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Final Cut Pro Editing

Recently I’ve sat with newer students working in Final Cut and I’ve been surprised by the incorrect assumptions that these new students have about how to edit.

People keep bringing big master clips down into the time-line with the thought that later they can go back and work directly in the timeline cutting and rearranging those selections – as if they were clips. You should not work this way or at least it’s too hard to work this way – way too hard.

Instead what you should be doing is making sub-clips from your master clip(s). Sub-clips are “phrases” or “shots” that constitute the “building blocks” from which you will make your film. You go through your entire master clip and mark an IN and an OUT, then press command + U. This results in the range you’ve just marked being turned into a clip that shoots itself over into the Browser and highlights the name for you to immediately re-name it correctly. Then you go back to the master clip and find more shots. Marking IN and OUT over and over until you get to the end of the master clip. Now you can start to edit.

In the old days we used to cull through the tapes and log them using Final Cut and then rewind the tape and “Batch Capture” just the footage we wanted. This was done to save precious space on the hard drive. Baloney! Now what we do is capture the whole tape and then go through it and make sub-clips. This builds up in the Browser window a list of small elements from which you build your film. You can organize the sub-clips in Bins (folders) and sort and sift the information to both help you think about the work and to find the shots and sounds you’re looking for.

My opinion is that too often the artificial nature of class assignments leads us into forming equally unnatural ways of working that build bad habits. Just as I think that the most powerful part of ProTools is the “regions list”, so too the most powerful part of Final Cut is the “Browser”. It’s ability to help you organize and discover the form of your footage is a tremendous ally in the process of making work. If your Browser looks anemic and empty you’re not allowing the application to help you work and usually we need all the help we can get. Add the Thumbnail view to the list of display items and suddenly we’re working with images, not just words and time codes.

As with all class assignments they’re there to help you discover both ways to work and why to work that way, and yes – importantly, to discover your own voice in any particular medium and maybe even to build your knowledge base. While we always say there are three ways to do everything in Final Cut it’s true that some ways are simply better (more effective) than others. Understanding those subtle differences does take time and experience, but it allows you to move from simply being able to say that you’ve used Final Cut to becoming a real editor or filmmaker.


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