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Review (re-visit): Apple FCP-X Editor

"It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride though. Craig has noticed that the performance of the software varies throughout the day."

Click for article from Digital Edition

Apple’s Final Cut Pro ‘X’ edition has been the whipping boy of the professional editor’s world for the last couple of years. But there were supporters who were sure that Apple would re-instate the fundamental ingredients of their v7 software. Now their support has been justified as the BBC start cutting programmes with an ‘X’ on them. NICKI MILLS reports.

Although there was an endless, and pointless, debate about whether Final Cut Pro X deserved the epithet ‘Pro’, it was clear on its launch that it was missing functions required by editors working in high-end TV and feature film production. Walter Murch, referring to the lack of EDL, OMF/AAF and XML support, famously gave it the report card, “Does not play well with others.”

Slowly but surely, however, Apple have been adding in the features that we need. First came multicam and XML – which, crucially, allowed third party software vendors to provide some of the missing inputs and outputs. Then we got external monitor support, separate ‘canvas’ and ‘viewer’ windows, persistent clip In and Out points, and so on. It seemed that most of the hurdles preventing FCP X’s use at the higher end had been removed.

That’s certainly the belief of Craig Slattery, a freelance editor who has become the first person to cut items for the BBC’s Culture Show on FCP X. 

“I’ve been cutting features for the Culture Show on Final Cut since about version 4 or 5, so I bought a copy of FCP X pretty much as soon as it was released. Then, in October 2012, with the latest updates, I though it was time we tried it out on a real programme.”

Craig edits The Culture Show at the BBC’s Media Centre in White City which, like most large post-production organisations, has a huge, Fibre Channel based SAN, so that any production can be edited from any suite. For his first forays into FCP X, however, Craig is using a stand-alone suite, with storage provided by a Pegasus RAID. Culture Show specials, like the recent Danny Boyle feature, can have several TB of footage.

“We did the whole of the Danny Boyle special in FCP X, and we didn’t want to pick out clips from his films before the edit began, so we just captured all of his feature films, like Trainspotting, whole,” Craig explains. The interviews and presenter pieces-to-camera are also filmed using multi-camera setups, resulting in a lot of footage. “We usually have three or four cameras on a shoot, so we had to wait until FCP X got multi-cam, but we haven’t had any problems with the number of clips or the size of the files.” Indeed, Craig uses the flexibility of the multicam support to speed the edit. “I got the first couple of camera angles of Danny’s interview in early, so I cut the conversation from those, then went back and added the other two angles to the multicam group and cut them in.”

Culture Show shoots use a number of different camera systems, from Canon 5Ds to XDCAM. Although Craig’s edit suite isn’t connected to the SAN, all the footage is still transcoded to ProRes and to ProRes Proxy, and copied onto his RAID by the BBC’s post-production support group, the Production Village. Their support, and the support of the Culture Show’s producers, has been enthusiastic.

“I just said ‘Let’s give it a go’ and we haven’t looked back,” Craig explains. “When we were cutting using FCP 7, if you asked a producer which clip they meant by pointing to the timeline, they would just look at it - and you - blankly. After just a couple of hours with FCP X, the interface is so intuitive you almost have to keep them from grabbing hold of the mouse themselves.”

The edit suite consists of an iMac, running FCP X, with a second computer monitor. The iMac is coupled to a Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Monitor Thunderbolt converter to provide an output to a broadcast quality video monitor, and a Pegasus Thunderbolt RAID. Interestingly, Craig found that this setup seemed noticeably faster than FCP X running on the multi-processor Mac Pros that the BBC usually uses. 

Although it’s a stand-alone suite, in TV it’s rare for a programme to be started and finished on a single machine. Craig uses the third-party application X2Pro to generate AAF files from his edit, which then go off to sound post to be edited and mixed in ProTools.

“You just have to be sure to assign all the audio to appropriate ‘Roles’ before you generate the AAF,” he explains. “So I do this at the end of a cut - it takes me about 20 minutes just to go through the timeline and say this clip is dialogue, this is music, this is a sound effect, and so on.” Craig worked closely with the programme’s audio editors to make sure that he gave them the AAF that they needed and, after some initial issues were solved, they now have few problems importing X2Pro’s files into ProTools. Each Role generates a separate track in the ProTools session, so this process can be more accurate than with some undisciplined FCP 7/Avid editors, who tend to scatter audio around their timeline with abandon.

Grading is currently done in Apple’s discontinued Color – though the production intends to switch to DaVinci Resolve within a couple of months – a workflow that is pretty straightforward from FCP X. The graded footage for the whole show is then returned to FCP 7 for on-line (which Craig does himself), but Craig hopes soon to start finishing the complete programme in FCP X.

It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride though. Craig has noticed that the performance of the software varies throughout the day.

“It’s not really something you can put your finger on, but sometimes it just feels a little sluggish. Then, twenty minutes later, it seems to be really singing. It is still a bit buggy though – we get about a crash a day. It’s not too bad – you never lose anything – when you open up the project again, you’re right back where you were.”    

Much of the BBC’s programming has now moved from White City to Broadcasting House, which doesn’t have enough in-house editing facilities, so many programmes are now post-produced in various locations in central London. Craig worries that this will kill some of the momentum that he has gained with FCP X, though he has been asked to talk to various executives in charge of planning and procurement at the Beeb.

“It’s really up to us – the editors,” he says. “There’s really no reason that FCP X won’t do the job now and, once you’ve got your head around it, it’s so much faster than FCP 7. To drive it forward, we really need to be asking our productions if we can use it.”

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Reader Comments (20)

Oh lordy. "Feels a little sluggish", "a crash a day" - nothing's changed much then. The sooner FCP is banished to the rubbish bin the better. Having cut several long form docs at the BBC on FCP7 in the past 5 or 6 years my lasting memory of those edits was the pain induced by sluggishness and illogical crashing. A week could have been sliced off the post schedules on most of those jobs had we been cutting on Avid.
If the BBC now get the idea that FCPX is the way forward then it's only a matter of time before more money is pissed up the wall on a system that is just not up to the job of fast paced, efficient and consistent editing. I've had a much more stable experience cutting 1080P native XDCAM rushes on Avid from a portable USB drive on a four year old MacBook Pro than Pro Res on FCP7 on an 8 core Mac Pro in White City.
I can only hope that FCPX stays within the confines of The Culture Show...

May 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteranoldproeditor

Yes Avid, it is so good that they will go bankrupt...Common' Avid so much non intuitive and complicated to use, that's why FCP (until X) took more than 80% of the market share....Now for FCP X though, it was no good at the beginning, but they've so much updates, getting it back to something normal at least, all they need now is to make sure FCP X will be able to export OMF without any third party, that's all it need now.

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlarrymax

Have either of the two previous posters actually used FCPX? Apart from the rare crash (which happens In Avid, Premiere, After Effects etc. take your pick), FCPX is very stable and due to its constant save structure, does not lose any work if it does. Moreover, FCPX is very fast when dealing with tons of footage. The process of ingest, media management, tagging, skimmiming and cutting goes vey quickly once you've wrapped your head around it. I liken it to learning to ice skate when all you've ever done is walk on dry ground. It sucks at first, but pretty soon you're gliding quickly through your work.

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul G

The Beeb uses lots of different software so it can be somewhat misleading to say "BBC now using [whatever]"
I assume everyone knows that they use Sadie for most of their radio work and that the new Charlotte Street facility is Avid + Protools.

We've all heard of numpties who don't track lay properly as they're cutting, but spending time on track assignments after cutting sounds like a very retrograde workflow requirement.

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterandytheeditor

According to your print article:

"Apple has also re- introduced features like the ability to export a selected range of an edit"

And where is that feature again exactly?

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

"On a more functional level Apple has also re-introduced features like the ability to export a selected range of my edit and then add chapter markers to the export as well if I need to. Bit by bit they are reinstating functionality temporary lost from FCP7 days and wherever possible, enhancing it..."

May 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDefinition Magazine

After years and years of High Definition mag pushing this turkey that is FCP it seems they are at it again. From the first issue one of the mag through to todays online mag they have treated FCP as the "god of non-linea editing"... oh how we laughed. As expected no-one could fool all the people all of the time, that's why FCP has at last been seen as the rubbish that it is.

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrin Davis

After years and years of High Definition mag pushing this turkey that is FCP it seems they are at it again. From the first issue one of the mag through to todays online mag they have treated FCP as the "god of non-linea editing"... oh how we laughed. As expected no-one could fool all the people all of the time, that's why FCP has at last been seen as the rubbish that it is.

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrin Davis

That's not true. We put it in our print magazine too...

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDefinition Magazine

The main thing standing in the way of FCPX blowing up is the lack of an audio mixer for those who don't need to go out to Pro Tools or wherever. But Avid? Their support is awful, the interface is ancient and they're hanging by a thread financially. Time to spin this one off to someone who can handle it. Lightworks may be one to watch, if you're not a Premiere drudge.

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSmashCutTo:

Is there some secret room where Apple has been hiding Final Cut 8? Just cleaning up a few glitches, just working a bit faster but still able to assign sound tracks where you want them, not having all this catching up with third-party add-ons. How far along did Apple get on the successor to Final Cut 7 before pulling the plug? Any betas floating around out there? Rumors? Open source Final Cut?


June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCB

FCP-8=Premiere CC
Just ask ADOBE =:-0

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterralf...

Faster than FCP 7? - thats a pretty low bar. Geez, I assumed the shilling was over & this story was dead & buried.

Most of the pro market moved to Premiere CS6 ( as well as a few AVID's) ( which many including Phil Bloom called 'FCP 8'), and especially with the major new features in the about to be released Premiere Cloud ( June 17th, 2013) non linear editing is powerful, highly productive AND fun again.

In hindsight FCP X was probably the best thing to happen to Adobes Production suite.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwalker bell

You lost your argument when you quoted a cinematography blogger as an authority on editing platforms.

June 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDefinition Magazine

I am seeing the first comment and I see nothing else than the post of a "amateur" "arnold - so called - pro " who doesn't know how to handle a tool and then squeals...

Fcp7 was perfectly stable if you knew how to manage you projects.

June 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFx_

I'm a professional photographer and am now moving heavily into video. I now use Imovie 11 but want more flexibility with video. I understand AVCHD isn't compatible with Final Cut Pro X and I would need to have a separate program to convert it. Please tell me if I should still purchase Final cut or would Adobe be a better bet for me if it recognizes AVCHD.


June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRTHORNE

RTHORNE: Adobe Premier supports AVCHD, but don't try with an old or weak computer.

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLudwig Wongba

I import AVCHD footage into Final Cut Pro x on a regular basis - on a Macbook pro usually, not a problem

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Young

take a try to sony vegas. it is very intuitive and flexible. not perfect but really nice.

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercharli

FCPX is not just faster than FCP7...its much faster!! Every NLE is dependent on the horse power of the machine its in. I will challenge any of you who are still bashing FCPX to edit the kind of project Craig was working on with multiple cameras on Avid or Premiere and then on FCPX and I guarantee, FCPX will smoke them!! The Multi-Cam editor is an absolute dream and nothing comes remotely close. I too switched to Adobe when I first saw how buggy FCPX was when it was introduced. But I had just as many problems with it as I did FCPX! But having both on my system made it possible to do a lot of a-b tests editing the same footage. As FCPX released new versions, it was surprisingly clear that it was a much faster and more intuitive editor for just about everything I do. Plugin support is by far better and cheaper than anything on the market. Editors are writing every month how much they love the efficiency of FCPX. And if you haters stop and think about what Craig edited, with so much footage.....ON ONE the very least you have to stop and check yourselves, because any "real" editor would know this was not an easy project! One or two crashes a day is par for just about any editor and is often attributed to unfixed bugs in third party plugins, or text elements that needed fixing. The truth is people, FCPX is every bit as revolutionary as Apple said it was. I am sure all of you have unintentionally lost synch when moving clips around! This pretty much never happens anymore. There was so much I did not understand as to the logic of how FCPX worked at first. But now, I can't imagine going back to the way FCP7 or Premiere works. Now you can prove me and Craig wrong by simply downloading the free version (V9) and see for yourself, or "shut the front door!!"

August 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterProPhotog1

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