We Make Movies (Better): A Final Cut Pro X/RED feature film workflow, Part 1
by Sam Mestman

Part 01: Project Prep – How to properly bring in your RED footage and build your project in FCP X.

It’s literally shocking that a product from Apple happens to be the best kept secret in post. Pretty much everyone I come across is dumbfounded when I tell them that Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) is my non-linear editing platform of choice. And to be honest, I half feel like I shouldn’t be writing this article. Why? Well, part of me selfishly wants to keep this workflow to myself so I can keep my competitive advantage. Part of me wants to keep delivering projects in half the time I used to, but still charging the same rate. So, against my better judgement, I’ve decided to post my battle-tested feature film RED workflow, if for no other reason than I feel like people should know about this, and know what this software can really do. It gets a bad rap, and it shouldn’t. I’ll take FCP X over Premiere or Avid anytime. Let the flame wars begin.

How fast is this workflow? Well, what used to take an assistant and me, working around the clock in shifts during the full shoot and probably an extra week or two using Final Cut 7, can now be done by just one person in FCPX, in less time. On the most recent film I worked on using this workflow, I was able to get an assembly edit of the entire film done within two days of the film wrapping, and I didn’t even have to drive myself crazy doing it. How? Simple: The metadata-based project prep in FCP X and R3D proxy workflow. Not only that, but for you RED fans out there, I’m going to let you in on some hidden tricks in FCP X. These will finally allow you to take full advantage of your RED RAW without having to jump through so many hoops, plus you’ll still get all of the speed and stability advantages of your typical offline workflow. It also makes 4k delivery surprisingly simple.

This will be a three-part series, released weekly right here on MovieMaker.com. The idea is that after three weeks, you’re going to have the ultimate crib sheet for feature film success in FCP X for your RED film. Here in part 1, we’ll deal with project prep and getting all of your RED media into FCPX efficiently and setting up your project for long term success. Next week in Part 2, we’ll focus on some tips and tricks as you edit your movie. And finally in part 3, we’ll discuss how to finish your movie, whether it’s in FCP X, RED CINE PRO-X, DaVinci Resolve, or a combination of all three. Anyway, less talk, more workflow. Let’s get to it.

NOTE: If you’re not a post production nerd or fan of the RED camera, this may get a little geeky and you may find your eyes glazing over. That said, this is a tutorial, and I want it to be as comprehensive as possible.


System Requirements:

I highly recommend a recent iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, or the latest version of the Mac Mini. For feature films, you should have at least 16 gigs of RAM and the best graphics card that’s available to you. I’d also recommend a Thunderbolt Drive. For more info on the latest and greatest in Mac edit setups, check out my article for MovieMaker here.
Project Prep:

Saving RMD’s: First thing’s first. Make sure all of your RED clips have an RMD file. Before you do anything else, go into RED CINE-X Pro, and quickly open all of your RED clips in a bin, select them all, right click them, and select “Save RMD.”

What’s an RMD, you ask? An RMD is a RED Metadata file, and when you make one, it lives in the folder that contains your .R3D clips. What does it do? Well, basically it’s what your RED clips use to save all of the RAW color adjustments you make to your R3D’s. Why do you need to do this now? Well, basically, if you want FCP X to reference back to your original R3D clips when you make RAW color adjustments within the app and use RED CINE-X PRO to grade your raw in FCP X, you’ll want to do this. If none of the above made an ounce of sense to you, just remember this: SAVE AN RMD IN REDCINE-X PRO BEFORE BRINGING INTO FCP X. I also made a tutorial about it that you can watch here.

PastedGraphic-1Setting up your import preferences: I’ve got preferences for FCP X mapped to my keyboard (F8), and before you start your project, you’ve got a big decision you need to make. Do you want all of your footage to live outside of your FCP X event folder, or within it (in the original media folder)? There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you’re not sure what you should do, I’d recommend leaving “Copy Files To Final Cut Events Folder” unchecked initially. When you do this, FCP X will make aliases within your original media folder to the files you import, and new copies of your files will not be made. Also, it’s very easy to get all of your media within an event or project into one place. Simply select your event in the events browser, and then select “File_organize event files.” When you click this, all of your media that is stored PastedGraphic-2outside of your event will now be copied into your FCP X Event’s Original Media folder. One reason to do this would be if you needed to get everything into one place to hand the project over to a new editor on another computer, for example.

As far as all of the other import preferences, I tend to leave them all unchecked, as all of the analysis tends to bog things down. But you should play around with them and see what the best combination is for your own workflow.

Importing your RED Footage in FCP X: Believe it or not, this is just a drag and drop thing for me now. On a feature film, or any other long-form project, my basic workflow is to make a new keyword collection for each day of shooting. Then, when the footage comes in from set, I’ll literally just drag the top folder that contains all of that days footage directly from the finder into the keyword collection I just made. FCP X will bring in all of your clips, and will immediately apply that keyword to all of them, making them all easily searchable by day.

Keywording your RED footage: Pretty much, the more you keyword your footage before you start editing, the more searchable and easy to modify your footage becomes as you go through your edit. Why is this? Because in FCP X, all of your keywords are searchable in the Timeline Index (Shift-Cmd-2). This means that if you take the time up front to keyword and organize your media, you can do some really cool things like resize based on frame size, and select based on speed or aspect ratio. This is especially useful for RED media which is by nature highly customizable, and has so many different shooting option. Some basic keyword recommendations:

A. Keyboard shortcut: You can add, delete, or modify keywords for a clip or group of clips by pressing Cmd-K and opening up the keyword editor.

B. Scene number: The most important one. Each scene should live in its own keyword collection named after the scene number on the slate.

C. Camera name: This will allow you to quickly change RAW color/gamma space settings across all of your R3D’s if you need to, and separate your RED footage from Alexa, footage for example.

D. Frame size: If you’re shooting lots of different frame sizes and aspect ratios, you need to do this. With each days import of footage, make sure the Frame Size column in the event browser is enabled, and then keyword all of the media’s frame sizes (1920×1080, etc). This way, especially as you jump through your various deliverables, it becomes easy to group select media in your timeline, and resize in whatever way you need to.

E. Speed: Assign keywords based on frames per second for similar reasons.

 

Assign all of your sound and video from a given day into smaller keyword collections: For a feature film, this would involve basically assigning clips’ keywords based on the scene they were slated for. This is pretty similar to what you’d do in FCP7, by placing clips into a bin based on the scene name. So, however you’d label your bins for a project in FCP7, do the same thing in FCP X—but use keyword collections instead. The advantage of keywords? A clip can live in as many keyword collections as you want, and keywords are extremely easy to modify and search for within the browser. It’s just a smarter way to organize media than the bin approach.

PastedGraphic-3For example, all of the audio and video for Scene 05 from a movie (e.g things slated 5A, 5B, 5C, etc.) would all be placed into a keyword collection called Sc05. From there, you’d start entering in your necessary metadata. Here’s some tips for that:

Custom Metadata in FCP X: Basically, you need to look at your Event Browser as a big, giant spreadsheet. And the cool thing about it is you can use the inspector in FCP X to globally enter in large amounts of metadata across selections, and then sort, or even rename your clips accordingly. Here’s the workflow I use when working on a feature:

1. For a single camera shoot, I select all of the video clips from a given day. Then I’ll go into the inspector, make sure I’m in “Extended View,” and enter in the word “Vid” in the “Camera Angle” field. For a multicam shoot, I’ll select all of the clips from each different camera, and in the “Camera Angle” field, I’ll enter in CamA, B, C, etc. for each camera’s clips.

2. I’ll then grab all of the audio from the day, and in the “Camera Angle” field, I’ll enter in “Z_Audio.” Why put a Z in the front of it? It’s a good habit to get into if you ever do multicam work. Why? FCP X specifies its angle order alphabetically. You always want your last camera angle to be your audio. Therefore, always put a “Z” in front when labeling your Audio’s Camera Angle field.

3. Assign metadata to the “Scene” field for each camera setup. So, for example, within my Sc05 keyword collection, I’d assign 5A, 5B, 5C, 5D to each group of takes that were slated that way.

4. Immediately after assigning the scene metadata with your clips selected, go ahead and assign your custom name preset. What’s that? It’s part of something unique to FCP X called Batch Renaming.

PastedGraphic-4Batch Renaming: Honestly, this one feature saves me more time than any feature in any NLE I’ve ever used. For some reason, almost no one is aware of this features’ existence, and almost no one seems to be using it. So what is batch renaming? Basically, it allows you to rename your clips based on metadata you enter onto them, and create custom naming presets, so your clips are automatically named in a particular order you set. Not only that, but you can even add escalating counters to them.

My typical batch renaming workflow works like this:

From the Inspector, I hit the gear icon on the bottom of it, and then select “Apply Custom Name_New.” A new screen will popup, and I’ll make a new preset and use the following tags:

PastedGraphic-5Custom preset: Scene_Angle_Counter

I’ll save it, and then with “Extended View” selected in the inspector, I’ll enter in the following over five takes that have been slated Scene – 05A:

Sample clip metadata entered:

Scene – Sc05A

Angle – CamB

I select all five takes of SC05A, and apply the preset. Then names for the clips will be renamed as follows:

Sc05A_CamB_01

Sc05A_CamB_02

Sc05A_CamB_03

Sc05A_CamB_04

Sc05A_CamB_05

Still confused? I did a video tutorial about it. You can watch that here.

 

Audio Patching: It’s a great idea to patch your audio properly before you start editing. Why? Well, basically, if you patch everything correctly (mono, stereo, 5.1), rename your components, etc., it means that you won’t need to change each one individually after you’ve edited them into the timeline (once you’ve edited a clip into the timeline, changing the way the source clip is patched in the event browser has no effect on that clip). They’ll all come in the way you wanted them to. Do it right the first time. Not only that, but it’s really easy to do group patching and rename things if they’ve all been recorded the same way and have the same number of channels. Just select all the clips you want to patch in the browser, and if they all have the same number of channels in the same configuration, you can modify them all at the same time. Huge time saver. Confused about this too? I did a tutorial about this one also. You can watch it here.

PastedGraphic-6Synchronize or Make Multicam clips: If you recorded sound in camera (in addition to your second source audio) or you jam-synced timecode, merging your video and audio could not be easier in FCP X. Simply select the clips you want to sync together and choose “synchronize clips.” FCP X will read the waveforms/timecode automatically and sync your clips and create a new synced clip for you. Same goes for Multicam Clips (select “make multicam clips”), except that you can do this with multiple video clips. Also, if you’ve taken the time to set up your metadata correctly, FCP X will sort and name your angles based on how you named them in the inspector. Confused? Watch this.

**** NOTE FOR RED USERS **** You won’t be able to modify your RAW data from a synchronized clip in the timeline. You must either break apart the sync clip to get to the original in the timeline, or adjust the original RAW from the source clip from the event browser. However, Changing the RAW data on your video clip will update what you see on your synchronized clip. Also, as I’ll show you, you’ll still be able to get complete control over the RAW in your timeline by using RED CINE-X PRO.


Smart Collections:
Smart Collections are like keyword collections except that they sort clips automatically based on properties you specify.

PastedGraphic-7To make a smart collection, first right click an event or folder and select “New Smart Collection.” Rename it, and then double-click the purple icon, and the filter settings will appear. For a typical feature film, you’ll probably want to make smart collections for at least the following things:

A. Synchronized clips: Synchronized clips you make will not keep the keywords you made for the clips that are being synchronized (although they will keep names), so you’ll want to make a synchronized clip smart collection (note: you’ll need to do this using text for the word “synch,” not based on clip type) so that you’ll be able to easily find all of them after you’ve made them. From there, you’ll need to apply the proper keywords to these as well.

B. Multicam clips: Same goes for multicam clips. However, as opposed to synchronized clips, you can make a smart collection for these based on clip type.

C. Compound clips: This will come in handy later on in your edit as you start to make these. They’ll automatically just start to appear in this collection and is the best way to find them in the event browser.

Once you have all of your synchronized clips back in their correct keyword collections, change your event browser filter setting to “Hide Rejected” (top left hand corner, just above the filmstrip in list view), then go ahead and “reject” your original video and audio by hitting delete, and this will remove all of those clips from your view (but won’t remove them from your project). You can get them to come back into view by switching that filter setting back to “all clips.” You can un-reject your clips by selecting them and pressing “U”.

 

Multiple Selection Ranges and Favorites: There’s a better way to make subclips and stringouts than what you’ve been doing in FCP7 or elsewhere. in FCP X, As you watch down your footage, it’s now possible to make selections (or multiple selections) and turn those into something called “Favorites.”

To do this, as you go through your clip, press “i” (in) or “o” (out) to set an in/out point (or hold down option and drag across the clip to make a selection). To make multiple selections as you watch down a clip, press shft-cmd-i (in) or shft-cmd-o (out), or cmd- drag across the clip. You’ll see multiple selection ranges appear that you can continue to add to which you can either edit into your timeline or turn into favorites.

When you’ve found all the bits you like from a clip, you just push “F” and all of those selections will become favorites that will appear in green directly below your clip in the PastedGraphic-8event browser that you can now rename (select the favorite and press enter, and type in the name), and edit accordingly. They’ll work just like regular clips.

QUICK TIP: if you’re using a lot of favorites and it’s cluttering up your screen, you show/hide them by selecting the master clips and using the left/right arrows.

You can also make subclips by setting an in/out on a clip and dragging it over to a keyword collection of your choice. For me, though, I prefer to use favorite ranges and keyword the master clips however I need to so I can keep everything in one place.

 

Making Better Stringouts/Dailies: The advantage of the Favorite workflow is that these selections stay within your master clips, but you can select them in batches and make smart stringouts or quickly assemble trimmed down dailies to show producers. If you’re ready to cut a scene together, simply select all the favorite ranges from a scene, and press “E.” Your favorites will now appear in your timeline as a stringout. Not only that, but if you’ve taken the time to really order them properly, you can assemble your stringouts in a better way by going through your takes, selecting the favorite ranges that best match up, and have your stringout start out in a much more organized way.

This process can also be applied to dailies. Group all your favorites by scene, then put a title over each scene explaining what the director/producers are watching, and only export the good stuff. You can even use a custom compressor setting, and easily share this stuff directly to your Dropbox or Vimeo account if you have them.

 

The RED Proxy Workflow: Okay, this is the last step before you start editing—and this is what makes editing RED in FCP X so worthwhile. Basically, what FCP X allows you to do is transcode your RED, SCARLET, and EPIC footage down to a half size Pro Res proxy, and with a click of a button, your clips will automatically switch back to their original R3D state. The best part is, all scaling, color, and effects you make to your proxy renders will automatically be reapplied “automagically” to your R3D’s when you switch back. No messing with sequence settings, codecs, or any of that. You’re either offline in Pro Res proxy, or you’re working with your original R3D footage. Anyway, here’s the best way to do all this stuff:

When you get your footage delivered from set, go ahead and organize, rename, and make favorite selections to your R3D’s. You can even do some basic edits in your timeline and start assembling some scenes. On a fast system with a Thunderbolt drive, you should be able to get at least two streams of realtime playback editing your R3D’s natively. With an E-SATA drive, you should be able to get at least one stream of realtime playback. Also, if you find that any of your RAW needs some correcting, do this before transcoding. (If you need to adjust the RAW of a clip after you’ve made a proxy, you’ll need to re-transcode that proxy. Don’t worry, your clip will reappear online after you do so) You can adjust your RAW settings at the bottom of the inspector by clicking the box “Modify RED RAW settings,” and you’ll see a window appear with a bunch of RAW sliders.

When you’re done editing for the day, the last thing you should do before you go home is simply select all the new RED footage you got for that day, right click it, select “Trancode media,” and then select “Create proxy media.”

You’ll then be able to switch back and forth between your proxy and R3D media by going into the FCP X preferences and under “Playback,” switch between “Use proxy media” or “Use original or optimized media.”

NOTE: If you haven’t created proxy media yet for some of your clips, they will appear offline until you do when you are in “Use proxy media” mode.

When the shoot is over, just stay in proxy mode as you cut for increased performance, and then when the edit is locked, switch over to your R3D’s and you’ll be ready to finish, either in FCP X or somewhere else—like DaVinci Resolve.

 

Read Part 2.
Read Part 3.

 

Bio: Sam Mestman has worked for Apple, ESPN, “Glee,” and Break.com, to name a few, and now runs his own post production operation at www.wemakemoviespost.com. He’s a regular writer for MovieMaker Magazine, teaches post workflow at RED’s REDucation classes, and specializes in saving independent producers tens of thousands of dollars while delivering a top quality product.  He is also the founder and CEO of We Make Movies (www.wemakemovies.org), which in just three years might have become the largest film collective in Los Angeles (and now Toronto).

 

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9 Responses to “We Make Movies (Better): A Final Cut Pro X/RED feature film workflow, Part 1
by Sam Mestman

  1. JM

    Great article. Appreciate the detail you went into explaining your workflow. The FCPX RED implementation is pretty amazing. You can barely tell the difference between using it with or without a Red Rocket.

    I agree with you on the learning curve of FCPX. I’ve been using MC since version 4, and find it arduous to use. It’s great for editors, but is a complete pain for everyone else in the pipeline. As a colorist I only really know it so I can support my clients.

    On the other hand nearly everyone I show FCPX becomes a convert overnight, especially once they understand the concept of projects and events. And combined with Resolve 9 which has great R3D support, as well, you have a really powerful, affordable, native R3D workflow that people can be up and running with quickly.

  2. Andrei

    FCPX vs Avid? Recently, i was fcs master trainer. Now i’m Avid. Because, i’m sick and tired of these nlp-bs#t. easier and more intuitive than in Avid? especially when decomposing compounds before going to any xml-receiving finishing? reimporting timewarps? what about versioning…. “People can be up and running almost immediately in FCPX” but how? how far they can go with ” less previous editing experience you have the better when it comes to learning X” ? are you talking to work with features or what? This article is sick. i spent 13 years with fcp since 1.0, and i DO know subject. Stop this bullshit. Described workflow is not any easier than avid dnx. at least, mxf has their own real meta, rather tan disk id and name mess with fcpx. FCPX is great app IN FUTURE, potentially. maybe they screw-in some artificial intelligence, and it will allow use it people not only with a very few editing experience, but also imbeciles,mentally disabled… is this what you asking for?

  3. Lewis

    Best relevant workflow article I’ve read so far! The The RED Proxy Workflow could be detailed a bit more IMO but I expect some more magic in Part II… Which is late BTW?!!! :)
    Thanks

  4. Sam Mestman

    Hey Pierrot,

    Well, in my opinion, at least, the real advantage to the workflow is that you’re working with the original .R3D’s in your timeline as opposed to having to be in DNHD. Also, XML in out of FCPX is WAY better than having to go to other apps from Avid. Lastly, for me, at least, I finding working in FCPX easier and more intuitive than in Avid. The interface for me is much more straightforward, and it’s also a lot easier to teach. People can be up and running almost immediately in FCPX (honestly, the less previous editing experience you have the better when it comes to learning X), and it really only takes a couple of months to get really good in FCPX. Avid is much harder to teach/learn, at least in my experience.

  5. Pierrot

    With the changes in X, I am wondering if there are any advantages to this workflow versus Media Composer. I am thinking the later is more intuitive, easier, and with more user options. Obviously you are a Mac user, so I thought it would be a good question. Thx.

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