A few years ago, you needed an expensive OB van to cover a live event, even for editing and transmission later. This can now be accomplished on a table top and of course Final Cut Pro's speed helps make it the obvious choice of NLE to get inserts edited for playout. Florian Decker shares his FCPX/K2 workflow on the Globus Marathon in St. Wendel, Germany.
Everyone knows that you can work pretty fast in Final Cut Pro. But how fast can you really go? As someone who has been with FCPX since its early days, I have developed a fairly fast pace in editing. So when our production company DOPPELDECKER Medienproduktion was asked to do the IMAG production for the awards ceremony of Globus Marathon in St. Wendel (Germany), we naturally agreed. Because: It was not only about directing and producing live, it was also about editing.
In terms of live production, the event would not raise many problems: Four cameras in the room, a vision mixer, our VTR rack, done. But the editing side of it sounded promising: The organisers planned on having a lot of clips to be played out, including 80 short category trailers (one for each age group for the men’s and women’s races of marathon, half marathon and 10 kilometres race). Those were the most easy ones to produce, as we could prepare them beforehand.
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The finishes of the most important runners (the overall winners of the three races) would be shown on the screen as they were called up. In addition to opening and closing titles with topical footage, a one-minute-thirty 'aftermovie' would have to be shown at the very beginning of the ceremony. That yields 101 clips, of which 21 needed to be made at the day of the race.
The schedule was tight: The prize-giving was scheduled to start at 15:00, with all the playout clips to be ready before that deadline. Footage from the last winners (from the half marathon) would arrive at about 12:45. That meant: In those 2:15 hours, everything apart from the earlier finishes would have to be imported, cut and prepared for playout. Because the marathon itself was not televised (so no 'world feed' for us), we had five ENG cameras roaming around the track: one in a golf cart shooting the more remote locations, two on the last half kilometre to the finish line and two in the immediate vicinity of the finish.
A reporter set out to catch some soundbites of VIPs, professional runners and weekend warriors likewise. An assistant brought the full memory cards to our editing suite set up in the festival hall every hour and returned with fresh ones. Amongst those cards a colourful range of formats and codecs: AVC-Intra, DVCProHD, ProRes and Panasonic’s semi-pro AVCHD-variant AVCCAM.
Did we make it? Yes, of course – and Final Cut played a vital role.
When we started planning the editing workflow, we decided on FCPX without even thinking about something else. Our makeshift edit bay at the Front of House would be comprised of a late 2012 iMac 27“ running FCPX 10.4.1 with a Promise Pegasus 2 R8 giving us 14 Terabytes of fast Thunderbolt storage. We paired it up with our then-relatively-recently-bought Grass Valley K2 Solo 3G playout server.
We had tested it extensively beforehand, and it seemed to get along quite well with FCPX and with Macs in general: You can simply connect the K2 to the editing Mac via a RJ45 cable and set up the K2 to network like any other Windows XP or Windows 7 computer (that may sound scary, but K2s run an embedded Windows version that is very restricted to do all the real-time computing, so it is stable and secure). After that, it’s just a few clicks to enable file sharing and hot-bins/watch folders, and that’s it.
On the editing Mac, you can connect to the K2 via the 'Connect to serve' function, and voilá, you find yourself dragging-and-dropping files directly onto the K2. You could even export directly from Final Cut to the server, because the K2 notices when files are still growing and have not yet finished exporting and refrains from importing it to AppCenter (which is the actual server interface).
Of course, the files need to be in the right format. Most K2 servers will work natively in DVCProHD, some (more modern ones) will be happy to work with AVC-Intra or H.264 files too. With a Compressor preset or droplet, exporting to the right format is a breeze. The K2 scans its hot bin every few seconds for new files and immediately starts to import them.
After the import, clips will be ready to play in the K2’s 'IMPORTS' folder. That’s where your playout or VTR operator usually takes over the media management. Using hot-bins works in the opposite direction, too: cutting out a certain segment on the K2 and sending it to a network-accessible folder is easy as well. It does not work with growing files though. That’s the only downside. It did work with Final Cut Studio, but not anymore with FCPX. Can’t be that hard to implement, but at last year’s IBC Grass Valley confirmed to me that they are not bringing edit-while-ingest with FCPX to K2 anytime soon.
In school, I learned that editing one minute of a film or a documentary takes about one hour. That surely is not so true anymore, but still editing can be time-consuming. To edit two effects-heavy 25-second titles for the beginning and the end of the show plus a 90-second aftermovie including interview soundbites in about 80 minutes (including ingest, rendering and exporting) was no problem with FCPX. It took in all the different formats natively, laid them down into a ProRes 422 timeline, applied effects, LUTs, colour correction, generators and stabilisation. No crashes, no rendering, no wait.
The remaining time even allowed me to do some fine-tuning to the SOT pieces that our reporter brought back AND to have a nice little lunch (which is important as well, after all). After each piece was cut, Final Cut rendered it flawlessly to ProRes (for our backup playout, a Blackmagic deck) and to DVCProHD for the K2. It took our VTR operator and the AD another twenty minutes or so to do a rough technical quality check and to sort the files inside the K2 to be ready to go.
I know, FCPX people are metadata and keyword people. I’m too. For the documentaries I’ve worked on, we always had some heavy keywording going on (and metadata, too, but mostly for sound). For Globus Marathon, we approached that topic differently.
To apply keywords to every clip with such little time (I had to edit the finishes as they were coming in, after all) was simply not possible. Instead, I just created one event per cameraman. We had a big, beautiful, detailed, printed plan lying in the gallery that showed exactly which camera was supposed to be where at which moment in time, so if I was looking for a particular shot, I could look it up there if I wasn’t sure.
Unfortunately, I can’t show you the videos here for rights reasons. But be assured, the audience loved it. They did not expect seeing themselves in glossy videos on the big screen running the marathon barely three hours earlier. And at a rather small marathon like the Globus Marathon is (about 2000 competitors), people know each other and celebrate each other as if they had won themselves. Directing the 80-minute show was great fun as well: Juggling with fusillades of clips coming from the K2 and trying to catch the emotions of the winner in bold pictures provided us with a fair stream of adrenaline!
How would the show have looked if we didn’t have FCPX? Probably, well, different. I could not imagine such a fast turnaround with Premiere or the classic FCP. The magnetic timeline helps a lot when you’re bustling around in the timeline, swapping out clips or rearranging them. Especially when cutting to music (as was the case with opener, closer and aftermovie), Auditions help when trying to find the right 15 frames to fit a song’s drum fill or the right camera angle for the cool cheer of the winner. Combine those functions with the fast workflow of exporting to the K2 server and you’ve got a hassle-free and incredibly fast editing workflow for a such a high-paced environment.
Florian Decker is a St. Wendel (Germany) based journalist and cameraman. He is head of production at DOPPELDECKER Medienproduktion. Besides this, he also works as a journalist and reporter for ARD German Television.