Iain Anderson looks at script-based workflows and how third-party tools can help in Final Cut Pro.
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Knut Hake (editor) and Sam Pluemacher (assistant editor) who were behind 2021’s Blood Red Sky, and performing the same roles on another upcoming Netflix production, Blood and Gold, due for release in summer 2023.
While I have no pictures to share as it’s all very much under NDA, the film is directed by Peter Thorwarth (also the director of Blood Red Sky) and is a Tarantino-inspired period piece that features blood on screen as well as in the title. But we’re not here to talk about cinema — we’re editing nerds, and we’re here for the workflow.
The needs of feature film editors are quite different to the needs of most other editors. In an edit session with a director, the editor needs to be able to find all the alternative takes of any one line in the script, and the organisational chops of Final Cut Pro are perfect for the job, if your assistant can prepare the footage in just the right way. Keywords are one way to get this job done, but if you mark a region, and then add a keyword to it, it's not possible to change the in or out on that region — a problem.
Since you have a script already, wouldn't it be great if there was a way to create a keyword for each line of dialogue, then attach these keywords to specific parts of each shot, and then gather all the alternate takes for every specific line in keyword collections? This accomplishes a similar goal to ScriptSync, a third-party tool that listens to your clips and associates them with specific lines in your script, but as that’s only available for Avid Media Composer, we need a new solution.
Note that this is also quite a different idea to using a speech-to-text recognition AI to create a text version of your shots; with scripted shows, that’s not really the answer. This is also not a text-based editing tool like Builder NLE, though of course it has similarities. The solution here is simply a much better way to leverage in Final Cut Pro’s built-in organizational features, so you can instantly find all the takes for any specific line.
How does it work? Start with synchronized clips from Sync-N-Link X. If you’re not familiar with Sync-N-Link X, it’s a tool from Intelligent Assistance for batch syncing a whole day’s worth of jam-synced audio and video, and is indispensable for large productions where dual-system audio is used.
Step 2 is to automatically assemble all those clips into a fresh timeline, sorted by timecode. This means you can name your clips whatever you wish, but you’ll still end up with a dailies stringout timeline full of a day’s shots, in order. This timecode-based magic trick is performed by CommandPost’s Auto Sequence Toolbox item, and was developed specifically for Knut and Sam to support this workflow.
If you’re not using it already, CommandPost is a magical tool, available for free, which enables all kinds of cool tricks for Final Cut Pro, and a few more tricks for other apps too. You want a scrolling timeline, custom overlay grids, the Timeline Index exported to a CSV? CommandPost. You want to use a MIDI device for color correction? CommandPost. Want more out of a Stream Deck, Monogram Creative Console, Tangent, Tourbox, Loupedeck, Blackmagic Speed Editor? CommandPost. You want to import Vimeo comments like you can on frame.io? You know it.
It’s at commandpost.io, and it’s free, but you should send a donation. Anyway, back to the workflow.
That dailies timeline will have multiple takes of each scene, all numbered and ready to be tagged with the day’s scripts. But keywording each individual region manually would be very time consuming, and this is where some more CommandPost magic comes in. The solution here revolves around lines in the script being automatically placed into titles, and those titles placed above all the shots, to match each line exactly.
Head to the CommandPost Toolbox, choose Titles to Keywords, and look to the lower half of the panel, called “Create Titles from Text”. Now, you can paste in all the script lines that you want to generate titles for, and CommandPost will automatically number these lines, in order, with an optional prefix and suffix, and send these titles to Final Cut Pro. A huge amount of work saved right here.
My initial reaction here was to wonder captions could have done this job, but titles do turn out to be a better choice. Currently, each line of dialogue is synced to the audio by hand, and if you’ve got multiple takes of a scene, it’s much easier to pop the previous scene’s titles in a secondary storyline, then copy them across and use ripple and roll edits to retime the same titles to fit. This process wouldn’t work quite as well with captions, as they can’t be placed into a secondary storyline. In the future, it may be possible to use some clever AI techniques to automate the placement of these scripted lines, but for now — though it doesn’t take too long — this is a manual process. (Note that the blue clip at the bottom does contain video, but it has been redacted to waveforms only, as the film is yet to be released, and the images are still secret.)
That’s not all, though; if you want to mark a shot as a favorite, or reject it, you can add a specifically named title above these script titles, and that rating will also be added. You can add other layers of keywords here too, if you’d like to assign a keyword to an entire scene. When you’ve set it all up how you want it, head back to the Titles to Keywords toolbox and use the top half of the panel to spit out a new Event with Keywords where the titles were. This is what you’ll get:
Now, you’ve got it all: you have a keyword collection for every single line of dialog, numbered in order, with the best takes marked as favorites and duds already rejected. Keywords and Ratings are the most important element in Final Cut Pro’s superb organisational system, and this is an excellent way to use your script to supercharge the creation of all those keywords. You’ll look like a genius and keep your director happy.
As an aside, it’s great to know that despite its absence from the list of officially supported NLEs, Netflix will actually let you use Final Cut Pro to cut a feature. If you can prove that you know your workflow (and Knut and Sam certainly do) then you should be OK. And speaking of workflow, Knut has published a Notion site with a full workflow for feature film editing, so dig in.
If you like what this workflow can do, you can use it today, for free, by downloading CommandPost from commandpost.io. But hey… if you have a conscience and/or a budget, please throw some money towards the project. CommandPost is the glue that keeps Final Cut Pro a great choice for all kinds of jobs, and if we don’t pay for it, we’re relying on the goodwill of Chris Hocking and David Peterson to keep it going.
Finally, if you’ve got some great ideas on how another magical workflow could maybe become reality, go ahead and suggest it — like Vigneswaran Rajkumar did with Shot Data.
Many thanks to Knut and Sam for not only spending time with me to demonstrate their workflow, but, in the best German tradition, speaking in perfect English the whole time. It’s much appreciated. Of course, we all need to thank Chris Hocking for making this workflow possible in CommandPost, and David Peterson for his work on CommandPost too.
So, if you haven’t seen it, fire up Blood Red Sky on Netflix this evening (vampires on a plane!) and enjoy knowing that the whole thing was cut on your favorite NLE. Then, download CommandPost and see what it can do for you before sending a few $ their way. Finally, if you’re not yet across using keywords and ratings for organizing your footage, I’ve got a free old video and a not-free book (linked below) that you might enjoy. Cheers!