What do actors do when the Hollywood movie machine shuts down due to Covid-19? They make a home movie of course!
Home Movie: The Princess Bride started off as an idea by Jason Reitman to raise money for the World Central Kitchen charity. It ended up being a 10 part series that is available on Quibi. Nathan Orloff had the job of stitching all the actor-shot iPhone footage together. He used Final Cut Pro X of course!
Before we get to the user story from Nathan, we must mention that he will be our guest on FCP.co live tomorrow (Thursday 16th 1000 Los Angeles, 1300 New York, 1800 London time). So please come and join us then when will will find out much more about this unique production.
We will also embed one of the episodes that's published on YouTube. As the product was designed for 9:16 on Quibi, the reverse letterboxing doesn't really do it justice, but you get the idea.
To watch the whole series of 10, download the Quibi app and view them in their vertical glory.
Nathan takes up the story:
I primarily cut features in Avid Media Composer but love using Final Cut X on projects where I’m on-my-own. For instance, I am currently cutting Ghostbusters: Afterlife in Avid with another editor and huge team but prior to shooting, I cut all the storyboards for the action sequences in Final Cut.
On-the-side, I also cut speculative trailers (also known as rip-o-matics) that use other films’ footage to create a pitch for a new movie.
I love the experience of cutting in Final Cut Pro as it’s fast, fluid, and really quite powerful once you know its quirks.
For instance, when cutting trailers, I’ll put music in my primary timeline, do a pass just on cutting the music down, and then cut picture on top. All of the pieces stay in sync with the music they were intended to cut with from then on, not as music attached to picture but as picture attached to music. Incredibly powerful and when things stay together like that, it allows me a lot of space, mentally, to experiment around the timeline. I adore Avid and adore it’s trim mode, but sync-locks are still a mental check before you are able to just grab something and drag it out. Nothing stops you in Final Cut Pro.
For Home Movie: The Princess Bride, considering everything was being shot on iPhones by celebrities themselves, I knew I’d be getting in H264 and H265 files in all various frame rates and resolutions. I didn’t have time to worry about formats and transcoding, we had a launch date set for the end of June and it was going to come at us faster than I would like.
Final Cut Pro really seemed like my only option to handle that amount of footage, keep itself organized, fly through the cut at the speed we needed to, and be our final master of the show.
We did not have time to jump to another program for color. I have experience in Resolve but we really didn’t need a ton of color work, just some light touch-ups. We knew over-producing Home Movie would be a mistake; the charm is in in the rough edges and mismatching.
I’ve never pushed Final Cut Pro X this far, and on a MacBook Pro no-less This was my first time also sharing libraries with an assistant. There was no way I could organize and assemble everything myself once the project was green-lit and footage started pouring in.
I brought on an assistant I adore, Nicholas Lundgren, who worked with Final Cut Pro X years ago. We had to conjure up a system of XML sharing and supplemental Libraries we would send-back-and-forth. It was a manual process but Event XMLs became our bins.
We used MASV.io for all our data transfers which worked beautifully. MASV allowed us to create a portal link to send to all the talent for them to upload files in full resolution straight from their phones. Our ideal format we asked talent to shoot at was 9:16 4k (2160x3840) at 24fps. Even though we were in a vertical format, I felt strongly that we should play at 24fps to help maintain a film feeling.
To share my cuts with Jason, I used Digital Rebellion’s wonderful Kolaborate service. It handled vertical video better than any other service which would re-compress everything into a 16:9 HD video with black bars on either side.
We used Frame.io for all our official submissions to Quibi as well as our final deliverables. Frame.io is able to create a turnstyle asset, much like the Quibi app does, and would allow us to test what it was like to see our project in horizontal. Frame.io’s integration within Final Cut was awesome.
Nicholas and I would rename incoming footage with the same methodology, he would add to a new Event just for that specific shoot, organize it by adding metadata, and “Apply Custom Name” function inside FCP. Worked wonderfully. I would cut the episode in a vertical timeline, 1080x1920. Having the actors shooting 4k allowed us to do a lot of re-framing to get shots to match each across a cut together so that the eye trace wasn’t flipping between the bottom and top of the frame. We found vertical very unforgiving in that way.
We decided to use our horizontal canvas within Quibi to show graphics crediting the actors playing the role, both Home Movie's and the original, as well as show a still frame of the original film to help anyone that might be confused on who’s playing who.
Smith & Lee, a pair of designers I’ve worked with on other movies with Jason did a phenomenal job making something beautiful and complimentary to the show. If you’re ever wondering who’s behind the wig or who’s playing the cover of Mark Knopfler's score, just turn your phone. I would create a vertical master of our cut and Nicholas would cut all the horizontal graphics to compliment.
On the media side, having self-contained Libraries is near-foolproof media management, however, next time knowing ahead that I would share Libraries with an assistant, I would set FCP to ‘Leave files in place' and point every Library to a shared Dropbox with Nicholas.
Trusting XMLs to translate into AAFs via X2Pro Audio Convert worked almost flawlessly, just required a lot of prep work on Nicholas’ part. I like to retime clips quite a bit and FCP is so great at just sleeting a range, flipping it to 2x, allowing me to find a comedic rhythm when the actor has only shot one angle and one take.
In the end, I’m very happy we used Final Cut Pro for this project.
This was also the first time I really dug deep and used Auditions; one of Final Cut Pro’s marquee features and is incredibly powerful, especially when using keyboard shortcuts. Final Cut Pro came through and enabled a creative-first process, letting us give this project a voice in a ridiculously short amount of time while simultaneously allowing me to forget about things I didn’t need to worry about.