A follow-up to probably one of the most read FCPX articles of 2013, Sam Mestman returns to Bulgaria. On the eve of the release of Expendables 3, how did the EPK on FCPX edit go? He also reports back as one new feature film gets cut on both Avid and FCPX at the same time - which one finishes first?
A while back (just before IBC 2013), some of you may remember that I wrote some crazy thing about some EPK I helped out on in Bulgaria… Apparently, a lot of people read that article, and it caused a little bit of controversy… and, well, some pretty hilarious forum threads were launched because of it.
A lot has happened since I wrote that article… a couple new versions of FCPX, the new Mac Pro came, Mavericks, a new version of Xsan, Resolve, and all kinds of other things have come out as well. I also helped start a new company called FCPWORKS based around professional FCPX workflow and integration. In just a year, the landscape and perception of FCPX have changed quite a bit, and I think these changes are only going to continue to accelerate. It’s been quite a year, and that Bulgaria job/article was the beginning of it… or at least for me it was.
Anyway, people have been periodically asked me since I wrote the article, “Hey, what ever happened with that Bulgaria thing?”
Well, that EPK for Expendables 3 recently premiered at Cannes. It was cut and finished in FCPX.
Not only that, but shortly after that premiere, I went back to Bulgaria for a follow up visit. The next challenge was to teach the 22-year-old editor I had taught to cut the EPK how to transition to a Feature Film FCPX-Resolve-Shot Notes X workflow. The idea was to see how this workflow would stack up vs. the studio’s traditional Avid Unity workflow on an actual movie they were shooting.
On one side, a 22 year old editor with no feature film credits tasked with delivering an assembly cut of a feature within two days of the movie finishing shooting. She would have to do all of her own transcoding, media management, and prep work.
On the other side, the Avid Unity team… who would just work as they normally would, with a lead editor, assistant and standard DIT/transcoding workflow.
Anyway, I didn’t get to stay to see how it all turned out, but I did stay in touch with the FCPX Editor throughout the process. Her name is Gergana Angelova. She’s done with her assembly now and had some time to put the experience down in her own words.
I’ll let Gergana take it from here...
(Now you can see how bad our Photoshop skills are! - Editor)
Q: What project were you just working on and what was your role on it?
A: I just finished working on a very good movie, produced by Millenium films, called Septembers of Shiraz starring Adrian Brody and Salma Hayek. My role there was basically to prove a point. I got hired to prove that movies can be edited on FCPX much faster than in any other software.
Q: What was your previous film experience?
A: I don’t have much experience, because I’m 22 years old and I haven’t even graduated film school yet. This was my first feature film to edit. Before that I did the making of Expendables 3 in Final Cut Pro X.
Q: How did you end up choosing FCPX for the project/how did the project come about?
A: I got introduced to Final Cut Pro X in August last year when I started editing the EPK for Expendables 3. That was my first experience with FCPX. I had a 10 day training period with Sam Mestman, who taught me everything I needed to know for this project so I was able to manage dealing with it, which was a bit crazy. However, it ended up as one of the most epic behind-the-scenes movies ever.
Anyway, the producer I work for, Yariv Lerner, who’s currently the manager of Nu Boyana Film Studios in Bulgaria, had this crazy idea: let’s see if you can finish editing a full assembly of a feature film a few days after wrap of production. So, he got Sam back to show me some cool new features of FCPX for managing and organizing the media and also to teach me how to work with DaVinci Resolve. And before I knew it, I was editing a movie!
Q: Was FCPX the only NLE used on the film? Were you the only editor?
A: There was another person who was editing at the same time on another system and he’s a very experienced editor. He works with AVID. Unfortunately I never got to talk to him about any of the stuff going on. I was just sitting quietly in my room and trying to do my best cause I saw it as a great opportunity for my career in filmmaking. The other person is the actual editor of the movie and I won’t get credits for anything, but as I said, my job was to prove a point. Unlike me, the other editor had the DIT department to help him deal with the footage as well as an assistant editor.
Q: What was your workflow like on the project?
A: I’ll try to make this not sound boring because it was actually fun. There was a person on my team who was in the role of a script supervisor (kinda) so we didn’t bother the actual script supervisor with additional tasks.
His role was to fill out a template document which I generated from Shot Notes X. It was very simple and I taught the guy how to work with it in about 20 minutes. He had to send it to me as a report everyday after they wrapped shooting for the day through Google Docs. His report contained information about each file that had been recorded on camera. I needed to know which scene it was from, which take it was, and also if it was a circled take. We also added a bunch of additional information like locations and characters who were in the shot through the Notes and Keywords columns in the Shot Notes template. We would export a .csv file from the google doc at the end of each day of shooting. What I did with the csv I’ll tell you in a bit.
The other thing I had to do in order to prepare for the actual editing was to transcode the media. The movie was shot on Arri Alexa RAW so transcoding was unavoidable.
Anyway, I’d get the footage and set it up for transcoding before I left the studio in the evening. We transcoded to prores at the resolution, aspect ratio, and FPS the footage was shot at, and automatically synced the footage to the files using timecode through Resolve. In the morning I came back and it’s all transcoded so the first thing would be to organize the files in Final Cut. This process would normally be too time consuming and unpleasant for a single person who was also editing, but in this case it was actually really fast and easy to do. Here’s how it would go:
I would first import the media in FCPX where it would eventually end up in two libraries… One was organized by day of shooting and the other organized by scenes. From there, I would do the following from the Day of Shooting library:
I would export an XML from the event for this day.
I opened that XML in an app called Shot Notes X where I would also import the .csv file from the script supervisor. The software matches the clip names from the two documents and applies the notes from the csv to your actual files in FCPX. Then I’d export a new xml and import it in FCPX.
Boom! I have all my files organized by scene, renamed and keyworded by whatever I asked the script supervisor to add as information.
Then I would start editing. This whole thing didn’t take more than half an hour of my day to get it prepped. The rest of my day was spent on the story.
Q: What are the differences between FCPX and some of the other NLE’s you’ve used?
A: I’ve used Premiere Pro and I still do for some projects. What I find great in FCPX is the way you can keep everything organized and how searchable everything is. I’m a very organized person, or at least I try to be. If finding something takes more than a minute, I freak out that it’s missing. Another thing that I find different is the time that it takes from getting your media imported to the actual process of cutting. 30 min for a whole day of shooting is pretty impressive I think.
Also, I got to teach 3 people how to use it and my observation it’s that FCPX is very easy to learn. All of the guys have used other NLE’s before and yet they managed to figure out how to work with FCPX in one day.
Q: Was there anything about FCPX that sped up your workflow?
Once I have all of my files organized in my library, it’s so easy to find anything I need. There’s lot of ways to search, whether it’s through keywords, by typing something that’s in the notes field, or by creating a smart collection. Not spending time on searching for stuff that you saw and you liked makes things so much faster. Especially when you have 20-30 days of shooting and over 130 scenes to deal with. I’d also use Favorites so I'd never lose a moment I thought was a good performance from the actors or had great camera movement.
Q: What would you tell another editor about your experience using FCPX for a feature film? Did you feel like it was suitable for long form content?
A: I’m pretty convinced that you can edit a whole movie with FCPX. I just did it. I haven’t used AVID. so I can’t talk about it but I don’t see a reason for not working with FCPX. The result is obviously good enough if not better. And if it’s not better it has nothing to do with the software, it would have more to do with me being inexperienced. But I thought I did a good job...
Q: How was your experience using Shot Notes X? Did it help your workflow?
A: Thankfully I got to use Shot Notes X. I can’t imagine if I had to fill out this information manually. It’s super simple to use and it saves hours, maybe days of work. Maybe even weeks!
Q: Has using FCPX opened doors for you that might have been closed otherwise?
A: If I wasn’t willing to learn using FCPX I don’t know if I would have gotten the opportunity to edit the EPK of EX3 in the first place. And if i didn’t do that I wouldn’t have proved that I can deal with difficult projects because that was certainly a tough one. If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would ever get challenged by Yariv Lerner to finish an assembly of the movie 3 weeks faster than the actual editor who had a team of people working with him.
I don’t know if I mentioned this but I finished editing the full assembly one day after wrapping the production. 30 days of production and 30 days of editing simultaneously to end up with an assembly cut of a movie. Not bad!
Q: If you could change anything about FCPX, what would it be?
A: I’m sure there is something. I don’t know. I’m far from thinking it’s perfect... Maybe making ice-cream. That would make editing an even better job...
Q: How would your rate your training from FCPWORKS? Would you recommend it to others?
A: I learned so many things from Sam Mestman, not only about the software but also about the whole process of editing. And also about the whole business. I can’t ask for anything more from a teacher. He encouraged me to do something that seemed impossible to be done. It seemed kind of impossible to me too. But I did it and I did it with all the knowledge I got from Sam.
Q: What’s next for you guys at the studio? Any cool projects coming up?
A: At the end of August something really cool is about to happen in Nu Boyana Film Studios. We are going to have 4 teams of students shooting in the studio. It’s called Made in Nuboyana - Students Film Competition. We want to give the contestants the opportunity to use our studio’s equipment, sets and other features like props and wardrobe to make a short film that looks good and they are proud of at the end.
We want them to get more experience in working in a big studio so when they graduate they don’t get overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar things they have to manage in preproduction, production and post. They will have 2 weeks to go through all of it. It’s gonna be challenging but it’s gonna be fun for sure. And we will get to explore their talent too, cause there are so many talented young people out there and we think the big studios have to give them the opportunity to shine.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: I wouldn’t dare to make any plans. 2 years ago I wouldn’t have believed it if someone told me I would be doing what I’m doing right now, so I’d rather go with the flow. If I see a good opportunity, I'll take it, but I’m really happy what I’m doing with Nu Boyana. They gave me a chance and believed in me enough to let me pick up the ball and run with it.
Thank you to Gergana and Sam