NRFM: from FCP X to FCP 7 to Premiere Pro CC

No Room for Manoeuvre, NRFM for short, is a low budget, partially crowd-funded, non-scripted ambitious documentary about young people’s resilience. It’s been filmed over a period of 12 months in London.

I got on board in July 2013 when I met Nicolette, director of NRFM, founder of Documentary Filmmakers Cooperative and lovely person.
We had a nice informal chat over a coffee at her place/studio. I was struck by all the work that she had been doing on her own. I immediately thought these young people’s stories deserved to be told and shared with the world. That was enough for me to jump on the train.

When I took on the post production I was freelancing and still editing on Final Cut 7.
I used Avid and Premiere in the past but FCP 7 had been my swiss army knife for the last 4 years.
I edit on a MacBook Pro late 2011, 2.5 Ghz Intel Core i7 and upgraded my RAM from the native 8 GB to 16 GB which I got from Crucial.

Nicolette had worked with previous editor, Marcello Viana on the trailer/promo. All the footage had been imported and cut in FCP X. The trailer had to be amended, I had to remove some parts and throw some new footage in, plus do a bit of finishing (reframing, colour correction, stabilising, etc) and sound design. At the time, the quickest option for me to work on it seemed to be to transfer the existing timeline from FCP X to FCP 7. At the time, that saved me from having to spend time getting my head around a new application (I will at some point).
However, the transferral was not straight forward. We had to buy the FCP Xto7 app which translates Final Cut Pro X Events or Projects XML (fcpxml) and converts them into a .xml file that can be imported into Final Cut Pro 7. That kinda worked, but it required me to do a lot of tweaking (sound levels, titles, speed etc) because the Xto7 app can’t translate everything (especially effects that are not available in FCP7). After a while I was able to start rolling.

A screen shot of the Trailer’s timeline in FCP7.

Around September 2013 the promo was ready but the real edit had yet to begin.
All the rushes were stored in Nicolette’s computer, and she had done a complete backup on one of her hard drives. We decided to buy a G-Raid 4TB Firewire 800 and copy all the footage onto it for me to edit. G-Raid HDs come with a plethora of connections and cables and have never failed on me before.
At that point I was able to edit both at my place or at Nicolette’s. The flexibility and portability offered by MacBook Pros and G-Raid drives really suits this kind of low budget projects.
The footage had been shot on different cameras: DSLRs and small sensor video cameras.
When there is little money involved it’s hard to do things properly i.e. to use the same cameras on all shots. The rushes Nicolette received from the various camera operators who had worked with her over the previous year, included a vast array of codecs and formats.
Some of them delivered the native files, others only Apple ProRes files, and yet others a mix of the two. One camera operator had imported the .mov files in a NLE, cut out some bits that she didn’t like (?) and delivered a gigantic Apple ProRes chunk of the whole shoot.

The first thing I did was catalogue all the footage to get a clear overview of what I was dealing with.

A screen shot from my spreadsheet.

I then transcoded all the non Apple ProRes media into Apple ProRes HQ 422 using MPEG StreamClip, because that codec gives you the maximum performance and stability in FCP 7.
You don’t really want to mix different codecs on the same timeline. This also applies to DSLRs footage. The native footage is compressed in camera to the extremely efficient H.264 codec, but for editing in FCP you absolutely need to get the footage into an intermediate format that is more “edit friendly”.

Our 4TB hard drive was filling up quickly due to the size of Apple ProResHQ 422 files. Nonetheless that was the right way to go about it at the time.
I was finally able to start cutting on my ‘go to’ NLE (Non-Linear Editor). We divided the NRFM film into sections that Nicolette called “islands”. It being a non-scripted doc, there was a lot of experimenting, testing and back and forth between me and her.

A screen shot of one of the ‘Island’ in FCP7.

Freelancing gives you a sense of freedom but there is always a bit of struggle involved and an element of fear about whether you will get enough work to pay for food and cover the bills. I was therefore relieved to be offered a a full time position as a video editor with a TV channel in October 2013. Although I had done broadcasting before, and there is much I enjoy about it, I like to continue working on independent projects that I find particularly meaningful and give me creative freedom to develop my own style. The much needed financial security my new job with the TV channel gave me, made it possible for me to continue working on the post production of NRFM.

At the TV channel I got my hands again on Premiere CS6 and all the other Adobe applications.
It kinda felt like FCP 8 as many people in the industry say. But I really fell in love with it when Adobe released the Creative Cloud.
Thanks to the Mercury Playback Engine, one no longer needs to transcode footage. The Adobe Dynamic Link allows you to send your clips to After Effects, Audition and, more recently Speedgrade.

I kept thinking about switching for few months. I finally made up my mind in June 2014. Simultaneously Adobe released Creative Cloud 2014: I was sure I was doing the right thing.
The constant need to render, the lack of a dynamic link with After Effects and then with Speedgrade, the superiority of Audition over Soundtrack convinced me this was the right way to go.
I simply exported an XML of NRFM out of FCP7 and imported it into Premiere Pro. Again it took me a while to re-tweak sound levels, effects, transitions and all the little things that had gone lost during the transfer.
However, I have had no cause for regrets; Premiere’s workflow is quite simply faster, more reliable, more powerful, and more integrated. The switch over has enabled me to edit a lot faster.

When, after discussion with Nicolette, I work on new sequences for NRFM, I always seek to reduce the need for subsequent revision. I aim to deliver pieces or assemblies that are as ‘close to finished’ as possible with as decent a sound mix as possible. As I edit, I add music, sound effects, ambience sound…I do bits of reframing, stabilizing and masking as I go along – I don’t go crazy, but my focus on perfection from the outset helps the director understand my intentions; it intensifies communication between us and this in turn helps accelerate the editing process.

When I was still on FCP 7, I thought I’d have done the grading in Da Vinci Resolve. In the Adobe Creative Cloud 2014 release they added master clip effects that go back and forth between Premiere and Speedgrade via Direct Link.


The very tempting possibility of grading in Speedgrade without actually leaving the Adobe Suite has now arisen and it’s very tempting for me to give it a go. I kinda like the idea of the whole process starting and ending in Premiere, taking full advantage of the Dynamic Link to After Effects for visual effects, the integration with Audition for sound design, and finally, the Direct Link to Speedgrade for colour.
In Premiere Pro I can now rename the audio tracks and improve the audio checker-boarding process by having a visual feedback (Dialog, Sound Fx, Ambience, Music etc). It saves an awful lot of time.

As you can see on the left hand side each track has been renamed.

There are now adjustment layers that I can place above a clip and allow me to tweak the effects that I want to apply to the clip below, I no longer need to apply the effect to the clip itself.
Many shots have to be smoothen out, now I can do the stabilising in the same timeline, no need to render out After Effects comps and swap out previous clips.
I am also planning to relink the DSLR media to the native H.264 files that we have at disposal, dropping most of the Apple ProRes files. Even though ProRes is 10-bit, Premiere can now handle the 8-bit H.264 files in a 32-bit floating point colour space giving a higher colour precision.
How? As the 32-bit float colour is more memory intensive, you need to turn on a small check box called ‘Maximum Bit Depth’ in the Sequence settings:


I still don’t know if I will be taking care of the final sound design but if so I will be ready. All I will have to do, is click on Edit>Edit in Adobe Audition> Sequence and my entire timeline will appear in Audition ready to roll. No need to export OMFs out of FCP7 and work in ProTools.
This all is amazing, I just wish I had a more powerful computer to take advantage of this integrated workflow. Stay tuned for more.

Massi Guelfi
Founder and Editor at Qareyfilm
Director and Editor at Documentary Filmmakers Cooperative

Author Bio

Video editor, film-maker and colourist with over 6 years experience editing and grading feature films, short films, documentaries, fashion films, corporates etc between the UK and Italy. Also worked as a post production supervisor and consultant. I focus chiefly on post production with emphasis on editing and colour grading but the key factor is and has always been to convey the story. I truly believe in Picasso's quotation: "Art is the elimination of the unnecessary". I strive for quality in everything I do. I adapt my editorial style to suit the project in hand, but my work is driven by three key components in whatever context may be suitable: emotion, timing and storytelling.

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