FCPX in Bulgaria

On the eve of the IBC tradeshow, we publish this article by Sam Mestman, essential reading if you work in the post production industry. This is a watershed article, we have had some tough, die hard industry colleagues read it: they have all been impressed by Final Cut Pro X. Even the ones who have a lot of money invested in other NLE hardware.

Sam Mestman is a familiar figure in the post production world and we welcome him to the roster of writers here on FCP.co. In this exclusive article, he describes how Final Cut Pro X was put hard to work in Bulgaria on a major feature film's promotion.

Entitled A New Definition of "Professional" does it prove beyond a doubt that FCP X is ready for professional use? We will leave that answer up to you after you've read the article. Not too many pictures as things are still under wraps, but the text is more than enough...

 

Imagine You’re hired to set up an editing infrastructure at a large studio in Eastern Europe that you’ve never been to.  When you arrive you find out that your system is immediately going to be put to use editing EPKs for a major motion picture, and eventually handle editorial for that studio’s films moving forward.  By the time you have arrived, the movie has already completed its first week of shooting and has amassed a few thousand clips to put onto your yet to be installed system.  These clips have come from more than 7 different kinds cameras at multiple resolutions.  You need to get them into your system, sorted, synced, and ready to edit.  You also need to train the people who will be doing the work (who have not a single imdb editing credit between them) how to use an NLE that they have absolutely no experience using.  While this is happening, you need to get a multiuser SAN up and running that is going to house all of this media, as well as the media from a 100 million dollar, 11 camera Epic feature film... and then, you know, in your free time, you should get the first week of that movie synced, sorted, and ready to edit... just to see how your system would stack up against an Avid unity.

You have two weeks to do all of this. 

Anyway, that’s what the last two weeks of my life looked like.  I’m writing this on the plane ride back from Bulgaria.  Honestly, it sounds like more work than it really was.  We used FCP X for all of this.  It really wasn’t that big of a deal.  And for those of you who are reading this that are already using FCP X day in and day out, you already know why.  It’s because FCP X is the fastest, easiest to use, most modern NLE on the planet.  The fact that there is even a debate at this point whether or not it’s a professional NLE is completely absurd.  I don’t need anyone else to tell me that what I’m doing is “professional” anymore.

The system I just installed ran circles around an Avid Unity with highly trained, established editors who are all fantastic at their jobs.  This is not a knock on them.  It’s simply about what the tools that are available to post professionals can do at this point in time.  In an afternoon, we had more footage on our system synced and ready to edit than they did in a week on the Unity.  This is not an accident or a blip on the radar.  Anyone who wants to tell me what I’m doing is not professional, at this point, will need to present some actual evidence as to why this is the case.

It’s really just a matter of time before FCP X starts to get the attention from mainstream editors that it deserves.  It’s an awesome program, and Apple has bounced back from their launch two years ago to create the most advanced, forward thinking, and professional NLE on the market.  Yes, I just typed that.  And it’s true.  I’m happy to take the Pepsi challenge with anyone.

 

Here are just a few of the highlights from Bulgaria:

1. No Transcoding
9 different kinds of cameras (Epic, Scarlet, Alexa, Blackmagic, EX3, 5D, 7D, GoPro, iPhone) at numerous resolutions living in one timeline in perfect harmony. Everything importing natively (Except for the Sony where I had to use Content Browser to keep it out of my original media folder).  No issues, no DNxHD, no problems.  And because of Thunderbolt and the speed of my SAN system, I had real time playback on everything, I didn’t have to optimize or go to proxy.  We just offloaded and started editing.
 
2. ExaSAN and FCP X
Simply a fantastic solution for small workgroups. Configurable for up to 4800 MB/s, up to 750 TB and connectable to up to 12 machines, if you haven’t heard of ExaSAN, you need to check it out.  It runs on a slightly different, native PCI-E based architecture than traditional Fiber, is more than twice as fast (up to 20 GB/s to a Mac Pro), and is less than half the price of a traditional SAN system from Promise or some of the other high profile SAN solutions.  Performance with FCP X is phenomenal.  In Bulgaria, they are easily getting multiple streams of 5k R3D’s playing back in real time across multiple systems, even playing back the exact same clip.  So, for those who say group workflow and FCP X can’t be done... well, they’re doing it in Bulgaria (Passing events and projects with the finder and archiving using Backups for Final Cut Pro), and it works just fine.  In the traditional production pyramid of cheap, fast good; you generally only get to pick two. You get all 3 with this setup, and once we had a proper network up and running, we had no issues working our way down from 5k to 1080. 
 
FCPX in Bulgaria 2
 
 
3. Sync N Link
I wonder if Intelligent Assistance even realizes what it has in Sync N Link X (available on the app store).  This app has the potential to change the dailies business. Basically, if you shoot with timecode and use audio metadata with Sync N Link X, you can have synced, properly renamed (scene, take, and camera angle) clips for a major motion picture within ten minutes of downloading the footage off the camera.  In fact, in one afternoon, my 21 year old Bulgarian assistant got further ahead processing footage in FCP X than the entire Avid Unity department had gotten to that point in a week.  In 5 hours, she had processed, synced, and made Multicam Clips for 7 days of 5k Epic footage within FCP X for a 100 million dollar feature film.  Prior to this project, she had no feature film editing credits.

syncnlinkNow, if you take this one step further, this whole process could revitalize the DIT position.  There is no reason at this point in time that post production should not be living on set if you are cutting with FCP X.  If you can have your footage downloaded and ready to edit in your NLE in less than 10 minutes, what would prevent you from having a fully prepped, renamed, and synced FCP X event ready to send back to post when you’re done shooting?  Not only that, but why couldn’t you be doing simple rough cuts for the director (mostly for coverage reasons) while you’re on set if you are able to get up and running so quickly?  Lastly, when you use this combination, it becomes very obvious you don’t need a giant cart taking up space on set.  All you need is a laptop and some thunderbolt drives... and for Red work, you don’t even need to get a Rocket.  If you want to get really fancy and make everyone feel like you know what you’re doing, maybe a Blackmagic or AJA card, an FSI monitor and a proper broadcast out.  But if you’re working in RAW, none of this stuff really matters, as you can always fix it later (provided it’s been exposed halfway decently).  I really wish I understood why people insist on making this stuff so hard?  Post production is like living in The Wizard of Oz sometimes.

4. Metadata
At the end of the day, this is the number one reason why Premiere and Avid can’t work as quickly as FCP X can. They simply can’t work with metadata in the same way.  We were able to bring in thousands of clips for the EPK within the first two weeks of shooting, and we were able to have them tagged according to actor, location, gear, crew position, camera type, and a whole bunch of other stuff using keywords, favorites, and the other extensive metadata functions that work directly within FCP X.  Basically, FCP X is a giant configurable database, and the idea of clips (or even sections within clips) not needing to live within one place is probably the biggest breakthrough in editing in at least a decade.  And yet, very few people talk about it for some reason.  When you add in the fact that all this metadata is available in your timeline as well through the timeline index, the things you can do within FCP X are completely unheard of for the average editor still living in the world of Avid, ALE, and bins.
 
I really wish all of this had been available a few years ago when I did my documentary.  Would have saved me a lot of time and aggravation.  Also, for those of you who haven’t heard... Check out Producer’s Best Friend from Intelligent Assistance if you need an easy way to pass metadata to other places and want custom Excel reports of the metadata in your events and projects.
 
5. Training
I taught someone who had never used the program before how to sync, batch rename, and make Multicam Clips for 7 days of footage on a Studio level feature within 3 days of her opening the program for the first time. From there, she picked up audio, color correction, and the Magnetic Timeline pretty fast, and is currently working away without issues editing the EPK.  She had been editing previously in Premiere and told me without hesitation that there would have been no way for her to do what she was currently doing with that program.  Also, another sort of cool innovation was being able to have the camera people who were shooting all of these EPK clips over on another iMac keywording their footage in FCP X.  They each picked up keywording in about 15 minutes.  One of them liked it so much that she switched from the camera department over to the editorial department.  She was up and cutting in FCP X within about half an hour of me showing her around the program.

Anyway, this is all in stark contrast to the attitudes of a lot “professionals” I often come across.  In Bulgaria, I had one of the Avid guys come in, find out what I was doing, laugh, and promptly walk out of the room.  This sort of bothered me for a minute until I turned back around and realized that I had just built a system being run by a bunch of people the traditional industry would never give an opportunity to, and it was running laps around the establishment.  I realized the dude who laughed and walked out of the room had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, and was living in a world that was about to change on him.  Instead of getting angry about it all, I started to feel bad for him.  People like him, and and a lot of the post production community I tend to talk to, have absolutely no clue about how much their world is about to change.  There’s a new Mac Pro, Thunderbolt 2, and a new version of FCP X coming sometime in the near future, and given the fact that I already have what I need to make a studio level feature with off the shelf Apple products, well, I’m fairly certain the post production world is about to go through quite a bit of restructuring over the next year.

Need more proof?  When I get off the plane, I’ll be staying in New York for a couple days, and then I’ll be immediately flying out to get off the ground the first major U.S. studio feature film to be cut entirely in FCP X (at least the first that I’m aware of).

 

Anyway, if you want to know more about what I’ve been talking about, or how any of this works in practice... you should come out to our Lumaforge 4k Unplugged FCP X meetings.  They’re completely free, and we meet on the third Saturday of every month on The Lot in Hollywood, and we’re actively looking to build a community of professional FCP X editors.  We also do more advanced 4k training days, and will be launching soon a dedicated FCP X for Professionals immersive training session.  So if you have an interest in any of this, we’d love to meet you.

 

Sam MestmanSam Mestman has worked for Apple, ESPN, Glee, Break.com, and is now the Chief Workflow Architect for Lumaforge. He has been a regular writer for MovieMaker Magazine, has taught post workflow at RED’s REDucation classes, and specializes in saving independent producers tens of thousands of dollars while delivering a top quality product. He is also the founder and CEO of We Make Movies, a Los Angeles (and now Toronto) based film collective that is dedicated to making the movie industry not suck.  In his free time, he fights windmills. Feel free to drop him a comment below or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any/all comments, questions, suggestions for columns, potential gigs, or hate mail.