A Radical Workflow Idea for Final Cut X Users

Last week on FCP.co, I was reading and watching an FCPX tutorial by John Davidson at Magic Feather Inc., a video production agency in Los Angeles that does work for high-profile channels and TV shows. In the tutorial, John mentioned that in their shared editing environment, they use compound clips for the various iterations of a project, as opposed to Projects. Now this isn’t necessarily new. I know a number of people who do this. But this is what surprised me…I had previously thought that in order to create a compound clip, you had to have a project first. You would build a project, then select all the clips, then group them into a compound clip (which from here out I will just call “comp” for short). In watching John’s tutorial I learned that you can actually create a comp without creating a project first (they save the creation of a project until the very end). This was totally eye-opening for me.


So I started thinking: if you can create a full video in a comp without creating a project, do you even need to create projects at all?

A Whole New World

Many people have lamented the fact that versioning in Final Cut X is more clunky than the legacy version. Before, if you wanted to create a subsequent version of a video, all you had to do was duplicate a sequence. Now, in FCPX, the intuitive course of action is to dupe a project. But that has issues (which I’ll address in a moment).

If using and duping comps could take the place of projects, this could make a world of difference in my usage of FCPX. I ran a few tests and discovered:

  • When creating a comp from scratch (e.g. without grouping clips already in a timeline) you can set the clip parameters just as you would a project (e.g. resolution, frame rate, audio rate, etc.)
  • When you open a comp in the timeline, you can export it just like you would from a project.
  • You can render a comp, just like you would a project.

This my friends, could be the start of a beautiful friendship

You can create a new compound clip and apply parameters, just as you would a project.
You can create a new compound clip and apply parameters, just as you would a project.

The Problem with Projects

Here’s the problem I have with creating projects as version iterations:

  • Hard drive Space: creating projects takes up more hard drive space. Additional files are created and you ultimately end up also duplicating render files (either you’ll duplicate the render files when you first dupe a project, or if you don’t, you’ll still end up with additional render files when you eventually render the duplicated project).
  • Clutter: More open projects creates more clutter in the FCPX library. (Note: I am fully aware of Event Manager X, and I use it. This can indeed reduce clutter by easily switching off any projects you don’t want to open. But now that means there are more projects I have to read through that list.)
  • Load Time: the more projects you have open, the longer it takes FCPX to load

The Benefits of Only Using Comps

At this point, I’m inclined not to create projects at all. Even at the end of an edit. Working with comps as version iterations is pretty much identical to the versioning system in legacy FCP versions (and other similar NLEs).  This is one aspect I think the old version of FCP does better than FCPX. Using this method you use less hard drive space, have less clutter, and get faster load times. Even when you duplicate a comp, it’s better. If you dupe a rendered comp, THE RENDER FILES ARE NOT DUPLICATED. In other words, you still have a rendered timeline, but you have NOT doubled the space on your drive. The duplicated comp references the original render files. This is exactly how sequences worked in FCP7.

My Comp Workflow

So here’s how my new comp and versioning workflow works:

  • Create a comp and set the appropriate parameters
  • Give the comp a name suffix that will allow me to group them in a smart collection (e.g. Name.ver 1, Name.ver 2, etc.)
  • Create a smart collection using clip type “Compound Clip” and Text includes “.ver”
  • Edit
  • Duplicate a comp when I want to move on to another iteration, changing the suffix accordingly
  • When done, export the video as normal


Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy.


Working with Others

fcevents_folderAt this point you’re probably wondering: “How would you use this system with other editors?” My answer…the same way you’d work with other editors in legacy versions of FCP. Before you would share the FCP project file with another editor. After he/she made their changes, they’d send the file back to you. That would then become the current version of the project.

You can do the same thing with FCPX. Instead of sharing a project file, you would share the CurrentVersion.fcpevents database file located in the Final Cut Events folder. (This is exactly the tip Steve Martin and Mark Spencer of Ripple Training teaches in this informative video on sharing FCPX events and projects). Naturally, this only works well if all editors have the same media in the same directories/folders on their computers. (Which, by the way, is the same thing you’d have to do in legacy versions of FCPX, or other NLEs).

Situations Where Projects May Make Sense

Last week I posed this question on a few FCPX forums: given everything I just told you, why create projects at all. No one could really give me an answer that was satisfying. Perhaps the best answer I got was from an individual who works on a TV show and the various editors all work on disparate segments of the show concurrently. In a case like that, it would be difficult to share FCP Events with one another because you could have four or more people with completely different lists of comps being built. In essence, there is no master Events database to work on; even if they all have the same media. In a situation like this, working in a project, and sharing the projects folder (or dbase) would work best. (Although, I would add that it would still make sense to use comps to iterate versions of a segment, then save the project creation until the end).

Caveat Emptor

There is one caveat I feel obligated to mention with regards to this system. There is a slight chance Apple could change the way comps operate, thereby making this system less attractive (or entirely un-doable). They’ve changed the way comps have worked before. My instinct is that there won’t be any major change to how comps work that would entirely nullify my system. But as we all know, you can never be 100% certain what Apple will or won’t do.

So…what do you think of my comps only workflow? Do you have any challenges to my system that I’ve overlooked? I’d be eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Richard Taylor of FCPX.TV has created this great tutorial on using comps instead of projects. Really paints the picture perfectly.

Learn More

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19 thoughts on “A Radical Workflow Idea for Final Cut X Users

  1. I think it’s really clever. I find myself working primarily with my clips in the event/timeline phase. I will give this process a try.

  2. Why do you peple keep trying to find kludges around the broken FCPX system. Are you getting paid by apple?

    1. Ha! I wish. But, in answer to your question, it’s because those of us who have been using it like the benefits over the drawbacks. Simple as that.

  3. Great concept.
    Funny thing though. I have a mid level quad i7 MacBook Pro with 8gigs of ram
    And 500 gigs of drive space

    I was cutting a DSLR documentary with about 180 gigs of video and audio

    Whenever I made compound clips the computer worked and worked to keep up
    Actually the multi cam clips lasted longer without the fan going on full blast

    I have that combo ram cards and was going out to one or two thunderbolt screens…

  4. That is an interesting concept, and it makes total sense, the problem with it is you don’t know what Apple has in store for compound clips in future updates. If they change it’s functionality and you’ve relied on this method for multiple projects, you never know, certain changes could cause you a mountain of havoc. Is it worth the risk?

    1. I’ve heard argument before and here are my responses to that:

      1) I never ever update mission critical software until it’s absolutely necessary. I think that’s a practice all professionals should take. It’s silly (IMHO) to update your OS or editing program the minute the new release is updated. When I do upgrade, it’s only after the bugs and issues have been worked out and I know how those bugs and/or issues will affect my work. If Apple radically changed compound clips I would know that before updating. So it’s not like I’m going to lose a bunch of work. And by that time all the projects I’ve used them on would be already delivered and archived. If the change was that radical and I found it necessary, I could always go back and then take the final versions of any Comps and drop it in a project before upgrading FCPX.

      2) Frankly, I just don’t believe a feature as prominent as Compound Clips will change so radically that it would render all the previous uses of it null and void. Even the last major change they made didn’t retroactively change past projects you worked on. It was more an issue of how you used Comps moving forward. And on the off-chance they DID make the change that radical, I refer you back to point #1. 🙂

      1. First off it’s not an argument, at least not from me. My comments are only food for thought. Of course updating right away isn’t a good idea, but the vast majority do exactly that. So, my original post is only something to consider, nothing more, nothing less.

        1. Oh, I didn’t mean you were arguing. Sorry if that’s what you thought I meant. I meant “argument” in the general sense (i.e. as in an argument with regards to a topic). I definitely appreciate you making that point and encourage the engagement. Thanks Steve.

          1. Ah, no worries mate! It’s all good! I enjoy your podcast, and this website, thank you for that.
            For the record, I just now updated to OS X 10.7 Lion, only because I had to for a new editing toy to function.

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