Final Cut Pro X Organizing Tips

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Every nonlinear editing application is a database; however, Apple took this concept to a higher level when it launched Final Cut Pro X. One of its true strengths is making the organization of a mountain of media easier than ever. To get the best experience, an editor should approach the session holistically and not simply rely on FCP X to do all the heavy lifting.

At the start of every new production, I set up and work within a specific folder structure. You can use an application like Post Haste to create a folder layout, pick up some templates online, like those from FDPTraining, or simply create your own template. No matter how you get there, the main folder for that production should include subfolders for camera files, audio, graphics, other media, production documents, and projects. This last folder would include your FCP X library, as well as others, like any After Effects or Motion projects. The objective is to end up with everything that you accrue for this production in a single master folder that you can archive upon completion.

FCP X Libraries

df1415_organize_5It helps to understand the Final Cut Pro X Library structure. The Library is what would otherwise be called a project file, but in FCP X terminology an edited sequence is referred to as a Project, while the main session/production file is the Library. Unlike previous versions and other NLEs, the Library is not a closed, binary data file. It is a package file that you can open and peruse, by right-clicking the Library icon and using the “show package contents” command. In there you will find various binary files (labeled CurrentVersion.fcpevent) along with a number of media folders. This structure is similar to the way Avid Media Composer project folders are organized on a hard drive. Since FCP X allows you to store imported, proxy, transcoded, and rendered media within the Library package, the media folders can be filled with actual media used for this production. When you pick this option your Library will grow quite large, but is completely under the application’s control, thus making the media management quite robust.

df1415_organize_4Another option is to leave media files in their place. When this is selected the Library package’s media folders will contain aliases or shortcut links to the actual media files. These media files are located in one or more folders on your hard drive. In this case, your Library file will stay small and is easier to transfer between systems, since the actual audio and video files are externally located. I suggest spreading things out. For example, I’ll create my Library on one drive, the location of the autosaved back-up files on another, and my media on a third. This has the advantage of no single point of failure. If the Library files are located on a drive that is backed up via Time Machine or some other system-wide “cloud” back-up utility, you have even more redundancy and protection.

Following this practice, I typically do not place the Library file in the projects folder for the production, unless this is a RAID-5 (or better) drive array. If I don’t save it there during actual editing, then it is imperative to copy the Library into the project folder for archiving. The rub is that the package contains aliases, which certain software – particular LTO back-up software – does not like. My recommendation is to create a compressed archive (.zip) file for every project file (FCP X Library, AE project, Premiere Pro project, etc.) prior to the final archiving of that production. This will prevent conflicts caused by these aliases.

If you have set up a method of organization that saves Libraries into different folders for each production, it is still possible to have a single folder, which shows you all the Libraries on your drives. To do this, create a Smart Folder in the Finder and set up the criteria to filter for FCP X Libraries. Any Library will automatically be filtered into this folder with a shortcut. Clicking on any of these files will launch FCP X and open to that Library.

Getting started

df1415_organize_2The first level of organization is getting everything into the appropriate folders on the hard drive. Camera files are usually organized by shoot date/location, camera, and card/reel/roll. Mac OS lets you label files with color-coded Finder tags, which enables another level of organization for the editor. As an example, you might have three different on-camera speakers in a production. You could label clips for each with a colored tag. Another example, might be to label all “circle takes” picked by the director in the field with a tag.

The next step is to create a new FCP X Library. This is the equivalent of the FCP 7 project file. Typically you would use a single Library for an entire production, however, FCP X permits you to work with multiple open Libraries, just like you could have multiple projects open in FCP 7. In order to set up all external folder locations within FCP X, highlight the Library name and then in the Inspector panel choose “modify settings” for the storage locations listed in the Library Properties panel. Here you can designate whether media goes directly into the internal folders of the Library package or to other target folders that you assign. This step is similar to setting the Capture Scratch locations in FCP 7.

How to organize clips within FCP X

df1415_organize_8Final Cut Pro X organizes master source clips on three levels – Events, Keyword Collections, and Smart Collections. These are an equivalent to Bins in other NLEs, but don’t completely work in the same fashion. When clips are imported, they will go into a specific Event, which is closest in function to a Bin. It’s best to keep the number of Events low, since Keyword Collections work within an Event and not across multiple Events. I normally create individual Events for edited sequences, camera footage, audio, graphics, and a few more categories. Clips within an Event can be grouped in the browser display in different ways, such as by import date. This can be useful when you want to quickly find the last few files imported in a production that spans many days. Most of the time I set grouping and sorting to “none”.

df1415_organize_7To organize clips within an Event, use Keywords. Setting a Keyword for a clip – or a range within a clip – is comparable to creating subclips in FCP 7. When you add a Keyword, that clip or range will automatically be sorted into a Keyword Collection with a matching name. Keywords can be assigned to keyboard hot keys, which creates a very quick way to go through every clip and assign it into a variety of Keyword Collections. Clips can be assigned to more than one Collection. Again, this is equivalent to creating subclips and placing them into separate Bins.

On one set of commercials featuring company employees, I created Keyword Collections for each person, department, shoot date, store location, employees, managers, and general b-roll footage. This made it easy to derive spots that featured a diverse range of speakers. It also made it easy to locate a specific clip that the director or client might ask for, based on “I think Mary said that” or “It was shot at the Kansas City store”. Keyword Collections can be placed into folders. Collections for people by name went into one folder, Collections by location into another, and so on.

df1415_organize_3The beauty of Final Cut Pro X is that it works in tandem with any organization you’ve done in the Finder. If you spent the time to move clips into specific folders or you assigned color-coded Finder tags, then this information can be used when importing clips into FCP X. The import dialogue gives you the option to “leave files in place” and to use Finder folders and tags to automatically create corresponding Keyword Collections. Camera files that were organized into camera/date/card folders will automatically be placed into Keyword Collections that are organized in the same fashion. If you assigned clips with Mary, John, and Joe to have red, blue, and green tags for each person, then you’ll end up with those clips automatically placed into Keyword Collections named red, blue, and green. Once imported, simply rename the red, blue, and green Collections to Mary, John, and Joe.

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The third level of clip organization is Smart Collections. Use these to automatically filter clips based on the criteria that you set. With the release of FCP X version 10.2, Smart Collections have been moved from the Event level (10.1.4 or earlier) to the Library level – meaning that filtering can occur across multiple Events within the Library. By default, new Libraries are created with several preset Smart Collections that can be used, deleted, or modified. Here’s an example of how to use these. When you sync double-system sound clips or multiple cameras, new grouped clips are created – Synchronized Clips and Multicam Clips. These will appear in the Event along with all the other source files, which can be unwieldy. To focus strictly on these new grouped clips, create a Smart Collection with the criteria set by type to include these two categories. Then, as new grouped clips are created, they will automatically be filtered into this Smart Collection, thus reducing clutter for the editor.

Playing nice with others

df1415_organize_9Final Cut Pro X was designed around a new paradigm, so it tends to live in its own world. Most professional editors have the need for a higher level of interoperability with other applications and with outside vendors. To aid in these functions, you’ll need to turn to third party applications from a handful of vendors that have focused on workflow productivity utilities for FCP X. These include Intelligent Assistance/Assisted Editing, XMiL, Spherico, Marquis Broadcast, and Thomas Szabo. Their utilities make it possible to go between FCP X and the outside world, through list formats like AAF, EDL, and XML.

df1415_organize_11Final Cut’s only form of decision list exchange is FCPXML, which is a distinctly different data format than other forms of XML. Apple Logic Pro X, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Smoke can read it. Everything else requires a translated file and that’s where these independent developers come in. Once you use an application like XtoCC (formerly Xto7) from Intelligent Assistance to convert FCPXML to XML for an edited sequence, other possibilities are opened up. The translated XML file can now be brought into Adobe Premiere Pro or FCP 7. Or you can use other tools designed for FCP 7. For instance, I needed to generate a print-out of markers with comments and thumbnail images from a film, in order to hand off notes to the visual effects company. By bringing a converted XML file into Digital Heaven’s Final Print – originally designed with only the older Final Cut in mind – this became a doable task.

df1415_organize_13Thomas Szabo has concentrated on some of the media functions that are still lacking with FCP X. Need to get to After Effects or Nuke? The ClipExporter and ClipExporter2 applications fit the bill. His newest tool is PrimariesExporter. This utility uses FCPXML to enable batch exports of clips from a timeline, a series of single-frame exports based on markers, or a list of clip metadata. Intelligent Assistance offers the widest set of tools for FCP X, including Producer’s Best Friend. This tool enables editors to create a range of reports needed on most major jobs. It delivers them in spreadsheet format.

Understanding the thought processes behind FCP X and learning to use its powerful relational database will get you through complex projects in record time. Better yet, it gives you the confidence to know that no editorial stone was left unturned. For more information on advanced workflows and organization with Final Cut Pro X, check out FCPworks, MacBreak Studio (hosted by Pixel Corps), Larry Jordan, Lynda.com and Ripple Training.

For those that want to know more about the nuts and bolts of the post production workflow for feature films, check out Mike Matzdorff’s “Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow”, an iBook that’s a step-by-step advanced guide based on the lessons learned on Focus.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

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