What to watch out for with FCPX

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 was whether or not FCPX could be the NLE of the future. Today I address a few things to be mindful of when looking into FCPX as your NLE. (Part 3 is about workflow).


It’s a Paradigm Shift. Use it as Such.

A paradigm shift is a completely new way of looking at something. FCPX is a paradigm shift in non-linear editing. You have to go into it with that in mind. If you try to force FCPX to edit like you did in FCP7, 1) you may get frustrated, and 2) you’ll miss out on some of the power of the new paradigm.

Perhaps the biggest shift in that fact that FCPX is not a track-based editor like FCP7 was. There are no video tracks and audio tracks. There’s a Primary Storyline that can contain audio or video. Then additional audio and video clips are connected to that storyline. This is one of the hardest things to get used to coming from the old FCP.

The other big change is the magnetic timeline. As you move or extend clips on the primary storyline, clips before and/or after it move accordingly. The purpose of this is to keep everything in alignment. Songs and voice overs you have synched with a part of the video will stay in synch so long as they are attached to the part of the primary storyline where the video occurs. I love the magnetic timeline about 90% of the time. Then there’s that 10% when I have to spend some extra time thinking about how to add a clip in such a way that won’t mess up the primary storyline. Or the times when I shorten a connected clip and everything behind that clip moves (I think that’s a bug. But I’m not sure. Anyway, when it happens, it’s annoying).

Bottomline: embrace change.

With Great Power Comes… The Need for Great Power

FCPX is an extremely powerful program. It takes full advantage of the new Mac’s 64-bit architecture (assuming you have such a machine). It also moves much of its processing power from the computer’s CPU to the graphics card. What all of this means is that, you need a fast machine and a fast drive to take full advantage.

The iMac I edit on is an older model that originally had only 4GB or RAM USB 2.0 slots and one Firewire 800 slot. Never had an issue with Final Cut 7. Not so with FCPX.

Yesterday I mentioned that I’ve edited about ten projects with it. Nine out of those ten I edited with this old system. Let me tell you, it was painful. I saw a lot of the infamous Mac spinning “beach ball”. I often had to use the low resolution proxy media to get through edits. On the latest project I started, enough was enough. I bumped up my RAM to 16GB and got a FW800 drive to edit. The difference is night and day!

Bottomline: you want a lot of RAM, the fastest drives you can get (Thunderbolt would be ideal), and a fast graphics card. The faster the better.

The “Keys” to Speed

There are two “keys” in FCPX you should take advantage of. The first is keyboard shortcuts. I believe that with any NLE, the more keyboard shortcuts you can use, the faster you’ll edit. It seems much more so with FCPX. Don’t be an M&M Editor (“mouse & menu). Learn those keyboards quickies and you’ll improve your editing time easily by 20 to 30%.

The other “key” to speed are keywords. Another of the paradigm shifts in FCPX is that there aren’t any “bins” to put clips in. The closest thing to what were bins in FCP7 are keyword collections. As you assign keywords to clips, they get put into collections. That’s how you’ll organize your clips. What’s nice is that the same clip could be in multiple collections. And the search tool is super fast. (Note: if you look up a keyword then neglect to delete it from the search box, the next time you click on a keyword collection, FCPX will be looking for clips in that collection that match the search criteria. So don’t freak out if you ever click on a collection and see no clips. You haven’t lost them. Chances are you just forgot to clear out the search box.)


Versioning is Not Great

One of the things I did in FCP7 was use sequences to create different versions of a project. I’d just duplicate a sequence, rename it, then make changes. If a sequence was rendered, duplicating it would not increase the number of render files. The duplicated sequence just accessed the same render files.

FCPX is different. There are no “sequences” per se. You edit in a “project.” If you want to create a new version, you create a new project. In and of itself that’s not too terrible, except that if you have a fully rendered project and you want to duplicate it to make a version 2, you have to decide whether or not you duplicate the rendered content as well. If you do, that increased the amount of disk space you take up. If you don’t, then depending on how long your project is, it could be a pain having to work with unrendered footage again. Depending on the speed and power of your machine, that might not be a big deal. It is for me.

Multiple projects for multiple versions.
Multiple projects for multiple versions.

Workflow is Different, But Doable

One of the incorrect complaints I hear about FCPX is that you can’t share projects with other editors. That’s all hogwash and gobbledygook. It’s absolutely possible to share projects and keep a professional, streamlined workflow. I’ll get into that in part 3. But for now I just wanted to state that you have to look into the best way of doing that. There is no project file like in FCP7. FCPX is a database driven program. So the way you share projects is just different. But it’s totally doable.

Bottomline: read part 3 of my series.🙂

Share some of your “do’s” and “don’ts” of FCPX.

19 thoughts on “What to watch out for with FCPX

  1. Ron, I’m enjoying this post series. I’ve been using FCPX for over a year as I’m teaching a film studies class with another teacher and we decided it was the best route to take. I have to edit a project with another person in Final Cut Classic and find it hard to go back to. I’m looking forward to part 3.

  2. Instead on duplicating projects, you can edit within compound clips then duplicate then for each version. Create a smart collection for them and all your versions are right there. You get the sane exact timeline you would if you were in the project.

    Just a little tip, that’s how I do it. Great post!

    1. I actually HAVE done that as a type of versioning. And have even suggested it. The problem with that is when you have a project that is so big and/or complicated, and comprised of nested compound clips, it’s actually just easier to dupe the project. You also have to remember to DUPE the compound clips, not use the same one, lest you change that incident of the clip in any project where its used.

  3. Ron,

    Well done. For me the “paradigm shift” into keywords for managing subclips is amazing. I work with people who use Premiere and have tried to switch to make it easier but just can’t give up the keyword functionality for organizing clips. It works as almost a rough edit.

  4. I’ve been an editor for 30 years on moviolas, Steenbeck, linear tape, Avid and FCP . Did a brief 2 day orientation to FCPX about 14 months ago and decided yes it could be great and may be the way of the future but is really very inflexible. Some editors are keyboardd slow and not language lightening literate but very visual so a bin based visual organisational system is a must alternative. Versions and WIPS of a sequence are a must, on real docos and films versions of scenes are created and joined to make the final project.

    1. Thanks for sharing Tim. FCPX has some light years since you took that orientation. It’s like night and day.

      As far as the bin orienation, the keyword collection feature works pretty much like bin, but BETTER. It’s easier to find clips in FCPX AND you can have the same clip in more than one “bin” if you like. You could have a clip b-roll, then have the same clip in “closeups.” Visually, they work like bins. Practically, they’re better.

      I agree the versioning aspect is not that great. But, it’s not that hard to create compound clips as your scenes, or even full versions. What’s great about that is that those scenes can now be used in ANY project. So let’s say you have a scene you’ve edited for a main doc, and now you want to create a presskit video, or some other kind of shortened version. Or maybe you want to create a reel. You can easily access those compound clip/scenes in those other projects just as easily as you would a regular clip.

      Alternatively, you can create a separate project for each version. It’s really not that huge a deal, outside of the additional render files that may be created if you render each version. But the list of projects in your project library are really not that much different than a list of Sequences you would have had in FCP7.

  5. This is all really informative for me. I’m a young doc filmmaker who’s been editing off 7 for a few years now, and it’s really the only program I have any experience with. The idea of switching to X and being the only one of all my collaborators on the cold iceberg of FCPX scared me, but these posts are REALLY helpful for re-thinking things.

    1. Trust me Elif, you wouldn’t be the only one. The irony is, among the filmmakers I’ve been working with, many of the guys were on FCPX and I was the only one on 7.

      As one doc filmmaker to another, I can attest to how great FCPX’s meta tagging features are for organizing your media. Especially if you are interviewing a lot of people and there are a lot of topics to keep track. Because you can easily tag ranges of clips, you could have keyword collections for both topics and people. So one person’s clip could have five keywords attached to it, making it easy to assemble an edit based on topic.

      Do what I did. Try out the 30-day trial, get Ripple Training’s Advanced Video Training Series (the 5 hour one) and have at it. Worse case scenario you’re out the $40 for the training and you decide something else is better for you. Best case, you significantly improve your editing efficiency enjoy editing more than you have before.

  6. As for the versioning problem, I agree that duplicating projects is a little sloppy. I am really interested in trying a different approach that I saw from Magic Feather of using compound clips instead of projects while you edit and then move over to a project once you’re ready to export. Seems like a good workflow solution. Here’s the link to their video.


    1. Awesome find Ray. I didn’t even know you could edit in Compound clips without making a project first. I’ve been creating a project first, editing, then creating comp clips later. Love this method. Thanks for sharing.

      1. I downloaded the FCP 10.0.8 free trial and am also in the middle of the Ripple Training. With respect to versioning, when duplicating a project, it gives 3 options:

        1. Duplicate project only
        2. Duplicate project and referenced events
        3. Duplicate project + used clips

        There is also a checkbox for including render files. So if you pick option 1 and leave the include render files checkbox unchecked, wouldn’t that solve the issue of creating extra/duplicate files. What would be the advantages/disadvantages of versioning this way using projects vs. compound clips (as mentioned above)?

        I’m def seeing some of the benefits of FCP X already but needing to wrap my head around workflow issues like this. Thanks!

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