Producing a successful feature film doesn't require a large Hollywood studio behind you, as this story about the making of 'Saturday's Warrior' will show. But as the tools of production are now so inexpensive and accessible, you can get all the quality and methods from a large budget film on something with a lot smaller expenditure.
We really like this new user story from Brad Olsen as it mirrors Jan Kovac's experiences using Final Cut Pro X on Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. What is different though is the budget and we feel Brad's workflow will become the norm for budget filmmaking. He will take up the story after the trailer, which was also cut on FCPX by Garrett Batty and color graded with Color Finale by Braden Storrs.
I recently completed post production on an independent feature film produced here in Utah called Saturday’s Warrior. It’s an adaptation of a musical play created in the 1970s that was popular among Mormons. Being a niche film, the budget was nowhere near a Hollywood studio film and naturally the entire schedule was compressed.
I was originally brought in sometime in July of 2015 by one of the producers to discuss an efficient post production workflow. My secret weapon was Final Cut Pro X.
I was met with skepticism and raised more than a few eyebrows when I brought up why Final Cut Pro X is my NLE of choice. One producer told me that they had believed that Apple had abandoned Final Cut Pro X after its disastrous launch in 2011, and besides, even if Apple had continued developing it no professional editors they knew of were using it.
I did my best to clear up these misconceptions, after all I’ve used it exclusively on all of my projects since early 2012. Articles from fcp.co were a huge help in backing up my claims. Eventually I got the job as editor, one week before cameras rolled in September.
When I hear the word “workflow” I picture flowcharts with may different pieces of hardware and software programs to make it all work. Sometimes these flowcharts get very complicated. I believe this is the opposite of what an efficient workflow should be. We need to find ways to remove unnecessary steps. To that end, here’s an outline of what we implemented on Saturday’s Warrior:
Shoot in a codec you can edit natively. Transcoding wastes so much time that could be used to make creative decisions rather than waiting around watching progress bars. For this production we shot primarily on the Arri Alexa Mini in 2k ProRes 4444, a native codec for Final Cut Pro X.
Brad on set
On Set Data Management
I needed a DIT willing to use Final Cut Pro X to backup, sync, label, and organize all the footage while we were shooting. Fortunately my friend Zach Marsh was hired as DIT and he is a huge advocate of FCPX. Zach worked on a Late 2013 15” Macbook Pro with 16 GB of Ram.
He got the production sound mixer on board with handing over one of his audio cards every time a card came from the camera. After backing up the media on two separate USB 3.0 drives Zach would import it into a FCPX Library running on a G-Studio Thunderbolt Drive.
Then he batched renamed all the clips, organized them into an Event per each scene, and used the built in syncing feature to sync all the video clips to their corresponding audio clips. This was fast and efficient, only taking about a half hour to go through these steps each time media was brought to him on set.
DIT Zach with MacBook Pro on set
At the end of each day Zach would prep a shuttle drive to hand off to me the next morning. This drive had a single Final Cut Library for the entire day with everything organized inside so I could get straight to the edit. Before going to bed Zach would prep dailies using the frame.io app where they could be reviewed by the film’s producers and key members of the crew.
Editing During Production
I would start my day off watching dailies on frame.io and reviewing script notes e-mailed to me by the script supervisor. Zach would drop off a shuttle drive to me on his way to set each ￼￼￼￼
DIT Zach and Brad in the edit suite
After copying the Events into my master Library on my working drive (another G-Studio Thunderbolt drive) I would get to work. I edit on a Late 2013 Mac Pro with 64GB of Ram. I labeled circle takes as Favorites in the Event Browser. Then I would filter clips by Favorites and use those clips to assemble individual scenes.
Since movies are shot out of order, and because I was editing as we were shooting I would create a new timeline or project per each scene. When I completed the assembly edit of a scene I would use the frame.io app to upload it directly from my timeline to frame.io for review.
Click for larger FCPX screenshot
Often I would have scenes ready to view less than 24 hours after they were shot. The creative power of this process cannot be understated. After viewing one assembled sequence our director realized that a key plot point placed at the beginning of the movie really didn’t work there. He envisioned a completely new sequence and we moved these particular scenes to the end of the film where the information became a revelation for the audience rather than simply told to them from the start.
Because we were still shooting the film this possibility was open to us. It would have been much more difficult to try and make it work months after we had wrapped.
A couple days after we wrapped I had a complete assembly of the movie to watch. Typically by this point in the process many filmmakers are just starting to get into editorial. We were ahead of the game and that meant we could pull all our focus to fine tuning the movie.
I spent the month of October working one on one with the director to get the movie where he wanted it. Initially he had reservations about my choice of cutting in FCPX. But when he saw how smooth and quick it was for me to make sophisticated edits using the magnetic timeline and live skimmer he was convinced that he needed to buy a copy of FCPX for himself!
Click for larger FCPX screenshot
After the director had his cut we showed it to whoever we could to get feedback. Based off of that feedback we decided to shoot a couple pickup scenes, but since the holidays were approaching quickly we had to wait until January to shoot.
Handing off VFX, Color, and Sound
Even before the pickup shoot I was already handing off shots for VFX. By placing markers on VFX shots in the timeline and using frame.io I was able to easily send full quality ProRes files to our different VFX vendors.
There were only about 60 VFX shots in this film, some were simple paint jobs, while others were green screen shots, plus we had a few establishing shots that had to be created with CGI. The completed shots were returned as ProRes files.
We shot our pickup scenes in mid January and I quickly cut those scenes in, addressed any last minute notes, and soon after that I was prepping AAFs for sound editing and mixing. I used Roles to organize dialogue, effects, and temp score in Final Cut Pro X.
X2Pro is handy third party application that takes a Final Cut XML and converts it to an AAF for ProTools. Using Logic Pro X I checked that my AAFs were done properly before passing them along. Our music editor created his own ProTools sessions that were merged with the dialogue and effects in our sound mixer’s session.
Our colorist uses DaVinci Resolve and fortunately that does a pretty good job of importing Final Cut XMLs directly. I actually took some extra time to import the XMLs into Resolve myself. After checking that everything came in properly I used Resolve’s media management tools to move files to a shuttle drive, and exported a Resolve project directly to that same drive. That way I ￼￼￼could troubleshoot any potential problems before the colorist received anything from me.
I did my best to cut in all the VFX shots that I could before handing off for color, but some of them came in last minute and so our colorist cut them in himself.
Mastering and Delivery
The colorist used Resolve’s Final Cut Roundtrip feature to export clips with frame handles and create a Final Cut XML that imported back into FCPX with ease. Sound was delivered as .wav files that I laid back in.
I made sure everything was lined up and exported a 2K ProRes 422 HQ with 5.1 Surround Audio as a master file. Because all the footage was in ProRes a 2 hour timeline took less than a half hour to export. We were pushing everything to the last minute to get this movie released on time so this was a lifesaver.
We handed off the master file to a local facility, Cosmic Pictures, in the middle of March and they handled the creation of the DCP and duplication for theaters. The movie was released in theaters on April 1st, 6 months after we wrapped principle photography.
Click for larger FCPX screenshot
There are thousands of hours that go into the making of a movie. It is a complicated process. Simplifying this process is a necessity, especially with a small budget and on a tight schedule. Final Cut Pro X along with companion applications made it possible to accomplish this task.
The digital revolution has made it cheaper than ever to produce a movie, I believe niche market films will be come more and more common. As this grows tools like Final Cut Pro X become even more essential.
Click the image to download Brad's large workflow PDF:
Brad Olsen is a freelance editor and camera operator from Salt Lake City, Utah. He began his career in 2001 as an intern at a local video production company that produced industrial videos and infomercials. From there he quickly got involved in independent film as an assistant editor.
He was a media manager on two national reality television shows, Spike TV's Flip Men and CW's Breaking Pointe, as well as the location editor for Zeros, a television pilot produced by SyFy. Since 2012 Brad has edited 6 independent feature films using Final Cut Pro X.