Markers are your friend

If you cut long-form projects, then markers in Apple Final Cut Pro or locators in Avid Media Composer are an essential tool. This is one of the subtle yet workflow-changing improvements Apple made in FCP7. The developers added the ripple feature to markers, which allows timeline markers to stay pegged with the relevant clip on the timeline as you insert of delete other clips. It’s a feature that had been in Media Composer since the beginning of locators, but was a welcome change to Final Cut.

In case you’ve never used markers in Final Cut Pro (come on, really?), you can add them to places on the timeline and add text for each marker. The text is displayed when you park on the frame where the marker was placed. You can also use difference colored markers for different purposes. Markers can also be assigned as chapter, compression or scoring markers and given a duration. A marker list can be exported as a tab delimited text document, which will open in most word processors or spreadsheet applications. This list will indicate comments, type, duration, color and timecode. Marker lists may be helpful as a reference for interviews in the absence of an actual transcript. Or they may be used to document notes for editorial changes.

I use markers a lot in unscripted projects made up of lengthy interviews. I’ll place all of a subject’s clips on a timeline and then listen to the comments. At each place where they start a new answer or train of thought, I’ll add a marker and enter text. This is usually a short synopsis, phrase or some key words for the sound bite at that point. I tend to use a single color for my timeline markers, but if the interviewee says something exceptional or profound or with more emotion than the rest, then I’ll use a different marker color. This way I can quickly scan the timeline and find the points with the preferred sound bites.

When done, I have a timeline full of markers. Right-clicking on the timeline’s timecode ruler bar brings up a contextual menu with all the marker text for that sequence. Click on any entry in this pop-up menu and you’ll jump to that location on the timeline. This menu is also a great way to quickly scan through all the comments when you start to feel that you may be leaving something important out in your refined cut.

Furthermore, the Find command (cmd-F) for the sequence lets you search by names and markers. Looking for a word you know you typed into a marker? Simply use Find in the sequence and it will take you to that spot. Of course, the more information you typed at the time, the better of a resource this becomes.

Once I’ve gone through this process, I will leave that sequence untouched. Instead, I’ll duplicate it and continue editing on that new sequence or I will copy-and-paste from that sequence to another. The point is to leave this first record intact, so that when you need to find a specific comment at a later stage in the edit, you can always refer back to this original timeline with all the markers and marker text.

©2011 Oliver Peters