Jeffery Harrell

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Jun 24

Project management in FCP X: No. Just no.

On paper, project and media management in FCP X seem pretty damn cool. In practice, they’re just terrible. Just terrible.

Let’s start with a purely imaginary, contrived scenario. Say you have an edit system that consists of a MacBook Pro and an attached FireWire drive for your media. (That’s what I’m actually using right now, is why I say that. But the principles apply to real Mac Pro-based systems with Fibre Channel RAIDs or whatever.) Let’s say further that you’re cutting a short film that was shot over three days, and you have one camera mag for each day. What do you do?

Well, on any normal edit system, you’d create a project for the show, then set up bins however you want to organize your rushes. To keep this simple, I’m going to imagine you want one bin for each day of shooting; in the real world it’d be more complex than that, but this is just to get the ideas flowing.

So how do you carry out that plan in FCP X? Well, it’s complicated by the fact that FCP X has no concept of projects or bins. It’s got events, if you please. So we have to adapt.

Launch FCP X for the first time. You’ll see that, in the “Event Library” part of the interface, you have a default event on your system drive called “New Event 6-24-11,” or whatever the current date happens to be. You don’t want this event, so you delete it … and get an error message: “The operation couldn’t be completed. Operation not permitted.”

Okay, look. It’s a bad fucking sign when the very first thing you want to do results in an error message that doesn’t even tell you anything. If you decided right now that FCP X is not for you and deleted the app from your system, you would not be in the wrong. But let’s not be so rash ourselves. Instead, we faff about for entirely too long to figure out why Final Cut Pro X won’t let us delete the default event we created. We figure out through trial and error that the program really wants to have at least one event, and throws up that cryptic error if you try to delete the only one. So fine. We ignore that default one for the moment. We’ll come back and delete it later.

Now, what we really want is to create a project and put bins in it. That’s how it works in Media Composer, that’s how it worked in Final Cut Pro until recently, that’s just how it’s done. But we can’t do that in FCP X, so we must consider a different route. Instead, we’ll create a folder to hold the events for our show; the folder will play the role of the project, and the events will be our bins. Fine.

So we click our media drive in the Event Library pane, then go to the File menu to choose New Folder … except we can’t. It’s grayed out.

Well shit.

Okay, fine. We’ll create an event on our media drive instead, since that’s the only goddamn thing FCP X will let us do. We name it “Love and Feces,” since that’s the title of our short film. (If this were an Apple tutorial, it’d be called “My Great Movie” or some patronizing shit like that. This ain’t an Apple tutorial.)

Now we have something that acts like a project. We need something that acts like a bin. Can we create a folder now? Yes we can … but folders can’t hold shots. Only events can hold shots. Can we put an event inside an event? No, we can’t; events can only go at the top level. So how the fuck are we supposed to create bins?

We aren’t. We aren’t supposed to use bins. At all. Instead — and may god help us — we’re supposed to use “keyword collections.”

Here’s how it works. You create an event for your project — your show, your spot, your whatever-the-job-is. We’ve already done that bit. Then you import your media into that event. This is a batch operation. Well. It can be a batch operation; I suppose there’s nothing stopping you from importing one shot at a time. But it’s meant to be a batch operation. Stick in a card, whoosh all the shots into your event at once.

Then, once that’s done — and I should note here that you don’t actually technically have to wait for your media to be copied to your media drive; you can begin the next step immediately while the media copies in the background, which is sort of nice in principle — you have to start assigning keywords to your shots. You have to think of keywords as your bins.

What you do is click on the event for your show, then create a new keyword collection. Remember, a keyword collection plays the role of a bin here. You give the keyword collection a name; there are probably limits on what kinds of names you can give, but I just created one with the name margle!-banana-2003-@(! and it worked fine, so at least the limits, if they exist, aren’t onerous.

Anyway, once you’ve created your keyword collections — i.e., your bins — you go back to the event that holds your shots, select the ones you want to put in each bin and then drag them into that bin. Behind the scenes, FCP X assigns the name of the keyword collection you dragged them to to the shots as a keyword, and from then on they show up in that keyword collection just as if you’d put them in a bin.

(A quirk: If you want to move one shot into a bin, you cannot just drag it. You have to click on it first to select it, then drag it. If you just grab it and drag it, FCP X thinks you’re trying to set ins and outs, insanely. So first you have to click to give it that yellow-outline-thing, then you can drag it. This is more annoying than you can possibly imagine.)

Okay, so let’s review here for a second. You have events, which hold shots. You have keyword collections, which act like bins, sort of. Drag a shot from the event to a keyword collection and it shows up in that collection just as it would if it were a normal bin.

Except there are some quirks. When you drag a shot from the event to a keyword collection, it doesn’t stop showing up in the event. You aren’t moving the shot from the top-level bin in your project into a sub-bin. You’re just associating a keyword with that shot. So it still shows up in the event. Which means there’s no easy way to see just the shots that you have not sorted into bins.

There’s a workaround, though. You can create a smart collection, which is like a bin that shows you the results of a canned search. You might name it “Unsorted,” for instance. At first it shows you nothing but a message: “No clips match the search criteria for the selected Smart Collection. Adjust the search criteria for this Smart Collection, or select a different item in the Event Library.” Thanks, Apple. I really wanted a paragraph there.

Anyway, what you do is double-click the “Unsorted” smart collection. You get a HUD called “Filter” that has a pop-up labeled “All” and a pop-up with a plus sign on it and that’s all. Now it so happens I use Aperture, so this is basically familiar to me, but it’d be utterly baffling to the first-timer.

Click the plus pop-up, and you see a list of criteria you can search on: text, rating, media type and so forth. One of them is “Keywords.” Choose that and you see a really ugly, half-finished UI for narrowing down what shots this smart collection shows you by keyword. You can change the “Include any” pop-up to “Does not include any,” and the smart collection will now show you all your shots that have not been sorted into any bins. You can then drag your shots from this smart collection to your bins, and as you do, they’ll disappear from view just as if you’d moved them from one bin to another.

Except not really. Because see, when you created the smart collection, you specifically told it which keywords to compare against. If you then create a new “bin” — i.e., a new keyword collection — the smart collection won’t know to ignore clips with that keyword. So when you drag shots from your smart collection to your new “bin,” they won’t disappear from view. In order to make them disappear, you have to double-click the smart collection and check the keyword or keywords corresponding to all the bins you’ve created since you first created that smart collection. So the idea of creating a smart collection to show you unsorted shots first thing after you set up your event simply won’t work. It’s impossible.

There’s another problem to be aware of. It’s possible to put one shot in multiple “bins.” Remember, these things we’re using as bins are really just keyword collections, and a shot can have multiple keywords assigned to it. If you drag a shot from one “bin” to another “bin,” it doesn’t move. It just puts that shot in both bins. Which might be exactly what you want … but more likely won’t be, since we’re trying to get fucking organized here, and we don’t want to see all our fucking shots all the fucking time.

Pant pant.

Sorry. Lost my composure there for a minute.

Anyway, let’s sum up project organization in FCP X: It’s apocalyptically bad. Seriously. It’s like the program was specifically and maliciously designed to make it hard to do even the most basic tasks, like sorting your shots into bins so you can find things. Yes, Apple’s apparent philosophy is that human beings shouldn’t sort things; computers should sort things. Human beings should just tell the computer what we want. And if the computer had perfect knowledge, that’d work fine. But the computer won’t ever have perfect knowledge, and if it did, the editor wouldn’t. How many times have you been working on a corporate piece, say, and you’re cutting together interview bites from multiple subjects? Do you ever know the subjects’ names? Hell no. It’s just “this guy with the glasses,” “that girl with the bad haircut,” “that cool chap in the bow tie.” Do you want to have to sit down and methodically tell your editing system which shots have the guy with glasses and which have the girl with the hair? No, you don’t. You just want to throw shit in bins, then browse through them to find the shots you want.

Both Avid and Final Cut Pro — the old one — work on the core principle of putting shit in piles. You can make as many piles as you want, easily, and you can put shit in them. This goes there, that goes there. Easy and quick.

FCP X is based on the core principle that you’re a goddamn librarian. Every shot on your system has to have its own Dewey decimal number, and its own card in the card catalogue. Yes, once you completely and thoroughly annotate every fucking frame in the three-hundred-and-seventy hours of rushes that go into your show, I’m sure FCP X will do a yeoman’s job of finding what you want for you … as long as you, yourself, remember how things were annotated. But if you just want to put shit in piles and then find it again by browsing, like every editor in the universe does, FCP X will fight you tooth and nail every step of the way.

I’m going to stop here because I’m depressed now. That’s how bad FCP X is. It’s not frustrating, nor is it risible. It’s just sad.

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