Edit Faster and More Efficiently with FCPX’s Metadata

Who doesn’t want to become more efficient in the edit bay? As editors, we comb through reams of b-roll, trying to find the gems. We listen to interviews at double speed making an effort to catch the repeated themes. We build structure out of chaos. We watch take after take of the same scene. And then somehow we have to communicate to producers and assistants what we have done, are going to do, or just did to the footage. So how do you wrangle all of that into something that makes sense and actually helps you to work quicker? One word: Metadata. It’s an editor’s best friend. And in many ways, it is what makes Apple’s Final Cut Pro X truly unique.

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Professionals in every major sub-industry of video production are taking advantage FCPX’s metadata abilities. We spoke with Sam Mestman, CEO of Lumaforge, and this is what he had to say, “Metadata is the single biggest reason to use FCPX, and knowing what you’re doing with it is the #1 timesaver you can have in post-production.  If you know what you’re doing, you can have a fully synced, searchable, properly named Library within 15 minutes of having your footage downloaded.  In my opinion, more than anything else, metadata is what makes FCPX into the fastest, most efficient NLE on the planet.”

Now, let’s look into how we can boost your speed and efficiency.

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Video as Data, Instead of Film

Video editing programs have traditionally had you place your “clips” into “bins.” This is based on the old analog world of physical film strips and physical bins. It makes a lot of sense, but the problem with this method is that it only allows you to organize your footage with one category. But each clip has more significance than just when it was shot, or where it was shot. Think about a clip of b-roll. You might say this is an interior shot, b-roll, it has your main character in it, it is slo-motion, the first half sucks, the middle is great, and the end needs some noise reduction. Maybe you got two different brands of cameras going, maybe the footage was shot over several days, and so on.

The traditional method of organizing footage into a bin forces you to organize hierarchically. Your top level of bins might be organized by shoot day, and then maybe scene, and then camera. The problem is that we are shooting more and more footage today, and in the traditional bin method, there really isn’t a good way to say “Show me all my favorite, interior, slo-motion, unused, b-roll, clips.”

But with Final Cut Pro X, you can. And you will find that, with a little upfront organization effort, you can accelerate your editing speed exponentially. But it is a bit of a paradigm shift. It does require a little discipline. But I guarantee that you will find that the effort placed into tagging your footage before you get cutting will pay you dividends for years to come.

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Organizing Clips in FCP X

The Library

FCP X is a modern piece of software that is designed on a database. That’s why you don’t ever have to save—everything you do is written to the database right away; and the Library is the master database of all your media. It replaces what used to be the project file in Final Cut Pro 7 and before. At the end of the day, it’s just a collection of Events. What are “Events”? I’m glad you asked.

Events

Events are FCP X’s top-level organization method, and they’re pretty much just folders for clips (or folders of folders of clips). I do a lot of documentary editing, so I shoot plenty of interviews with accompanying b-roll. So the first organizational task I do is ingesting clips into an Event.

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The key question to ask in FCP X is “How are these clips related to each other?” Your Events describe the primary relationship that a group of clips has, and that is often based on when they were imported. The term actually comes from way back when Apple introduced Events in iPhoto.

Now, a good rule of thumb is that an Event works well on most computers with up to about 1,000 pieces of media. If you were shooting over multiple days, you might want to create a new event for each day of shooting.

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But Events also serve as a great way to organize recurring projects. If you were shooting a web series, you might put all the footage from each episode in a new Event. A church might have a Library for sermons, and each event is a different week’s message. An ad agency might group a particular client’s work in one Library and use a separate event for each commercial. This way you can use Library-level Smart Collections to search across all the media in that library. Each Event is really a mini database, so you can export the XML from a specific Event.

Another way to use Events is to group footage by unique types. I like to create “- Audio” “- Projects” “-Motion Graphics” and “-Stills” events. I use the hyphen so that they sort to the top of the list automatically. These events become the place for those specific types of footage because it enables me to consolidate footage easier, and when I make proxies with FCP X, those kinds of media don’t need to have proxies created.

Keywords

“Every Frame a Painting was edited entirely in Final Cut Pro X for one reason: keywords.”
~ Tony Zhou, co-creator of “Every Frame a Painting”

So far, that is all pretty straightforward and similar to how other NLEs organize media. Now we get into the cool part.

Here is the “key” to keywords. Use labels where you will have common relationships.

So if you’re shooting an interview about welding, and your interviewee mentions arc welding, tag that section of the interview with the “arc welding” keyword. Later on, if you shoot some b-roll of the arc welder in action, you’ll also label it with the same keyword. These labeled relationships will allow you to build a rough-cut of the arc-welding section almost automatically from your keywords.

In this interview, we talked about fire tornadoes, special FX, and 3D printed logos. So I make sure that I tag those b-roll clips with the topics from the interview.

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In this project, I used keywords in many different ways. I tagged key things that the interviewee spoke about, I tagged specific cameras that were used like GoPros and iPhones. I tagged scenes, people, resolutions and particular artifacts in the scenes. The idea is that when you are browsing to find a clip, you want to sift through as few things as possible. You can even command-click a second keyword collection to see the contents of both at the same time.

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Next up I’d tag unique shots like slo-motion shots, iPhone shots and GoPro shots. These keywords are now forming relationships between clips based on subject matter or a technical aspect. So I can now see all the clips of the Fire Tornado shot on that day. So far we aren’t too far past what you’d do with bins. So let’s take the next step.

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Now that we have tagged the b-roll with some keywords, it’s time to take a look at the a-roll. Keywords showed us how we could tag entire clips. But FCP X goes much further than that, allowing you to tag a portion of a clip. FCP X refers to this as a “range.”  For instance, I like to watch an interview at double speed, select the portions that have the interviewer’s question and “reject” them. I’ll also select the answers and “Favorite” them.

You could achieve a similar effect in a traditional NLE by adding the media to a sequence and deleting the question portions, but that is a destructive way to work. Once a section is deleted, it’s gone from the sequence, and you’ll have to go back to the original clip in order to listen to the question. By using keywords to pull selects, we have added information in a non-destructive way.

And then, just in the beginning of the answer, within the favorited section, I’ll place a marker. I’ll give that marker a name the describes the answer. And most importantly, I will try to use terms that I used for the keywords we did earlier. In a similar way, you can go through your b-roll and favorite the good portions of each shot.

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Quickly Applying Keywords

Hitting cmd+K in the browser brings up the keywords HUD (Head-up Display). You can load up to nine keywords, each with its own shortcut (ctrl+1, ctrl+2, etc.) Now you can blast through your footage by just clicking on a clip, or a group of clips, and firing off the shortcuts to quickly assign all the relevant keywords.

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In the keyword HUD you can change which keywords get applied with your shortcuts. Just type a keyword in like “Super Slo-Mo” into the field to assign it that short cut. You can even apply multiple keyword tags with the same keystroke.

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A Controlled Vocabulary

Using keywords and markers with the same terms establishes a “controlled vocabulary.” A controlled vocabulary is just a set of common words that allow you to establish relationships between your a-roll and your b-roll. So use the keywords from the b-roll subject matter to mark portions of the a-roll. Now you are building a relational database of your footage, and that is incredibly powerful. In addition, you are building a mental inventory of your footage before you have begun to cut anything.

Transferring Knowledge

Even before you make your first cut, you have increased the value of your footage. The keywords, markers, favorites will follow those clips forever within FCP X. If you pass the project on to another editor, it is like “passing your brain,” or “transferring knowledge” onto the next editor. They have an instant insight into the entire project. If you open it a year later, you know exactly where the good stuff is. This is especially helpful within larger corporate organizations. When footage is properly tagged, it retains its value much longer. In fact, these tags can even follow the footage into the Quicktime export and that can be read by Digital Asset Management programs and be searchable by the entire company. This allows the editor’s work of organization to pay dividends for years to come.

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Smart Collections

Once you’ve put in the work to tag and favorite your footage, you can reap more benefits. At the Library level, FCP X has “Smart Collections.” Smart Collections harness metadata to narrow your view so that you can work quicker. For instance, you can see the clips with audio only, video only, project timelines, or stills. But it gets even better when you create your own Smart Collections (which are saved at the Event level). You can create a Smart Collection that shows all your “unused” “b-roll,” and narrows the view by “favorites.” Now you can instantly see all the “good stuff” that you’ve got left for your project.

You can also turn a simple search into a permanent Smart Collection. Here’s an example where I want to see all the “multicam” labeled “interviews.” FCP X lets me save that search as a Smart Collection so that I can instantly bring up those results at any time.

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Searching with your Controlled Vocabulary

Now that you’ve used something like “fire tornado” for your keywords, and a-roll markers, you can search in the browser for “fire tornado.” And in a single view, you’ll see all the tagged, unused, favorited, a-roll, and b-roll. That’s amazing!

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Searching the Timeline

Do you remember how we placed markers on the answers that the interviewee would give? Those markers follow the clip down from the browser into the timeline. By marking the clips in the Browser, you can search by that keyword wherever that clip goes (e.g. different Events, timelines, Libraries, etc.)  So you have effectively increased the value of that clip because it is easier to re-use it. When dropped into a timeline, hit the “index” button then the “markers” icon to see all your work. Now as your timeline grows, you can find the exact spot where you marked something.

Tony Gallardo, a 15+ year veteran director, editor, and motion designer, shared this with us: “FCPX is no doubt a game changer. Organizing (which, regardless of NLE, you should be doing) and range-based tagging are unique and take time to understand, but are worth it. For me, the payoff is the Timeline Index. Once you have your masterpiece and you need to go through and change/tweak/delete/QC a certain set of clips/titles/assets in your timeline, it’s immediate the headache-free opportunities it provides you. Search, Select and Change. That simple.”

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Integration with other Metadata tools

Applying metadata in the browser is so powerful, that you can use it in unexpected ways. For instance, you can use on set logging tools like Lumberjack System to log interviews on set with keywords and have those imported right into FCP X. Producer’s Best Friend creates reports from your metadata so you can do camera reports and even “paper edits.” As mentioned earlier, metadata can be used in Digital Asset Management (DAM) software, also known as Media Asset Management (MAM).   Keyflow Pro and Kyno will allow you to leverage your metadata in an application that catalogs all your video assets. And, of course, Frame.io will integrate with “To Do” markers in your timeline so that your collaborators can see your comments.

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Metadata Views

Philip Hodgetts is a world renown FCP X expert, veteran video producer, and entrepreneur who co-founded Intelligent Assistance (makers of a suite of post-production conversion tools) and Lumberjack System (keywording and pre-editing footage before and during the shoot). He literally wrote the book on metadata for FCP X. When we asked him his thoughts on the topic, this is what he had to say:  “Metadata is both one of the most important tools in our editing toolbox and simultaneously one of the least appreciated or understood. Even small amounts of time spent adding metadata pay of immediately during production, and beyond. Media assets are much more valuable when you can find them!”

Just when you think you’ve gone through all the benefits of metadata for speeding up editing, you realize there is a whole new world of it in the Inspector. Years ago Apple made a product called “Final Cut Server.” It enabled you to track and search all your video assets across your servers. The metadata views in the Inspector are the heritage of that product. They allow you to create any kind of parameter or description for a clip and track it with the clip. You can add info for reels, scenes, takes, etc. Audio and video roles can also be applied there.

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This feature even supports custom names for your clips. Renaming them within FCP X is simple.

You’ll find a drop-down menu which will allow you to batch rename your clips based on metadata like the Scene – Shot/Take – Angle info.

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Now the clip is named according to the metadata.

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And even though you change their name in the browser, the original file name is still retained in Finder.

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Lastly, when you export, you have the option to keep the keywords attached to the exported file. That means you can type any of those words into Finder’s spotlight (cmd+space) and it will identify exported clips throughout your system that have those keywords. This is an awesome feature when you can’t quite find that exported file from a couple years back!

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Sorting with Metadata

When you have the metadata on scenes, takes and reels, you can easily use that info to sort your footage right in the browser. A good technique is to designate each subject in your interview’s a-roll as a scene and then assign scene numbers to the clips related to that portion in the inspector. Then you can click on the parameters in the browser and then sort by scene.

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Conclusion

As you can see, metadata is the editor’s best friend. From on-set organizational tools, editing workflow improvements, and archival purposes, metadata saves you time, and makes your work more valuable. Patrick Southern is the Chief Workflow Engineer for Lumaforge and he was quick to sing its praises when asked. “The metadata tools in FCP X were a HUGE help when organizing the Emmy winning NatGeo documentary Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes. We used a combination of keywords, markers and favorites to make it super easy for the editor to sort through the vast amount of archival footage and stills used in the film.”

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FCP X’s metadata played a key role in editing National Geographic’s documentary.

I believe that the designers of FCP X have built a system that allows editors to leverage the strengths of a computerized workflow, instead of older analog methods. But it does ask of us a change in thinking. FCP X, in essence, asks us to think of video as data. And if we are able to embrace that request, we will find that whole new areas of opportunity will open for us. And we’ll be prepared for the challenges of future and whatever the next opportunity brings.

Footage courtesy of http://ReubenEvans.com and Architectural Elements http://arch-elements.com Copyright 2017 Architectural Elements

Thank you to Reuben Evans for contributing this article.

FCP X veteran, filmmaker and Executive Producer at Faithlife TV/Faithlife Films. Reuben is currently in post production on his fifth feature-length documentary. And he is a co-writer on the upcoming narrative film "The Farmer and the Belle," due in theaters Thanksgiving 2018.

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