If you’ve spent any time in Final Cut Pro X discussion forums, then you’ve probably run across posts by Tangier Clarke, a film editor based in Los Angeles. Clarke was an early convert to FCPX and recently handled the post-production finishing for the film, Jezebel. I was intrigued by the fact that Jezebel was picked up by Netflix, a streaming platform that has been driving many modern technical standards. This was a good springboard to chat with Clarke and see how FCPX fared as the editing tool of choice.
[OP] Please tell me a little about your background in becoming a film editor.
[TC] I’m a very technical person and have always had a love for computers. I went to college for computer science, but along the way I discovered Avid Videoshop and started to explore editing more, since it married my technical side with creative storytelling. So, at UC Berkeley I switched from computer science to film.
My first job was at motion graphics company Montgomery/Cobb, which was in Los Angeles. They later became Montgomery & Co. Creative. I was a production assistant for main titles and branding packages for The Weather Channel, Fox, NBC, CBS, and a whole host of cable shows. Then, I worked for 12 years with Loyola Productions (no affiliation with Loyola Marymount University).
I moved on to a company called Black & Sexy TV, which was started by Dennis Dortch as a company to have more control over black images in media. He created a movie called A Good Day to be Black and Sexy in 2008, which was picked up and distributed by Magnolia Pictures and became a cult hit. It ended up in Blockbuster Video stores, Target, and Netflix. The success of that film was leveraged to launch Black & Sexy TV and its online streaming platform.
[OP] You’ve worked on several different editing applications, but tell me a bit about your transition to Final Cut Pro X.
[TC] I started my career on Avid, which was also at the time when Final Cut Pro “legacy” was taking off. During 2011 at Loyola Productions, I had an opportunity to create a commercial for a contest put out by American Airlines. We thought this was an opportunity for us as a company to try Final Cut Pro X.
I knew that it was for us once we installed it. Of course, there were a lot of things missing coming from Final Cut Pro 7, and a couple of bugs here and there. The one thing that was astonishing for me, despite the initial learning curve, was that within one week of use my productivity compared to Final Cut Pro 7 went through the roof. There was no correlation between anything I had used before and what I was experiencing with Final Cut X in that first week. I also noticed that our interns – whose only experience was iMovie – just picked up Final Cut Pro X with no problems whatsoever.
Final Cut Pro X was very liberating, which I expressed to my boss, Eddie Siebert, the president and founder of Loyola Productions. We decided to keep using it to the extent that we could on certain projects and worked with Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X side-by-side until we eventually just switched over.
[TC] Jezebel is a semi-autobiographical film written and directed by Numa Perrier, who is a co-founder of Black & Sexy TV. The plot follows a 19-year-old girl, who after the death of her mother begins to do sex work as an online chat room cam girl to financially support herself. Numa is starring in the film, playing her older sister, and an actress named Tiffany Tenille is playing Numa. This is also Numa Perrier’s feature film directorial debut. It’s a side of her that people didn’t know – about how she survived as a young adult in Las Vegas. So, she is really putting herself out there.
The film made its debut at South by Southwest last year, where it was selected as a “Best of SXSW” film by The Hollywood Reporter. After that it went to other domestic and international festivals. At some point it was seen by Ava DuVernay, who decided to to pick up Numa’s film through her company, Array. That’s how it got to Netflix.
[OP] Please walk me through the editorial workflow for Jezebel. How did FCPX play a unique role in the post?
[TC] I was working on a documentary at the time, so I couldn’t fully edit Jezebel, but I was definitely instrumental in the process. A former coworker of mine, Brittany Lyles, was given the task of actually editing the project in Final Cut Pro X, which I had introduced her to a couple of years ago and trained her on how to use it. The crew shot with a Canon C300 camera and we used the Final Cut proxy workflow. Brittany wouldn’t have been able to work on it if we weren’t using proxies, because of her hardware. I was using a late 2013 Mac Pro, as well as a 2016 MacBook Pro.
At the front end, I assisted the the production team with storage and media management. Frances Ampah (a co-producer on the film) and I worked to sync all the footage for Brittany, who was working with copy of the footage on a dedicated drive. We provided Bittany with XMLs during the syncing process as she was getting familiar with the footage.
While Brittany was working on the cut, Numa and I were trying to figure out how best to come up with a look and a style for the text during the chat room scenes in the movie. It hadn’t been determined yet if I was going to get the entire film and put the graphics in myself or if I was going to hand it off to Brittany for her to do it. I pitched Numa on the idea of creating a Motion template so that I could have more control over the look, feel, and animation of the graphics. That way either Brittany or I could do it and it would look the same.
Brittany and Numa refined the edit to a point where it made more sense for me to put in a lot of the graphics and do any updating per Numa’s notes, because some of the text had changed as well. And we wanted to really situate the motion of the chat so that it was characteristic of what it looked like back then – in the 90s. We needed specific colors for each user who was logged into the screen. I had some odd color issues with Final Cut and ended up actually just going into the FCPXML file to modify color values. I’m used to going into files like that and I’m not afraid of it. I also used the FCP X feature in the text inspector to save format and appearance attributes. This was tremendously helpful to quickly assign the color and formatting for the different users in the chat room – saving a lot of time.
Our secondary editor, Bobby Field, worked closely with Numa to do the majority of color grading on the film. He was more familiar with Premiere Pro than FCP X, but really enjoyed the color tools in Final Cut Pro X. Through experimentation, Bobby learned how to use adjustment layers to apply color correction. I was fascinated by this and it was a learning experience for me as well. I’m used to working directly with the clip itself and in my many years of using FCP X, this wasn’t a method I used or saw anyone else firsthand doing.
[OP] What about sound post and music?
[TC] I knew that there’s only so much technically that I’d had the skillset to do and I would not dare to pretend that I know how to do certain things. I called on the help of Jim Schaefer – a skilled and trusted friend that I worked with at Loyola productions. I knew he wanted an opportunity to work on a big project, particularly a feature. The film needed a tremendous amount of sound work, so he took it on along with Travis Prater, a coworker of his at Source Sound in Woodland Hills. Together they really transformed the film.
Jim and Travis worked in Pro Tools, so I used X2Pro to get files to them. Jim gave me a list of how he wanted the film broken down. Because of the length of Jezebel, he preferred that the film was broken up into reels. In addition to reels, I also gave him the entire storyline with all of the roles. Everything was broken down very nicely using AAFs and he didn’t really have any problems. In his words, “It’s awesome that all the tracks are sorted by character and microphone – that’ll cut down significantly on the sorting/organizing pass for me.” The only hiccup experienced was that metadata was missing in the AAF up to a certain point in ProTools. Yet that metadata did exist in the original WAV. Some clip names were inconsistent as well, but that may have happened during production.
[OP] Jezebel is streaming on Netflix, which has a reputation for having tough technical specs. Were there any special things you had to do to make it ready for the platform?
[TC] We supplied Array with a DCI 2K (full frame) Quicktime master in ProRes 422HQ per their delivery schedule, along with other elements such as stereo and 5.1 mixes from Jim, Blu-Rays, DVD, and DCP masters. I expected to do special things to make it ready for Netflix. Numa and I discussed this, but to my knowledge, the Quicktime that I provided to Array is what Netflix received. There were no special conversions made just for Netflix on the part of Array.
[OP] Now that you have this Final Cut Pro X experience under your belt, what would you change if you could? Any special challenges or shortcomings?
[TC] I had to do some composite shots for the film, so the only shortcoming for me was Final Cut’s compositing tool set. I’d love to have better tools built right into FCP X, like in DaVinci Resolve. I love Apple Motion and it’s fine for what it is, but it could go a little further for me. I’d love to see an update with improved compositing and better tracking. Better reporting for missing files, plugins, and other elements would also be tremendously helpful in troubleshooting vague alerts.
In spite of this, there was no doubt in any part of the process whether or not Final Cut was fully capable of being at the center of everything that needed to be done – whether it was leveraging Motion for template graphics between Brittany and me, using a third-party tool to make sure that the post sound team had precisely what they needed, or exchanging XMLs or backup libraries with Bobby to make sure that his work got to me intact. I was totally happy with the performance of FCP X. It was just rock solid and for the most part did everything I needed it to do without slowing me down.
©2020 Oliver Peters