Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro

In this article, I’ll be looking at methods for working smarter in Final Cut Pro. These are the areas I cover:

  • Features for organising your media
  • Working with proxy media
  • Using metadata
  • Making the most of other MacOS apps
  • What you can do with Workflow Extensions
  • The best way to archive a Final Cut Library

Organising Your Media

A great way of working smarter in Final Cut Pro is to organise your media before you start editing. Do this in a way that makes sense to you and reflects the type of project you’re working on.

Libraries and Events

In Final Cut, there’s a hierarchy of media containers. The main one is the Library, represented by a four star icon. Inside the Library are Events, with a single star icon. Events are where your media and your projects live.

Final Cut Pro Library icon - Postproduction - Indigo Film School
Library icon
Final Cut Pro Event icon - Postproduction - Indigo Film School
Event icon

By default a Library always has one Event, but you can create as many as you like. For example, on a movie, you can create an Event for each scene. I also like to create a single Event that’s dedicated to storing Project files. If you don’t have many clips in your Event, then you probably don’t need a further level of organisation. But if you have lots of clips, you can use Keyword Collections and Smart Collections to create containers within an Event.

Keyword Collections

You can create a Keyword Collection for each character. Or you can create collections to contain takes from different shots. Organise your clips in a way that makes sense to you. The benefit is you have named collections that contain a subset of your media, making it easier and quicker to locate certain clips.

Character Collections - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Keyword Collections based on characters
Take collections - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Keyword Collections of takes, organised by shot name

There are a couple of ways to add clips to a Keyword Collection. You can create the collection and drag in the clips. Or you can apply a keyword to the clips first. Because the Keyword Collection is inside a specific Event, you can only include clips from that Event. But you can place a clip in more than one Keyword Collection.

Create the Keyword Collection First:
Identify the Event that needs a further level of organisation. Right-click the Event and choose New Keyword Collection. Give it a name. Select the clips you want and drag them into the Keyword Collection. Now when you select the collection, you only see those clips. When you select the Event, you’ll still see all the clips, including those you dragged into the Keyword Collection.

Add a Keyword to Clips First:
Select the clips you want to place into a Keyword Collection. Click the Keyword Editor button at the top-left of the interface. In the editor, type a keyword that describes your clips and hit Return. You’ll see a new Keyword Collection, named after the keyword you used. The selected clips are added to this new collection.

Smart Collections

Making use of Smart Collections gives you another method for finding clips quickly. By default each Library comes with several Smart Collections ready to go. These Smart Collections are referencing the whole Library, but you can create your own in individual Events.

Library Smart Collections - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Default Library Smart Collections

For example, let’s imagine you’ve got some audio only clips in your Event. These would be easier to locate if they were in a Smart Collection. Right-click the Event, choose New Smart Collection and call it Audio. Double-click the Smart Collection to open the Editor. From the plus menu, choose Media Type. Make the media type Audio Only. Now all the audio files in my Event appear in the Smart Collection.

Smart Collection Editor - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Smart Collection Editor

The great thing about Smart Collections is they update automatically. If you add more audio files to the Event, they’ll appear in this Smart Collection. Add more complex rules to be very specific about which clips should be allowed in.

Proxy Media

The next method for working smarter in Final Cut Pro, is by using proxy media. We’re not all fortunate enough to be working with the most up to date hardware. If your Mac can’t handle editing in a high resolution, you can use proxy media. Once the edit is complete, switch back to the original resolution before you Share the movie.

Start by transcoding your media to a proxy version. You can do this as you import, or afterwards. If you do it during import, use the Proxy settings on the right of the import window. If you’re already imported your media, right-click (two finger click) on the Event and choose, transcode media. Whether you transcode during import or afterwards, the settings are identical.

Proxy Media Settings

Choose the format for your proxy files. You have two options: 

  • ProRes Proxy: choose this format if you want to maintain a good image quality
  • H.264: pick this if you need the file size to be as small as possible

Next you select the resolution reduction. If the video is 8K (7680 x 4320):

  • Choosing 50% will give you 4K (3840 x 2160)
  • At 25% it will be HD (1920 x 1080)
  • Selecting 12.5% gives you a resolution similar to Standard Definition (960 x 540)

Once you start transcoding, you can keep track of the process by clicking on the Background Task wheel and taking a look at Transcoding & Analysing.

Transcoding and Analysing Background Task - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Transcoding and Analysing in the Background Tasks window

To edit with the proxy version of your media, go to the View menu (above the Viewer) and choose Proxy Only. When you select a clip, you should see the word Proxy next to its details. Once you’ve finished editing, go to the View menu and switch back to Optimised / Original. Now you can Share your movie at its original high quality.

Proxy indicator - Working Smarter in Final Cut Pro
Proxy indicator on clip details (above the Viewer)

Clip Metadata

Another way you can work smarter in Final Cut Pro is by using metadata to organise and search your media. When the Media Browser is in List mode, you’ll see columns displaying different metadata for each clip. You’ll see the name of the clip, the duration, the starting and ending timecode, the date the content was created and other useful info.

Media Browser in List Mode
Media Browser in List mode

Some of this metadata comes from the camera or audio recorder. There’s information generated by Final Cut itself. And then there’s metadata created by you.

Using Text to Filter Clips

You can make clips easier to find when searching by entering words you would likely search for in the Name or in the Notes column. Then when you enter a term in the search bar, only the clips that match will be displayed. In the example below, I’ve got all my Shot 1A takes in a Keyword Collection. I’ve filled in the Notes column for each of the takes. If I open the Search Bar and type ‘good’, only the clips marked as Good Take will be displayed.

Media Browser before clips have been filtered
Media Browser before clips have been filtered
Media Browser after clips have been filtered
Media Browser after clips have been filtered

Depending on the type of production you’re working on, the editor might receive notes from the script supervisor, camera department and sound department. Use third party apps to convert these notes into metadata for Final Cut Pro.

Earlier we looked at creating Smart Collections. One of the ways we can filter clips into Smart Collections is with text. This means clips are chosen based on words in the Name or in the Notes columns. This can be a quick and powerful way of organising your clips.

A fairly recent addition to Final Cut is some extra tools for organising metadata columns. You can right-click on any of the columns and choose Edit Available Columns. And in this editor, you can create a custom column set and choose which metadata you want to display.

Column Set Editor in Final Cut Pro
Column Set Editor

Photos app

Let’s imagine you’ve got a large number of still images and graphics you use in your projects. You’ve probably got them in a folder on your hard drive. Wouldn’t it be useful if they were organised into collections that you could access instantly inside Final Cut?

Now, you might think the Photos app on the Mac is only for your holiday snaps, but it’s actually a powerful image database. Once you open Photos, you’ll see My Albums in the left-hand column. In the image below, you can see I’ve already created two.

Albums in the Photos app
Albums in the Photos app

Hover over My Albums and click the plus button to create a new album. Give the album a name and drag in your images.

Access Photos Albums in Final Cut

Now let’s look at how you access my Background Images album in Final Cut. In Final Cut Pro, select the Photos and Audio sidebar and choose Photos.

Make sure this menu is set to My Albums. And in the Media Browser you can see albums you’ve created. Double-click on Background Images to view the images in the Album. You can drag one of them into the timeline. The media is automatically added to your Event. This will be the same Event that contains the Project, but you can drag it into a different one.

This is a smart way of working if you regularly need to include still images or graphics in your edit.

Music app

As well as using Photos to work smarter, you can also do the same with the Music app. Just be aware, when you launch Music you might be prompted to login with your Apple ID.

In Music you create Playlists to contain your audio tracks. You can find Playlists in the left-hand column.In the image below, you can I’ve already created two.

Playlists in the Music app
Playlists in the Music app

To create a new one, right-click on the Playlists heading and choose New Playlist. Then you can drag in some music from your hard drive.

Access Music Playlists in Final Cut

Let’s see how you access the Cinematic Playlist in Final Cut Pro. In Final Cut, choose the Photos and Audio sidebar and select Music.

It currently lists all your audio tracks, so I want to choose the Cinematic playlist from the menu. Then to use one of your tracks, drag it into the timeline. The media is automatically added to the Event.This will be the same Event that contains the Project, but you can drag it into a different Event.

You might find this way of working useful if you’ve downloaded library music or a sound effects collection.

Motion Templates

If you use a lot of titles and graphics in your projects, then the smarter way of working is to create templates in Motion and publish them to Final Cut Pro. But there’s no need for me to go into detail here. Check out Motion Templates in Final Cut Pro, a separate article dedicated to this subject.

Just to give you a quick overview of what to expect. Motion is a separate application for creating motion graphics. You can make titles, generators, effects and transitions in Motion. They can be accessed inside Final Cut, once you’ve published them. You can also publish template parameters, so you can adjust the settings in Final Cut. Check out my video to see how this can transform your workflow and make working with custom titles and graphics easier and quicker. 

Workflow Extensions

Yet another way you can worker smarter in Final Cut Pro, is with workflow extensions. These bring third party services directly into the Final Cut interface. There aren’t many of these at the moment, but they are very useful.

The button to open the extensions, is at the top-left of the interface. If you’ve only got one extension, you’ll see it’s logo. If you’ve got more than one, you’ll see this puzzle piece icon.

Workflow Extension button
Workflow Extension button

To install an extension, search for it on the Mac App Store. To use the ones from Shutterstock or Frame.io, you need to create an account on their website first. Then log in with your details when you first open the extension.

If you want to remove an extension, open the Applications folder and drag it to the Trash.

Archiving a Final Cut Pro Library

Once you’re finished your edit, you’ll want to archive your Library.

When you do this, make sure all your media is in the Library. Select the Library you want to archive. In the Inspector, click Modify Settings. Make sure your Media and Motion Content is stored inside the Library. If you’ve using custom Motion Templates in the project, it’s important to store them in the Library. This way, they won’t be affected by any changes you make to the templates in the future. Under Media, click Consolidate to import any media that’s outside of the Library. Under Motion Content, click Consolidate to bring in any template that are outside of the Library.

You’ll also want to make sure the Library is as small as possible, so it doesn’t take up much space on your hard drive. Delete Final Cut generated files to achieve this. With the Library selected, go to the File menu and choose Delete Generated Library Files. As long as you don’t delete your original media, anything here can be recreated at a later date. In the dialogue, check Delete Render Files and then check All. If you’ve created Optimised Media or Proxy Media for your clips, check the appropriate box. Click OK and these files will be deleted. Your Library will now be as smaller and ready for archiving.

Summary

I hope you enjoyed this article about working smarter in Final Cut Pro. These tips will help you work faster and give you a better experience the next time you edit.

If you’ve got any questions or suggestions please comment.

Go Further

If you found this useful, check out the rest of my fantastic Postproduction training articles:

Return to Postproduction Training page.

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