Independent filmaker Nick Gregorio got an added bonus when his feature 'Green' was able to be remastered in FCPX with the original RED files via Resolve.
I've been through the gamut of independent film production, and in my experiences I have gained some invaluable knowledge on the subject. The most involved, important and ultimately rewarding information I gained was from my second feature length motion picture, GREEN. I wrote, directed, edited and starred in the picture - but I could never have done it without the workflow that I used.
Green was shot entirely on the RED 1. Production was completed back in Fall of 2009. The movie had a shooting budget of about $6,500. It was difficult to pull off but I had a great team and producing/writing partner on the project, Troy Kaplan. As difficult as production was I found my greatest hurdles in post. I was cutting, color grading, sound mixing, sound designing, and finishing the picture on my-purchased-solely-for-this-production Mac Pro Quad core.
FCP7 was my NLE of choice and it served it's purpose but as the movie’s running time began to grow I found myself in a bit of a jam. I was cutting low res proxies, which I had later planned to swap and replace in a color grading tool (Color or whatever RAW R3D grader was popular at the time), only problem was my system couldn't handle color grading R3D files. To make matters worse FCP7’s color profile rarely matched anyone elses. Yes, I could have bought a Redrocket card but when your movie's proposed budget is only $10K you can't justify buying a graphics processor that cost $500 more than the computer it's in.
So, I sacrificed quality, swapped out low res proxies for the the 2K "H" proxies in my FCP7 timeline, and proceeded to color grade an 80 minute feature with over 1,000 cuts in the slowest most frustrating way - grading one clip at a time and only being able to see a single still frame from that clip. To make matters worse, my DP applied multiple LUTs to any given scene for “possible” color grades. Now if you have ever dealt with QT wrapped proxy files you know that the LUT is baked in so I had my work cut out for me trying to match the various LUTs from take to take.
I was able to finish the picture but because of export and quality issues I finished in SD. I was always disappointed that I wasn't able to utilize the full potential of my footage. Then we signed a contract with Cinetic’s Film Buff to digitally distribute the movie. I was excited and overwhelmed because PSN, Xbox live, Amazon, and Netflix were going to be showing my movie but I knew it wasn't the best it could be.
(Original master of Green: gamma shift, warm color profile. Yuck!)
That's when I started to hear rumblings about Da Vinci Resolve. I knew Da Vinci was the gold standard in color grading and I was excited to learn that they were working on a software that someone like me on the low end could possibly afford. I did all the research. I went to the New York product demo. I studied the manual and system requirements, and I was ready to implement the software - I don't know if Black Magic will approve of this but I sort of fudged the system requirements to work for my budget.
I have an early 2009 Mac Pro Quad Core with 12GB RAM. I bought a flashed GTX 285 card for my GPU and installed a 2TB striped RAID 0. (See image above) The Card cost me $250 and the HDs cost me about $100. And Resolve Lite is free but you guys know that. Again, sorry for not following the system requirements but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I fired up the FCP 7 timeline, cringing at the bramble of clips, and I exported an XML.
I loaded my timeline into Da Vinci Resolve, not sure if the file would crash. I watched patiently as the blue status bar slowly filled... I saw my FCP 7 timeline load cut for cut. I clicked the color tab and for the first time ever I saw the RAW footage that was shot. I was seeing my movie with fresh eyes.
(Loading an XML into Resolve)
I couldn't believe it: I was color grading in real time! On my system - an 80 min feature!!!!!!!
(Resolve Color Tab- “Hey,stay focused, eyes on the color wheels!”)
I played with the program for about a week. I got the hang of the ins and outs. Then on a Thursday night, with a stiff drink and my 48 inch Samsung as a monitor, I color graded the entire movie in four hours. Four hours! A process that took me five months of painstaking work I finished in four hours. And then I did the unthinkable: I exported an FCPX XML.
(I dare you to call it iMovie Pro)
Mind you this was before the 10.0.2 update and truth-be-told I was using a pirated version of FCPX. From the launch of FCPX I heard rumblings that Apple was abandoning the pro market; that FCPX was iMovie Pro and that the program couldn’t handle anything more than a Youtube video. At the time I was used to the “industry” taking shots at anyone or any program that didn’t follow their strict rules, so I went straight to the horses mouth and heard what Apple had to say. I watched the FCPX introduction videos and to be completely honest with you I was excited. Automatic sync - goodbye Plural Eyes - a wide array of tools, sample level audio, background rendering, audio tracks with a visual, color coded (half-of-a ) waveform, and a new media management system that I felt was something truly revolutionary.
Before I continue, I’d like to give a brief history of my experiences as an editor. I learned how to nonlinearly edit back in college (Drexel University) in 2003 on a Discrete Edit hardware based system. It cost the university $100K but it was $100K less than an Avid system. The program went EOL in one year. No refunds. No consolation. At the time Discrete wanted to focus on a now-all-but-dead compositing software: Combustion. This was back when people considered After Effects to be a “toy” and Premiere was little more than Window’s Moviemaker (“Oh how times have changed.”) From Edit I learned FCP, Protools, Premiere, and pretty much bounced around with that tool set until I settled upon FCP. I am by no means an Apple fanboy, and for a while I was quite the contrary, until I realized Apple was driving the electronics industry forward. Apple was/is trying to do away with the concept of consumer and pro and frankly this is an inevitability.
But I digress.
From Resolve I rendered every clip in my timeline, with the new color grades, at either Pro Res 422 or Pro res 4444 (if it was a scene with a heavy amount of black - compression) and I loaded the FCPX XML into FCPX. Holy Toledo it worked. FCP7 to Resolve Lite to FCPX. I didn’t want to push the program too much because as everyone made clear to me it just wasn’t meant for professional use. Right off the bat I noticed the program responded quickly: I could skim through a feature film in real time. Weird. I also noticed that the color grades from Resolve held up exactly as I’d hoped: pixel for pixel. Weirder. But I knew FCPX wasn’t a pro software so I imported my stereo mix of the audio, synced it up in the timeline, and called it a day. Not weird at all. But then I tried something... I went into the info tab and I changed the stereo mix to a Dolby 5.1 mix and I saw the graphical representation of surround sound. Really, really weird. With one click I changed something that only six months early would take me a weeks worth of work.
I went to bed that night thinking, because of the magnetic timeline, this still isn’t a professional software. I can’t use it long term. I think I settle on Premiere Pro.
It didn’t end there. I decided to dig deeper. I decided to watch some tutorials. The precision editor looks neat and so does the trim tool. The range tool is awesome. And then I did something that I never thought I would ever do: I started re-cutting my locked-picture feature.
I altered the sound mix. I animated the surround sound. I cut nearly ten minutes from the movie. I re-worked scenes. I added footage. I made Green the best movie it could be.
(Final Mastered Green Still)
(A side-by-side comparison of the original and remastered versions)
Yes, it took some time to get used to. I made plenty of mistakes and I cursed the software but when it clicked, it really clicked.
The truest satisfaction was exporting a 120GB Prores 4444 master file in two hours time.
Green was released, by Cinetic Film Buff, in full HD on Amazon, Playstation Network, Xbox live, and Vudu. It’s also heading to Netflix and Hulu. I could not have finished this picture without FCPX and Da Vinci Resolve. And many thanks to websites like FCP.co and others providing a wealth of information for all levels of editor.
I’m not an expert. I’m just an indie filmmaker with a deadline.
You can download or stream Green at:
Amazon (coming soon)
Many thanks to Nick for taking the time to put this article together. If you would like your FCPX story to be published, please get in contact with the Editor.