out this excellent book.)

There isn’t really another book quite like Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow available right now and it really is the most up to date insight into what it takes to be a first assistant editor wrangling a Hollywood feature film from dailies to delivery using FCPX, that you could possibly hope to have access to.

It’s practical, detailed and not for the uninitiated. If you’re a working editorial assistant, or want to be one, then it’s certainly a must read, but you will need at least some prior knowledge of FCPX and a general understanding of the overall editorial mechanics of editing a feature film, to be able to follow along closely, let alone get the most out of it.

The book could have benefited from just a little more explanation at times, especially for those who are a bit further behind the FCPX curve than Mike, but where it lays out practical ‘how-to’ steps, which it does all the time, it does so very well.

FCPX Pro Workflow Mike Matzdorff Review

One crucial thing to note when reading it is that you must to be holding the iPad in landscape mode to get the pages to lay out correctly. When you do there are plenty of great screen shots (which you can enlarge by tapping on them) and from a readers perspective everything flows beautifully.

In reading through the breezy 90 pages it is obvious just how many external applications and workflow bridges were needed (at the time) to pull this off. It would be great to see some of this functionality incorporated into FCPX itself, and here’s hoping the feedback the Focus editorial team have provided Apple might bear fruit in this regard. Acquiring all of these third party apps could get expensive (not that you can’t afford it on a studio movie) but for an indie flick following same workflow on a tight budget, it might be stretch.

If you’re an experienced Avid editor looking on with mixed feelings of curiosity, contempt and/or apathy, then I would suggest that although the established Hollywood world is entrenched in Avid, and will be for quite some time to come, there really is no reason not to engage with FCPX or Premiere Pro, as they are clearly just as viable an option and may very well out live Avid anyway. There more languages you speak the more places you can go.

If you are an assistant editor or want to be then you should definitely read this book. As Steve Jobs famously said (while quoting Wayne Gretzky) “You need to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

My one wish would be that Mike Matzdorff and Michael Cioni (Light Iron) would get together with Ripple Training to create a video tutorial series to accompany the book. If that happened, it would certainly be one of the best training opportunities for would-be assistant editors, DITs and editors you could hope to get your hands on.

In summary Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow is a fast and fascinating read. Although it’s not intended to be a manual for newbie’s it could easily be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the cutting edge of post production.

Buy Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow on the iBooks store – US | UK | DE

Buy Final Cut Pro X:Pro Workflow on Amazon Kindle – US | UK

UPDATE – 5 Questions With Mike Matzdorff

Mike was kind enough to take the time to answer 5 quick questions I had, after finishing his book. Enjoy!

1. What makes you personally want to take on the trials and tribulations, (and ultimate triumphs) of doing things that haven’t been done before? Why bother to do things differently?

I always want to find a better way to do any task. I have failed many times and discovered many amazing things. I usually question most processes that are introduced to me by others. I originally thought laziness was making me look for short cuts, then I realized I just like to figure things out.

2. At what point did you think? Hey! This is actually really working… was it before, during or after?

There were several times during Focus that were considered victories, new challenges arose weekly and we rallied to get to the next level of solutions. It’s fun to have no roadmap for me.

3. Do you think FCPX only makes sense for certain types of projects – those with lots of metadata, time to log shots etc. that will be later leveraged for months at a time, or can you still make the most of the NLE without all that?

I think FCP X makes sense because the process of editing is made easier, faster and more fluid. I would use it on a home movie or a blockbuster. Every project will have to have it’s unique issues sorted out, but I’d rather spend time being creative, and that’s where FCP X excels. Less button pushing. The depth is there is needed and it’s as deep, if not deeper than any other NLE.

4. Given all the external apps you made use of, what feature requests and/or added functionality would have made life much easier still? Was there a missing link in the system?

We really only made use of a few, we tested a lot. The features I’d like have little to do with the apps. A big one for me, is a smoother proxy workflow and the ability to update compound clips/multicams outside of a library and have them still relate to all the other instances. Multi user libraries would solve this and I’d really like to see that. Also to have timeline roles, show as regions in the timeline. dialog at the top, sfx below that, music below that, etc.

5. Knowing all you know now, what would you do differently on your next big FCPX project?

Use SSDs for everything, including a SAN – do significant testing with Logic X and try to get ProTools out of the equation.

Final Cut Pro X – Pro Workflow Apps

third party apps on focus

One of the interesting things about the Focus FCPX workflow is how many third party apps were involved in the process. Both Mike Matzdorff’s book and the Apple case study list the apps used, although the former is much more detailed and comprehensive than the latter.

Here is Apple’s quick summary of most of the apps:

Live Play – Enables instant on-set review of dailies on iPad.
Colorfront Express Dailies – Generates on-set Apple ProRes 4444 dailies with ARRI metadata.
Sync-N-Link X – Batch syncs video and audio.
Change List X – Tracks timeline changes between edits.
Producer’s Best Friend – Creates customized metadata reports.
HandHeld – Mimics handheld camera look in normal footage.
SliceX and Lock & Load X – Instantly tracks shapes and stabilizes sequences inserted from other takes.
X2Pro Audio Convert – Delivers projects to Pro Tools for finishing.

If you’re interested in a bit more detail you can jump to the App Store itself through the widget on the right, or you can check out Scott Simmon’s really interesting breakdown of the cost of these apps and the comparison of the combined totals with the price of other editing platforms.

Those third-party tools do add up to way more then the $300 FCPX price tag but it’s nowhere out of the realm of what a feature film of any budget can afford. It’s also rivaling the cost of Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro so this is another example of how the cost of the software tools to cut your feature film no longer factor into the equation of feature film post.

In the first episode of FCPWorks Secret Sauce demonstrates how to create dailies using a similar workflow to that used on Focus featuring Shot Notes X, Sync-N-Link and Primaries Exporter. This is a similar workflow to the xml shuffle Mike mentions in his book. You can get more details on this workflow here. Below you can hear a quick sound bite from Mike on the numerous ways in which he found Primaries Exporter to be useful.

Light Iron Focus FCPX Workflow Event

Light Iron hosted a special event to showcase their work on the FCPX centric workflow that Focus used from the set to the final cinema screen. Light Iron’s DIT and DI services were a key part of the post production pipeline. The event also featured panel discussions from the Focus editorial team and the Director of Photography and Supervising Colorist.

UPDATE: The event was filmed by Light Iron and is now available to enjoy in 83 minutes of workflow video goodness. Personally I found the third panel On-Set and Digital Intermediate, the most interesting, although they are all well worth a watch. The fourth video is a fairly detailed and technical presentation from Arri on their camera technology.

On a similar theme Filmmaker Magazine has a nicely detailed interview with Focus DoP Xavier Grobert on shooting Pro Res on the Alexa, working with Light Iron and the move to FCPX.

Filmmaker: Focus is being touted as the first major studio film edited on Apple’s Final Cut X. What impact did that decision have on your job during production?

Grobet: With Light Iron, I pretty much had the lab in a trailer next to the set the entire movie, so we were able to download and color time. Then literally the next person over on another station would be doing dailies, syncing and providing all of the deliverables for the studio and for editorial. The editing room was also on the set, so the directors were actually cutting the movie [on Final Cut X] on their lunch break. We weren’t watching dailies — we were watching today-lies of what we’d shot in the morning.

Editor Marc Bach live tweeted a great collection of photos and insights from the event, and until the video recording makes it’s way online (please!) these are a great window in the content of the talk.

More Tweets from the Light Iron Event

More Focus FCPX Tweet Tips

FCPX Focus Feature Film Workflow – The People

FCPX Focus Worfklow - The People

If you’ve been trying to keep track of the community of people involved in the world of the Focus FCPX workflow then this final section of the round up should give you a handy jumping off point, of who they are and how they helped.

The first thing to do is read this excellent article over on FCP.co about how the workflow was drawn together and some of the hurdles involved. It’s a great read and adds a lot more detail to the story than the Apple case study.

Jan “In December of that year, myself, Glenn & John had a meeting with Michael Cioni at Light Iron that was organised by the Associate Producer of Focus, Jeffrey Harlacker. We discussed what we needed for a studio feature film environment, not only did we have to work out an FCPX workflow, we had to work out a ProRes workflow too.

Michael Cioni “Up until about 2 weeks before we started shooting, ProRes was not actually approved for use on Focus as the main capture codec.  Numerous tests were shot in both ProRes and RAW and we projected them in 4K for various departments including Warner Bros. post in an attempt to make everyone feel comfortable with the ProRes plan.

Jan Kovac – Editor of Focus. He also has a great collection of his favourite FCPX related tweets here. Twitter – IMDB

Mike Matzdorff – 1st Assistant Editor on Focus. TwitterWebsite

Michael Cioni – Light Iron were integral to the post production for their DIT and DI services, as well as workflow consultancy. TwitterWebsite

Sam Mestman – FCPX Workflow Consultant of FCPWorks. TwitterWebsite

Philip Hodgetts – Creator of numerous Intelligent Assistance apps used on the film, author of Conquering the Metadata Foundations of FCPX, read by the film’s directors. TwitterWebsite

“Our initial involvement with Focus started long before the movie went into production. That phone call was to encourage us to make a Change List tool that would work with Final Cut Pro X, because you really can’t make a Studio film without one.”

Philip has a great write up of his part of the journey and the development of some of the apps used on the film a post on his very useful blog.

Ripple Training – Online FCPX training creators whose training helped the editorially inclined director’s get started with the software. Twitter – Website

Digital Rebellion – Jon Chappell is an all round workflow guru who creates useful post tools of all kinds. QTEdit was used on Focus. TwitterWebsite

Alex Golner – Creator of the feature film overlays plugin used on the film. TwitterWebsite

Charlie Austin – FCPX Guru who Mike says to follow! I’ve included one of his quick tips on organising your dailies in FCPX. TwitterWebsite

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