Brian Cassin goes in to great detail about how he efficiently edits a gameshow on FCPX. By using Final Cut Pro X and Lumberjack to pre-edit a season of High School Quiz Show, he saves hours, if not days of edit time.
I’ve had an animated version of this conversation with any producer or editor who will listen to me:
What if I told you that within 30 minutes of ingesting my footage I had all 16 episodes of this show cut down to rough assemblies, all of my pick-ups for each show organized, any issues flagged, and any other meaningful things like room tone or applause organized. Would that be something that would interest you?”
This article is for all of the editors and producers out there doing it the hard way. I used to be just like you.
Four years ago I set out to learn FCPX so I could intelligently discuss why it was so bad at my local Avid Users Group meeting.
I never made it to that meeting, and haven't attended ever since. That's because I’ve been using FCPX almost exclusively from that point on.
Occasionally I'll go back to Avid or Premiere because I believe in being “multilingual”. It’s good to try out the latest innovations from other NLEs and sometimes a client requires it.
So far, all this has done is remind me how much farther into the future FCPX is. It’s the Tesla of NLEs.
The broadcast market in Boston is largely made up of shows from WGBH like Frontline, NOVA, and American Experience for example. My experience from working on a few NOVAs and National Geographic shows is that the market is predominantly Avid-centric (It helps that Avid’s HQ is just outside Boston).
Since discovering FCPX 4 years ago while running an ad agency’s post production department, and acting as lead editor, I've been dying for a chance to put it through it’s paces in a high stakes broadcast situation. So when I got the opportunity to work for WGBH in 2016 on the gameshow High School Quiz Show (HSQS) and was given carte blanche on the post production workflow I knew this was it.
Let’s get into it.
HSQS is a hosted trivia game show (think Jeopardy) for high school academic teams based in the Boston area.
Each episode consists of 4 rounds of increasing difficulty and the team with the highest score at the end moves on to compete again with a chance of advancing into the finals.
The Post Production Mission
Every 5 days, cut down the live recorded 60 minute episode to the broadcast required length of 26:46. Fix any mistakes made during the shoot. Mainly remixing audio issues, game scoring issues, and addressing producers’ notes. Deliver a cut for captioning on day 3. Deliver the final, fully mixed show mid morning day 5.
The season consists of 16 episodes. Shot multicam:
- 5 video angles (4 camera angles and the line cut).
- 4 audio channels per video angle. For a total of 20 audio channels.
- Recorded live to 5 KiPros at 1080i ProRes422.
Shooting takes place over the course of 2 weekends. 4 episodes per day.
Typically the recorded duration of each episode is about an hour with no camera breaks. Within that hour are stop-downs (camera continues to record but action is paused) between rounds for set changes, technical issues (if any), deliberation between producers, coaches, and students, and the recording of any pick-ups as needed.
The editor is on set logging the stop downs, rounds, pick-ups, questions neither team answered correctly (an easy way to cut time without altering the score), and most importantly as consul to the producers to help with any issues that could affect the cut.
In past seasons these notes were taken back to the edit room on a legal pad and referred to over the course of the 5 month edit in Avid.
Being a bit of a workflow geek and knowing the potential of FCPX I asked myself a few questions:
What if I could pre-log the entire show and have that info populate in FCPX before I sat down to edit?
What if I could automate the organization of the media?
Thats exactly the workflow I designed. I automated the creation of pre-cut rough assemblies for the entire 16 episode series within a half hour of creating my first FCPX episode library.
To give an idea of edit time saved, here is a project (below) with the originally recorded multicam on the primary storyline and the automatically created rough assembly above as a connected clip. Thats 40:13 cut out automatically!
(Right click for larger images)
The Work Flow
- Use the Lumberjack (iPad app) on set to log each episode, game rounds, stop downs, flubs, pick-ups, etc.
- Ingest the footage into FCPX (left in place, in Avid parlance: AMA) and create audio roles/subroles.
- Use Sync-N-Link X to multicam each of the 16 episode’s clips.
- Use the desktop Lumberyard app (part of the Lumberjack logging system) to have all the pre-logged keywords from step one applied to organize the footage and create rough assemblies automatically for each episode.
Step by Step
Log the show [Lumberjack System] (same guys behind Intelligent Assistance).
I assume most of us on FCP.co are familiar with Lumberjack but I’ll briefly describe it for the producers and editors new to FCPX.
The Lumberjack System is a suite of 2 tools. Lumberjack (web and mobile app) enables you to easily log keywords during the shoot (or after the fact) and Lumberyard (desktop app) marries those keywords to your footage so it’s already organized and pre-assembled.
Before you can use Lumberjack on set you need to set it up with all of the keywords you want to log. You could do this on the fly as you are recording but this situation was too high pressure so I wanted to have it set up before hand.
Lumberjack is set up for real world shows like documentaries. So it categorizes keywords in terms of locations, people, activities, and others. You create your key words under these columns.
But here’s the thing: while you can’t change the names of these columns, you don't have to think rigidly in terms of what these column names represent. It’s just a hierarchy of keywords. I set mine up with this thinking in mind:
(Perhaps in a later version of Lumberjack you will be able to customize these keyword columns.)
The reason for starting my episode keywords in the “people” column and not the location column is because the desktop app, Lumberyard, only makes string-outs based on the people and/or activity column. i.e. a stringout for each person’s activities.
Since I am not making stringouts of people, instead imagine this:
In step 4 I will use this functionality to build my rough assemblies by telling Lumberyard to create string outs of an episode’s rounds (people’s activities).
I created one Lumberjack event per shoot day to keep things reasonably separated.
Because Lumberjack uses date and time of day to log when a keyword takes place, I made sure that all the KiPros used to record each angle were set to the correct time of day (GMT/ UTC). As a secondary precaution I used the iPad app Atomic Clock and had a camera operator from the shoot record about 30 seconds as we began to roll, incase I had to recalibrate the time of day on the record clips. Luckily I never had to.
I sat in video village a few doors down from the control room and watched the line cut live. As I watched, I logged the show’s rounds. I also logged things like, audience applause, room tone, stopdowns, pick-ups, things I’d need to fix. Between rounds I’d zip out to the control room and confer with the producers to address any issues we may have encountered that would affect editing.
Ingest/Prep. Set subroles [FCPX]
In FCPX I created one master library for all of the episodes. Each shoot day got it’s own event within the master library.
As mentioned earlier, each video angle contained 4 audio channels so I ended up needing to create 16 subroles for the 16 usable channels (there were 20 total but some channels were redundant for recording safety).
Here are the subroles I set up:
Why did I have to manually set these up? Because there was no way to add iXml data to the KiPros. Even though I wasn’t able to leverage the feature to have FCPX create roles via ixml, it was still very easy to assign roles to all 80 clips.
Something I really like about FCPX is the ability to batch name/rename audio channels. In this workflow each discrete video angle would always have the same audio channels mapped to them so all I had to do was use the search bar in the browser to narrow down what clips I wanted to batch assign subroles to. (If you highlight the library this search looks through all of the events, so you don’t have to do this event by event).
In this example, searching for CAM 1 narrows down all of the clips with the name CAM 1. I then highlight these clips and batch change the audio roles for these components.
I repeated this process for each angle.
The assigning of roles was the most time consuming part of the workflow due to the lack of ixml data via the KiPros mentioned above. If I had ixml data I probably would have gotten to rough assembly in 10 minutes instead of 30!
Batch Multicam [Sync-N-Link X]
Briefly, for those who don’t know, Sync-N-Link is an app that batch multicams and batch syncs separate system audio using timecode. There’s plenty of articles on this on FCP.co
Drag a shoot day event from FCPX (10.3 forward) onto the Sync-N-Link X icon in the dock. Set up your preferences to look like this:
Click Sync Clips. Select to save the xml. FCPX will then reopen and ask which library to import the new xml into. I created a new multicam master library.
Now it’s time to marry all of the info logged on set with Lumberjack.
Organize (auto create keywords and rough assemblies) [Lumberyard]
This is what saves all of the time during the edit.
Select an event from the multicam master library and drag it onto the Lumberyard icon in the dock.
Something I’ve noticed about Lumberyard is that you need to have the app already launched and have the padlock (top left in interface) opened before you drag an xml over.
Once the xml is parsed by Lumberyard select the logged event from the drop down menu. Make sure it is the same shoot day associated with the event imported from FCPX. In this example I’ve dragged over Day 1’s xml so I select the Day 1 event from Lumberyard’s drop down menu.
To have the rough assemblies created click each person’s activities in the ‘Create a selects string-out for’ section. Remember, think: Create a selects string-out for each episode’s rounds.
Usually Lumberyard will automatically change angles because it assumes you are using a multicamed interview and by changing the angle on edits, one gets a nice non-jump cut string out. In the case of a game show where the line cut is essentially very close to the finished edited show, there is no need to switch angles. So select ‘Display only the first multicam angle’.
* Major props to Philip and Greg of Lumberjack Systems. When testing this workflow in pre production last year the ‘Display only the first multicam angle’ didn't exist. I thought I was dead in the water in terms of what my workflow could achieve. I reached out to Greg and Philip and as you can see, they added it! I hope that many other editors around the world can find as much use and satisfaction from using this feature as I did!
Click ‘Send to Final Cut Pro X’. FCPX will then reopen and ask which library to import the new xml into. I select my master multicam library.
You will then get a dialogue box asking if you want to replace the existing items (the event that was sent to Lumberyard). Click replace and voilà! The mulitcams in the event will be be replaced with new multicams with all of the on set keywords merged. You’ll also have each of your episodes rough assembled in the form of compound clips.
Here is the result narrowed down to one episode for a clearer picture:
Rinse and repeat for each shoot day.
At the start of a new episode I’d duplicate an already created template library which had all of my graphics, music, and sfx. Aside from these assets I also had all of my pre-built effects and a custom scrolling title for the credits.
In the new episode library I’d copy over the corresponding episode mulitcam and compound clip into an event named Media. This will transfer the keywords as well as the clips used in the multicam. Then I clean up the keywords a little using folders.
Then I’d make a new project, edit in the compound clip, press shift+command+G, to break it apart. Boom. Time to edit and already ahead of schedule!
Just to say it again…Thats 40:13 cut out automatically via Lumberyard!!!! That's bonkers.
All that is left to do is finesse the transitions between rounds, add in pick- ups, audio edit and mix, and find areas to cut for time.
The Edit In Detail
Fixes: What about those areas I mentioned above where I want to cut time? I logged them with Lumberjack during the shoot with the keyword “fix”.
All I need to do is use the timeline index and narrow down the keywords to fix. Now I can see each area I designated earlier as a possibility to cut time from.
Pickups: When I needed a pick-up I didn’t have to spend time searching for it because I logged them via Lumberjack on set and now it was waiting for me in the pickup keyword collection (keyworded with the correct episode as well).
Audio editing/ Mix: The audio edit was very straight forward. The show was mixed live during the recording and I’d use that as the basis for my edit. As I encountered issues I’d enable other tracks to fix issues embedded in the mix.
The strength of FCPX is it’s elegance in the project (timeline). On the one hand you can hide anything extraneous so your edit can appear rudimentary. This simplicity makes it incredibly easy to focus on only what you need to work on. It also makes working on complex timelines on a laptop a pleasure. (This entire show was cut on a mid 2014 MacBook Pro).
(project with audio collapsed)
When I needed to see the complexity I’d just expand the audio components.
(project with lanes and subroles expanded)
The show was cut before FCPX 10.3 was released so all audio effects were applied at the audio component level. I decided not to create compound clips for the mix as I needed to apply audio effects early on in the edit and I’ve found that compound clips are a cumbersome way to do audio work.
Color Correction: Because this show was local and not national it did not have to pass PBS Red Book standards (PBS production standards).
Camera operators were color correcting on the fly and we didn’t have to change anything.
Motion Templates: Before we started the edit I created a host of custom motion effects, titles, and generators.
For editors and producers who don't know, Motion is Apple’s AfterEffects. Pretty much anything you create in Motion can be accessed as a title template, effect, or generator. This opens up huge timesaving because you can have standardized effects, titles, and all sorts of other things available right in your NLE. No need to round trip.
Most of the effects I created were to address instances in which I’d have to adjust the score or split screens due to an error during the shoot. All of these were drag and drop fixes. No need for compositing mattes or complicated layering.
The most useful template I created was a custom title roll. Each show had different credit rolls. Previous years they either created this in After Effects or the pre FCPX version of Motion then imported this into the NLE.
(motion credit bed template)
I created a custom one that had title cards and then a title roll.
(two easy steps and you are done! On to more important things!)
All I had to do each episode was connect this custom credit bed to the story line, copy and paste the current week’s info into the inspector and I was done. No rendering in an outside application or importing! No having to re render and reimport when a name was missed, just type it into the inspector. This saved tons of time!
Captioning: Captioning was handled by WGBH’s internal services. On day 3 of an edit I’d send out a locked cut to captioning. On delivery day (edit day 5) I’d receive back the scc file.
Once we watched the final cut and it was approved, I’d export a ProRes 442 master file. This video file and the captioning file would be placed in a special watch folder on their programming server. Once copied over, the caption and video file would be married together then automatically delivered for air. On to the next episode!
I couldn’t have been happier with the results of this FCPX/ Lumberjack workflow. It exceeded my expectations on how quickly an episode could be completed with quality results. I never felt the pressure that I usually feel in deadline driven broadcast programming… well maybe a little :P
This season, and all past seasons, the audio mix was done in the NLE. While FCPX’s audio roles worked great and didn't cause any issues, I felt moving forward that the level of detail the producers required for the audio edit warranted having it be done in a dedicated DAW. (Most of my edit time was spent addressing audio).
This way the editor could get to picture lock faster and move on to the next episode while an audio mixer fixes all of the audio issues. If we use this proposed workflow we’d be able to deliver two shows a week instead of one. Cutting post time/ cost in half. Thats the game plan for the coming season.
I don’t think this time/ money savings would have been possible without the experience I had in the Lumberjack workflow.
Philosophically, this project highlighted the awakening in me that broadcast shows need not necessarily have to be done in expensive studios. This entire show was cut in my home on a mid 2014 MacBook Pro connected to a cinema display and a OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 24.0TB drive via USB3. We had another backup drive that lived at WGBH which I could keep updated remotely via Resilio Sync.
I look forward to putting FCPX through it's paces even more on larger broadcast work and starting a dialogue with interested producers and Avid editors in my local area.
This experience was so fruitful and exhilarating that I can’t imagine producers and editors from other platforms not giving this a shot.
Brian Cassin is a 20 yr plus veteran of postproduction. With spots cut for Showtime, television documentaries for NOVA, Discovery, Food Network, and Animal Planet. Currently moving into directing. Brian has an affinity for long form docs, remote collaboration, all things FCPX, and windy walks on the beach.