Clean Up Your Timeline with Browser-Based Editing in Final Cut Pro X

At last year’s FCP X World in London, people were dazzled by watching London-based commercial editor Thomas Grove Carter of Trim Editing cut together an Audi commercial live. The speed with which he conducted the edit was mesmerizing.

The comments were full of inquiries about specific keyboard shortcuts and the philosophy behind his editing technique. Editors want to know how he’s able to cut so fast.

But FCP X, with its magnetic timeline and the powerful tools packed into its browser, is built for lightning-paced cutting—you just have to know how to use it!

As I see it, there are two standout techniques involved in Thomas Grove Carter’s process:

  • Mastery of three-point editing (and its keyboard shortcuts)
  • Mastery of FCP X’s browser-based system of organization and labeling

The magic formula for speed is the combination of the two. But before we deep dive into these two techniques, let’s review what makes FCP X an NLE like no other—because, despite the initial uproar, it’s the redesign from FCP 7 to FCP X that makes all this possible.

What Makes FCP X Different

FCP X has two unique qualities (well, a lot more, but we’re concerned about these) that separate it from other NLEs.

Magnetic Timeline

FCP X’s magnetic timeline does away with traditional tracks—a massive redesign from FCP 7 that was initially a huge upset to video editors.

But the magnetic timeline has one incredible strength over traditional track-based NLEs—it keeps everything in sync.

No Clip Collisions

Collisions happen when a clip you’re moving around bumps up against another clip on the same track. FCP X does away with tracks, and so there are no more collisions. The clips simply move out of the way and make room in your timeline, while staying in sync. Below, the lower VO audio clip has moved down to make room for the higher track as it’s moved to the left.

Connected Clips

In FCP X, clips on the timeline are placed in relationship to other clips. For example, if you have video of an interview as your primary storyline and use a connect edit to cut a shot of B-roll into the timeline over the interview subject, that B-roll shot will “connect” itself to the primary storyline. If you move the underlying clip of the interview subject, the B-roll shot will move with it. Below, the top clip is connected to the underlying clip.

What this all means is that you can make any type of edit—connect, insert, overwrite—and never have to worry about accidentally moving other clips out of sync.

For an even deeper look at the magnetic timeline, check out How the Magnetic Timeline Keeps You Focused on the Story.

Browser-Based Editing

For many editors who have already developed their own bin-based organization methods, FCP X’s keyword and metadata tagging is often a hard sell. But those willing to make the initial investment in rethinking their project setup discover that a little work upfront ends saves a ton of time in the long run.

Put simply, FCP X encourages you to organize and edit your footage in the browser, before you ever touch the timeline. This method happens to be a match made in heaven for three-point editing.

[I’m going to assume most of you know what 3-point editing is. Click here to jump down to a “refresher course,” then hit your browser’s back button to jump back here. Otherwise, read on to see how using 3-point editing and FCP X’s browser to boost your editing speed.]

Basic Advantage of Three-Point Editing

They key to mastering three-point editing is to practice until it becomes second nature. Once you’ve performed enough basic and back-timed edits, you’ll intuitively know which keyboard shortcuts to hit to make the perfect edit every time.

Try challenging yourself to build out an entire assembly using the technique. Again, a little investment upfront will yield great returns, especially compared to two of the most common alternatives:

Drag and Drop

Many editors mistakenly consider drag and drop editing an easier shortcut, both because it doesn’t have the learning curve associated with three-point editing, and because it’s a more tactile way to edit. But continually shifting your attention back and forth between selecting clips in the browser and trimming clips is counterproductive.

Copy/Paste

Even worse than dragging and dropping is copy/paste editing. This style involves creating timelines full of selects, or clips you like and want to use later, and then switching back and forth between those timelines and your primary edit timeline while copying and pasting clips as needed.

This is simply one of the most ineffective ways of working—in addition to all the time spent shuffling between multiple timelines, this method requires you to constantly scrub through string-outs looking for the right shot, rather than simply labeling the shot in the browser so that you know exactly how to find it.

I often see editors doing this when they’ve synced their media on the timeline (often if they’ve used PluralEyes that imported an XML back into the NLE) rather than combining the synced audio and video into a single clip. Once you relegate yourself to working from synced timelines, you’ve lost all ability to easily organize and label your footage. Believe it or not, many people edit whole films this way! I seriously shudder at the thought.

If you’re looking for instructions on syncing your footage, take a look at Why DaVinci Resolve is the Ultimate (Free) Tool to Sync Clips, A Deep Dive Into the Hidden Audio Tools of FCP X, or if you’re working in Premiere, Best Practices for Batch Syncing Audio in Adobe Premiere.

Both drag and drop and copy/paste methods involve making the majority of your edit decisions once the clip has already been cut into the timeline. This constant shift in focus back and forth from the browser to the timeline becomes an easy distraction and a time-suck.

With three-point editing, you’ll quickly find yourself making precise edit after edit, without leaving the browser window. It’s simply a more effective way to work.

FCP X-Specific Browser Tools

By now, you may have noticed that the general principles of three-point editing apply to all NLEs. No matter what software you work in, embrace it and you’ll find yourself cutting much faster.

But since the technique is based on making edit decisions before your clips make their way into the timeline, FCP X’s litany of browser-based organizational tools make it especially effective. The faster you can pull up the right clip, the faster you can edit.

Below is a roundup of the FCP X features that perfectly pair with three-point editing. Since we’ve covered many of these tools in detail in previous articles, I’ll offer links to more in-depth info where appropriate.

Favoriting/Rejecting Clips

Rating clips as favorites or rejected is a simple way to broadly declutter and organize your browser.

If your clips contain sections that you don’t like or might never want to use in a project—because they’re blurry, or a crewperson is in the shot, for example—you can mark them as rejected.

For sections that are particularly good that you know you’ll want to consider later, you can mark them as favorites.

Just mark an in- and out-point on the clip in the browser, or use the range selector, and hit delete to reject, or F to favorite.

You’ll notice that the rejected portion(s) of your clip will now have a red bar over them, while the favorited portions will have a green bar.

When you’re ready to dive into editing, you can choose from a variety of filters in the dropdown menu at the top right of the browser to only show the clips you’re currently interested in.

Choosing Favorites will only show clips marked as favorites, while choosing Hide Rejected, will show all clips, while hiding the portions of the clips you’ve rejected, and so on.

Keywords

Keyboards are incredibly powerful and flexible and help turn your footage into a searchable database!

What makes them different than bins in Premiere or Avid? You can tag clips (or even portions of clips) with as many keywords as you want. That means you can tag a clip both as “BROLL,” and more specifically, as something like “Beauty Shots.”

In a bin-based NLE, you can have that clip in either the “BROLL” bin OR the “Beauty Shots” bin, but not both, unless you make a duplicate of the clip.

To apply keywords quickly, first hit cmd+K to bring up the keyword shortcut editor. Here, you can map common keywords to keyboard shortcuts that you can apply to your footage on the fly. Put simply, keywords make sorting through bins for clips a task of the past.

Because you can specify a keyword for a specific range of a clip, they can help you immediately see where to set your in and out points when making three-point edits into the timeline.

To explore the full scope of what you can do with keywords in FCP X, check out Edit Faster and More Efficiently with FCP X’s Metadata.

Filtering, Search, & Smart Collections

The faster you can locate and mark the clips you want to cut into the timeline, the faster three-point editing becomes.

FCP X has three ways to search for media:

Use the Filter pop-up menu to quickly filter clips by how they’re marked in these broad categories—Favorites, Rejected, Unused, or No Ratings or Keywords. You can use the Filter pop-up at the Event level or at the Keyword level to help broaden or narrow your search.

Use the Filter window to perform complex searches for clips and projects based on custom combinations of criteria including clip or project name, rating, media type, used media, excessive shake, keywords, the presence of people, format information, date, roles, and item type (audition, synced clip, compound clip, multicam clip, layered graphic, or project). If you’ve done the work tagging and rating your footage, then the Filter window becomes an indispensable and easily searchable database—with the right combination of criteria you can instantly locate any shot or group of shots that you need.

Third, use the browser search bar to quickly find clips or projects by name, and any notes applied in list view, such as custom favorite markings. You can combine the search bar with filtering for even more fine-tuned results.

Smart Collections

Smart Collections are saved search criteria at the Library or Event level that you can come back to at any time.

By default, each new library contains smart collections that allow you to filter your clips by audio only, video only, project timelines, or stills.

Even better, by using the Filter window, you can save your search results to create a custom Smart Collection using almost any search criteria you’d like. Below, I’m searching for clips tagged both as “SC01 – Walking the Dog and VFX,” and that are marked as favorites—I’m looking for all the favorited VFX shots that belong in SC01.

Let’s take the search a step further. If we’re looking for only the SC01 VFX shots that we haven’t already used in the cut, we can add another filter for “unused”—we’ll see just the shots that haven’t already been cut into the timeline.

Even better, FCP X will automatically add any new clips matching the defined search criteria to saved Smart Collections when you tag newly imported media. You can also update the search criteria for a Smart Collection at any time by double clicking on it and adding or removing filters in the Filter window.

It’s a pretty powerful feature!

For more on Smart Collections and how to set up custom filters, check out Edit Faster and More Efficiently with FCP X’s Metadata.

Range Selector

Selecting a range is really just another term for setting an in and out point. As we’ve detailed, ranges are useful to tag or rate portions of your clips, which result in colored marker lines at the top of the clip.

These marker lines show clips marked as favorite (green) or rejected (red), or clips with custom keywords (blue), or analysis keywords (purple).

If you command-click any of those colored markers on a clip in the browser, you’ll automatically select that range in the clip, which means you’ve immediately set two of your three edit points.

In the clip shown above, command-clicking either of the two blue marker lines (these are two different keywords) or the green marker line (a favorited portion) will automatically select that range within your clip.

If you like working in list view, another way to significantly speed up selecting a range you’ve already rated or tagged is to twirl open the clip in the browser, which reveals a list of all the clip’s marked ranges. To twirl open all clips in the browser, hit cmd+A to select all, and then hit the right arrow on the keyboard. The close them, hit the left arrow.

Click on any of these ratings or tags and you’ll automatically select the range in the clip, setting two of your three edit points.

Putting it into Practice

Even if you’re already familiar with the tools listed above, consider now how you might use them in conjunction with three-point editing.

For example, one of the most time-consuming aspects of an edit can be pulling selects—or the shots you know you’ll want to use—and getting them all into the timeline. All the features discussed above allow you to label, categorize, and set in- and out-points on your footage. That’s more than half the work of cutting together an assembly with your selects.

Even better, you can go back and reference the organizational work you’ve done at any time. This means that rather than having a timeline full of beauty selects that you need to open and copy/paste from every time you want to find a clip, you can simply search your footage for the clips you’ve labeled “beauty” to instantly see all that you have to work with. You can even further refine your search by looking for favorited clips, or just the favorited clips that you haven’t already used.

The same concepts apply to narrative edits as well. For me, finding the perfect reaction shots can be one of the most time-consuming tasks of a narrative edit. Let’s say you have an emotional scene with dialogue between two characters. While choosing the takes with the best-spoken performances is of course important, choosing the right moments of silence, where one character is simply reacting or listening to what the other is saying, is just as important.

With FCP X, while you’re watching through your footage, you can use keywords to label any portion of a clip you think is a great reaction shot (for example, “SC01 – Clara Reactions”). Then, when you’re ready to fine-tune the edit and make sure you’ve got the best moments for each character, you can instantly reveal all of the potential reaction shots, and again, even filter by the ones that you haven’t used yet.

In either of the scenarios above, once you’ve located the clip you want, you can then of course use three-point editing to cut it in exactly where you’d like!

To wrap up, let’s review a few more features that are easy to overlook, but can help speed up your edit even more.

More Ways to Work Smarter

Keyboard Shortcuts

Customized keyboard shortcuts make the difference between a professional and novice editor. The less your hands need to move around to edit and trim, the better.

The best way to learn what can be done with keyboard shortcuts is to watch others edit. Every time you see them do something in a flash that takes you time, ask them how they’re doing it.

If you don’t have that opportunity, then open up the command editor (option+cmd+K) and look around at all the commands you can customize. For a more detailed look at how to create and use keyboard shortcuts, click here.

Touch Bar Shortcuts

If you’re working on a laptop with a Touch Bar, you have a whole host of additional shortcuts that automatically change depending on what task you’re currently performing.

For more information on what tools the Touch Bar offers, take a look at this FCP X Help article.

Multi-Touch Trackpad Gestures

If you have a multi-touch trackpad, take the time to learn the different gestures and employ them in the edit. The less time you spend actively moving the mouse pointer around, the faster you’ll cut.

Take a look at the default gestures in this FCP X Help article.

Give it a Try!

Now that you’ve got a sense of how powerful a combination FCP X and three-point editing makes, go back and take another look at Thomas Grove Carter’s demo.

See if you can identify when and how he’s using the tools outlined here. If you take the time to learn these techniques, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can translate your ideas into cuts on the timeline!

Appendix: Three-Point Editing and FCP X

With three-point editing, you define three edit “points” across the browser and timeline and let FCP X intuit a fourth, which makes an edit. Let’s break it down.

When you think about it, all edits are based on four defined points:

  • The inpoint of the source clip
  • The outpoint of the source clip
    • These two points determine the duration and what portion of the clip will be cut into the timeline
  • The inpoint in your timeline (where the source clip starts)
  • And the outpoint in your timeline (where the source clip ends)

By defining three of these four possible points, three-point editing allows you to make precise edit decisions in the browser, before cutting any clips into the timeline.

When mastered, three-point editing is by far the fastest way to translate your ideas to the timeline, and it’s a versatile technique that I use for interview, narrative, and commercial edits alike.

Let’s deep dive into how it works in FCP X.

Basic Three-Point Edits in FCP X

Visual Example

For some, three-point editing seems like a complex technique, especially when described in words.

If you’re a more visual learner, or just want to see it in action, take a look at this quick tutorial from Macbreak Studio. They’re using an older release of FCP X, but the process remains the same.

The simplest way to perform a three-point edit is to set in- and out-points for the source clip in the browser, and then set an in-point in the timeline using the position of the skimmer or playhead.

First, set in- and out-points or select a range for the source clip in the browser.

Then, in the timeline, set the skimmer or playhead at the location in your timeline where you want the clip to start (this is the timeline’s inpoint).

Add the source clip to the timeline using an overwrite edit (D), insert edit (W), or connect edit (Q).

In the edit above, the source clip is connected (Q) to the primary storyline starting at the skimmer or playhead and spans the duration you set in the browser.

Here’s the same edit, but using the overwrite command. The source clip overwrites the media in the primary storyline.

Lastly, here’s the same edit using the insert command. The source clip is inserted into the primary storyline, preserving and sliding all media to the right of its outpoint forward in time.

You can see that by setting only three out of the four necessary edit points, you maintain precise control of the edit you’re making.

Three-point editing can be used for source clips that contain video only, both video and audio, or audio only. In the examples above, my source clip does have both video and audio, but I’ve used the keyboard shortcut shift+2 to turn on “video only” editing.

You can set these options with keyboard shortcuts or in the overwrite dropdown in the upper left of the timeline.

Here’s the same overwrite edit shown above, but with “All” (video and audio) selected.

You can see that the audio gets cut in right under the video and adheres to the same in and out points.

The above examples are just one of four possible combinations of in- and outpoints that result in a three-point edit. The chart below details the other possibilities (we’ve been looking at #1).

Types of Three-Point Edits
Inpoint outpoint table

As you can see in #2 above, if you repeat the steps for a basic three-point edit, but set a range within in the timeline rather than in the source clip, the timeline’s in and out points determine the duration of the clip you cut in.

This method is useful when you have a perfectly timed out edit, like to a music track, but need to swap out a shot or two. With an overwrite three-point edit, the timing of the main storyline won’t change at all.

Note that if you have a range set in the timeline, it’ll override the placement of the skimmer as an in or outpoint.

Edits resulting from #’s 3&4 are slightly different. The previous examples assume that you want to make an edit forward in time from a defined inpoint, but three-point edits can also be back-timed via a defined outpoint.

Back-timed Three-Point Edit

Backtiming works in the same way as a basic three-point edit, but the playhead acts as an outpoint in the timeline, rather than an inpoint.

First, set in- and outpoints or select a range for the source clip in the browser.

In the timeline, set the skimmer or playhead at the location where you want the clip to end.

Now, we can either make a connect edit or an overwrite edit, but we need to use a modifier key (shift) to tell FCP X that we want the playhead to act as an outpoint, rather than an inpoint.

For back-timed edits, the shortcuts become shift+Q for a connect edit and shift+D for an overwrite edit.

In either scenario, the source clip is edited into the timeline so that the outpoint lines up with the playhead.

Here’s the connect edit:

And here’s the overwrite edit:

Back-timed edits are useful when the end of a source clip selection is more important than the beginning.

Let’s say you’re cutting to a music track and need to swap out a shot that the client doesn’t like. You find a shot of a bird landing on the ground that you’d like to use, but you want the bird to land at the end of the shot, a frame or two before you cut out on the beat to the next shot in the timeline.

Set an outpoint in the source clip (a few frames after the bird lands), then set in and out points in the timeline that span the length of the shot you’re replacing (or use the keyboard shortcut C to select the current clip) and perform a back-timed overwrite edit by pressing shift+D.

The outpoint of the shot of the bird landing will now align with your cut to the next shot in the timeline and FCP X will backfill the rest of the shot with your source footage.

Note: You can make three-point edits with multiple clips selected in the browser—just select the clips you want to cut in, set your playhead or skimmer where you’d like in the timeline, and perform the edit. The clips are added to the timeline in the order in which you selected them.

No Patching Necessary

Notice how in the examples above, there was never a need to “patch” the source material to specific tracks in the timeline, the way you would in track-based NLEs like Premiere or Avid.

This is a result of that magic combination of no clip collisions and connected clips that come together to make the magnetic timeline so unique (and three-point editing in FCP X so easy).

You can simply cut your clips into the timeline without any worry of accidentally shifting media out of sync or overwriting media you want to keep.

Sofi Marshall

Sofi is an editor and screenwriter who’s award-winning work has screened across the US and much of the globe. She’s cut over a dozen features including Tracktown (dir. Jeremy Teicher), in theaters this spring, 6 Years (dir. Hannah Fidell), distributed by Netflix, and the Sundance sleeper hit A Teacher (dir. Hannah Fidell). She’s cut spots for companies like Western Union, Anheuser-Busch, Stack Overflow, and The Criterion Collection and also regularly edits media campaigns focusing on global human rights issues, helping to bring awareness to under-represented communities.

Sharing the True Story Behind “Kemba” With Editor Kristina Kromer

Insider Tips: How to Use FCP’s Segmented Exports for Long Edits

“Spermworld”: Exploring the Wild West of Online Baby Making