This week it will be 20 years since a jury returned a verdict of not guilty to O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. A&E will air two documentaries that feature the plaintiff's deposition tapes that have been hidden away since the civil trial. Patrick Southern, the assistant editor tells FCP.co how the productions were edited with the help of third party software tools, a state of the art storage solution and of course, Final Cut Pro X.
We have had great user stories on the use of Final Cut Pro in feature films, in sport, comedy and reality & drama. Now it is the time for FCPX to face up to the rigours of cutting a very high profile documentary.
Before we let Patrick Southern take up the story, let's take a look at the trail for OJ Speaks:The Hidden Tapes that airs on A&E this Thursday, October 1st 2015
Back in January, I was hired onto The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story as an Assistant Editor. Thanks to Chuck Braverman, the director, we had the opportunity to cut the show in FCPX. Chuck is a big fan of Chris Fenwickʼs FCPX Grill and of FCP.co. He made sure the edit team was up to date with new developments in FCPX and related third-party plugins and apps.
We logged over 10,000 clips in FCPX using names, Keyword Collections, notes on Keyword Ranges, and occasionally Markers. We started with a strategy of using the least number of Keyword Collections possible. While this method can work well in narrative filmmaking, we quickly realized that it was problematic when looking for specific story beats across hundreds of hours of archival content. Therefore, we started getting more precise with our Keywords.
We created folders for overarching concepts like, people, places, events, media source, etc. and filled those folders with detailed Keyword Collections. If we needed to be even more specific, we would add notes to individual Keyword Ranges on a clip. The fact that these notes are searchable in both the Event Browser and Timeline Index made work much easier.
As new archival and interview media came in, we would log footage on a small transfer hard drive. Once logged, we would then copy Events from a Library on the transfer hard drive to a Library on the editorʼs external RAID. Christy Denes, the Editor, would then organize the clips from within the logging Event into various Events in her Library. Transferring between drives worked, but took valuable time to copy media from one drive to the other.
By the time O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes started production, Chuck and I had both, on separate days, been invited to LumaForgeʼs lab to see what they were doing. Chuck and I were both impressed with the prototype for the SHARESTATION, and knew we had to have it. A few weeks later, we had the first SHARESTATION on the market up and running.
As The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case and O.J. Speaks were edited in separate offices in the same complex, we ran a 300ʼ 10Gbps Ethernet cable from the SHARESTATION in one office to a network switch in the other office. In total, we had five computers connected to the SHARESTATION. On one end, we had an two computers plugged directly into the 1 Gbps Ethernet ports on the back of the SHARESTATION. On the other end, the 10 Gbps cable fed three machines through wall connections. The SHARESTATION made moving media between Libraries faster and easier.
Also around the beginning of O.J. Speaks, Philip and Greg at Lumberjack Systems started developing Transcript Mode for Lumberjack. We were fortunate to already have timecode stamped transcripts of all our interviews. We created Multicam Clips of each Interview, exported XML for each Multicam and tied the XML to the Interview Transcript in Lumberyard. This created Keyword Ranges based on the name of each speaker in the transcript at each new Timecode stamp. The text from the Transcript was then added to the notes section of the associated Keyword Range.
The power of Lumberjackʼs Transcript Mode was the ability to search dialogue from a Transcript in both the Event Browser and the Timeline Index. In the Event Browser, we would first select the Keyword Collection that represented the speaker whose dialogue we wanted to search. We could then enter a line of dialogue and the right Keyword Range would pop up. In the Timeline Index, we could search dialogue to see where a story beat began, or to find duplicates in the Timeline. This was incredibly powerful. The one caveat at the time was the inability of the Event Browserʼs search field to recognize apostrophes in the notes field. Hopefully, by the time you start using Transcript Mode, this will be fixed.
Christy was ecstatic to work with Lumberjackʼs Transcript Mode. It saved us weeks of logging interviews. After using Transcript Mode on O.J. Speaks, David Tillman, the editor, mentioned that he wants to use it on any future project that uses transcripts. David said, “When working on a project with many interviews, it is an invaluable tool to find the content you need quickly and easily.”
It was my job to do the initial string out of the script for O.J Speaks. I noticed a remarkable increase in speed when searching for soundbites with Transcript Mode. If the Keyword Range was shorter than what I needed for the string out, I would use the Precision Editor in the Timeline to extend the out point. T. Payton saved me a lot of time and headache by sharing the keyboard shortcut for Extend Edit (Shift + X).
Mid-edit on O.J. Speaks, FCPX 10.2. came out. We immediately started using the new mask tools included in the update. This was especially helpful with the b-roll we shot for the show. TV screens are a prominent part of O.J. Speaks. While we shot some of the footage in the TV screens practically, we also composited footage into the screens using blue screen and rotoscoping with the new FCPX Masks.
After seeing the power of Masks in FCPX, we decided to see how far we could push it. We did a few text-reveal animations. We re-arranged and even sometimes removed entire elements from a shot, all without ever leaving FCPX.
We found that Compound Clips can act surprisingly similar to Pre-Composed elements in After Effects. We would often composite shots together, create a Compound Clip, and then add an effect to that Compound Clip (like Alex4Dʼs Grow Shrink). If you want to re-use a Compound Clip in more than one Project, after you copy & paste the Compound Clip, select “Clip>Reference New Parent Clip” so that any work you do on the new instance doesnʼt effect the old Compound Clip. This also helps keep the loading time on any one Compound Clip to a minimum.
We ran into a few issues when turning the shows over for the color grading. During editing, we used FCPXʼs built in Ken Burns effect a lot. Through a few tests, we discovered that the Ken Burns effect does not translate in DaVinci Resolve 11. The Ken Burns information passes back to FCPX in a round-trip, but we were doing a Resolve finish.
We found out that animations done in the Transform panel in FCPXʼs Inspector do pass through to Resolve 11. So, we started re-building Ken Burns animations in the Transform panel. This proved to be time-consuming, and did not give results that were true to the original animation.
This is because the Ken Burns effect eases both Position and Scale animations, giving a very smooth feel. However, using the Transform panel in the Inspector, you can ease Position animations, but not Scale. This would cause an odd serpentine motion to the animation, which could only be fixed by switching Position keyframes to “Linear”.
In the end, rather than re-animating everything, we simply exported the individual clips as ProRes 422 HQ QuickTime files and then cut them in above the original clips. We would then disable the original clip before sending an XML to Resolve. This also helped with a weird issue where Resolve wouldnʼt recognize photos whose dimensions contained an odd number. 3200x1600 pixels worked, but 3201x1600 would not.
As we started prepping paper deliverables for both The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case and O.J. Speaks, Producerʼs Best Friend became our best friend. With Producerʼs Best Friend, we were able to make spreadsheets to order archival materials and make shot sheets for legal and the network.
Word to the wise, if youʼre working with archival materials, make Roles for each archive type (“Archival Stills”, “Archival Audio”, “Archival Footage”) and make Sub-Roles for each vendor. Producerʼs Best Friend can then create spreadsheets including lists of shots used from each vendor. It even calculates the total runtime of each vendorʼs materials.
Roles were also important as the shows audio was exported out of FCPX and post produced in Protools by Chuck's son, Max Braverman.
At the end of the day, FCPX worked for us. Chuck made a good call. LumaForgeʼs SHARESTATION made moving Projects and media between Libraries nearly seamless, and was super quiet. Philip and Gregʼs Lumberjack System and Producerʼs Best Friend are invaluable tools that saved us lots of time and money. Iʼm so glad we got to experience the best of the FCPX ecosystem on these two projects.
The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story will premiere at 8pm on September 30th on LMN. O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes will air 9pm on October 1st on A&E. They will be playing in over 100 international territories that same week. The shows will also premiere in A&E's Crime Investigation series which airs in over 126 countries.
Patrick taught FCPX as a Trainer at an Apple Store in Tulsa, Oklahoma when it came out in 2011. He in now an Editor and Assistant Editor in Los Angeles.
You can follow him on Twitter @jpsouthern