off the floor banner fcpx

Take a group of dancers, three years and the ambition to push the boundaries of pole dancing and you have the ingredients for a good feature length documentary. It turned out that FCPX was the ideal tool for the edit.

Matthew Celia wrote to us about his film that recently screened at the Manhattan Film Festival. His production of the film ran in parallel with the maturing of FCPX. We will let him take up the story after the trailer for Off the Floor.

 

 

About the Film

In the fall of 2010, my wife and I attended a dance performance in Venice, CA where a group of young women had fused modern dance with aerial fitness (pole dancing). Having arrived at the performance expecting one thing, we left with a completely different thought about the artistic merits of pole dance. We knew it was immediately interesting.

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What began as a documentary about the underground world of pole fitness transformed into a personal human interest story about one dancer, Jessica Anderson-Gwin and her group of dancers struggling to invent a new art form with this fusion of modern world narrative dance and pole tricks.

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The first company ever to stage a performance with 5 simultaneous poles, they appeared on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, created a second company in Nashville, TN, and continued to struggle for acknowledgement and acceptance. For the past 3 years we followed them through success and failure, capturing their art and their lives with our cameras.

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Their struggle became our struggle. The journey of these women became the crux of the story. The editing process made heavy use of key features in FCPX: keyword collections, proxy workflow, mixed format timelines, native RED support, multi-cam and synchronization, and the amazingly fluid magnetic timeline. As the program matured from 2011 until the end of 2013, we took advantage of each new feature to help us tell our story.

 off the floor edit suite fcpx
 

Keywords and Organization

When FCPX was announced in 2011 I knew that the ranged keywords and metadata structure of the app was going to revolutionize how I organized my footage. In the case of a documentary with hundreds of hours of footage, organization is paramount to being able to find the story. Not being used to such a powerful tool, it took us some trial and error before we found a system that worked well for us.

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We grouped footage by type (interview or b-roll), by location, and by featured person. In each keyword collection, we further narrowed it down by marking our favorite moments to give us a place to start. Once multi cam clips were introduced, we used smart collections to organize the multi cam clips, which were used to piece together 4 camera recordings of their dance performances and dual camera interviews with second source audio. Utilizing keywords allowed the same footage to exist in a few different folders, which helped us find what we needed quickly.

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Proxy workflow

Being a self-funded independent documentary, access to the latest technology isn’t feasible. In our case, we chose to shoot on low-budget DSLR cameras which record to H.264. FCPX works with H.264 natively, but I’ve always found it less taxing on my computer to transcode into a more edit friendly format for long format work.  In the past, I would transcode everything to ProRes 422 and cut from that. But with hundreds of hours of footage and not knowing how much more we still had to shoot, I needed a solution that would provide me the speed optimization of ProRes, but with the file size of the original H.264 media.

Simply choosing “Create Proxy Media” on import allowed me to have FCPX automatically generate proxy files so I could edit and work. When it came time to output, all I had to do was change a preference setting and FCPX was back referencing the original H.264 media. No reconnecting. No scary media offline. For someone who had managed proxy workflows for other documentary films, it was a dream.

 

Working with Others

When it came time to finish up the film, I was again impressed at how easy it was to work with other professionals. With X2Pro, delivering sound files to our mixer was painless.  When doing our final color correction, we chose Davinci Resolve. Even with our mixed format, mixed frame rate timeline, the conform process was easy and I was really impressed at the interoperability between the two programs.
 

The Magnetic Timeline

I am an editor, but primarily I am a storyteller. The way I describe working in FCPX is like playing improvised jazz. Because the mechanics of the software fade away, editing becomes fluid and creative. The focus moves away from “how do I do this” and becomes “why should I do this.” For me, this is very freeing.

Often while cutting the documentary, I’d start by skimming through the hours of footage we shot and marking interesting moments as favorites. I would then drop all of these into the timeline in random order and begin to craft. Reordering, trimming, slipping, all incredibly fluid and intuitive thanks to the magnetic timeline. We could feel the pulse of the piece come to life as each shot moved into its correct place to tell the story.

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For the first time in a long time, editing was fun again.  The magnetic timeline makes the app accessible to people who have never edited before. My wife, who co-directed the film with me, had never touched a NLE before and felt comfortable reordering shots and working in the timeline.
 

It’s The Little Things

Never having to worry if the media is offline. Being able to drop in footage from a DSLR, a RED camera, and an iPhone. Not worrying about whether it’s Full HD, 5k, 23.98p or 60p. An autosave that has never lost any of my work ever. The attention to detail is what makes the app a joy for us to use. It’s what allows a small two person team to deliver a feature length professional looking documentary and we’re proud to say we’re FCPX users from day one.
We’ve already begun to plan our second film and FCPX will certainly be a part of it.

 

Many thanks to Matthew from Butter & Sugar for telling us his story about Off the Floor. Fresh from its showing in the Manhatatn Film Festival, it has also been officially selected for the upcoming festival in Topanga.