Book Review: Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow

By Tom Wolsky

They said it couldn’t be done: You can’t edit a major feature on Final Cut Pro.

The editors of Focus, starring Will Smith, use Final Cut Pro X’s advanced features to create a memorable scenes.

But you can. In 2002, Walter Murch used a version of Final Cut Pro (FCP3 and 4) to edit the film Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.

Most recently, editor Jan Kovac used different versions of FCPX 10.1.x for the Will Smith/Margot Robbie movie Focus. Kovac’s first assistant, Michael Matzdorff, was so impressed by the process that he wrote a book about it. The excellent, Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow: Proven Techniques from the First Studio Film to Use FCP X is now available on Kindle and iBooks and covers the FCPX workflow for Focus.

For the Edit
The book was written in collaboration with Brendan Boykin, who wrote the authorized Apple Pro Training Series for FCPX (on which DMA’s Final Cut Pro and Filmmaking classes are based).

It covers the workflow and process of working with FCPX on a big budget, high pressure major studio productions like Focus. I give it my highest recommendation.Matzdorff’s work is full of detailed recipes for the process of assembly through editing and collaborating with other software on a production as complex as this, with VFX shots, color grading and audio mixing.

It’s a wonderfully interesting read for anyone using FCP. The book is not a how to use Final Cut Pro book, as Matzdorff makes clear at the very beginning, but it does have a lot of great insights and details in the process, and what could be done with the application to bring the project to fruition.

From FCPX to the Audience
The dailies and cut versions were viewed by the studio and test audiences throughout the process at 2K resolution output directly from FCP, from the projects used in editorial. There was no conforming from an EDL cut list.

All this is possible, of course, because the original material was shot using Arri Alexa cameras and recorded using Light Iron recorders with careful backup and data wrangling throughout the on-location production process. FCP’s standard titling tools were also used to make the titles that appeared in the finished film. No added software needed.

Final Cut Pro X gives you professional dynamic tools for creating titles and effects (without spending a fortune), like those seen in Focus.

It’s All About Workflow
Just like the book points out, modern production isn’t about shooting and then editing and then adding sound and VFX: It’s about workflow. It’s a continuous process of media moving through stages through various hardware and software. And before you begin, whether on a giant major studio production or one with a more modest budget, every step of that workflow needs to be tested thoroughly.

In addition to the digital media workflow, you need to test metadata workflow, all the information about the media, the notes from script, director, camera, and sound. All of this has be preserved and attached to the media and updated as it changes.

FCPX loves metadata and has countless ways of collating and presenting it to the user. Because Focus was captured in the ProRes 4444 and RED RAW media formats, VFX could be created directly from the editor, reinserted and output for finishing without any conforming process.

The book provides a fascinating look into the intricate process of major motion picture post production.

Tom Wolsky is a lead instructor at Digital Media Academy and the author of numerous published books about Final Cut Pro. He has decades of professional television experience, including his years of work as an industry-respected producer for ABC News.