11-Step Final Cut Pro Workflow

Posted on by Larry

: With the advent of metadata-based video editors,
I’ve updated this article. You can read the latest version here.

[ This article was first published in the September, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Image I want to talk about making money for a few minutes.

As editors, the way we make money is selling our time. (Yes, I know there is a craft to editing, and technology, and experience, but at the end of the day, the unit of measure for all of this is time.)

And one of the frequent problems I see is that it is very easy for editors to get distracted from what we SHOULD be doing to what we WANT to do. This means that we are wasting a lot of our time – which costs us money.

One of the guiding lights of my seminars is to show you faster ways to do things. If you can achieve the same quality in your projects in a fraction of the time, this instantly equates into either more free time, or time for more projects. Both are highly desirable goals.

When I was writing my first book on Final Cut Pro a few years ago, I developed a nine-step editing workflow that answered the question: “What should I be doing right now?”

However, over the years, I’ve learned more and Apple has released new software, so this nine-step process has become a bit outdated. Today I want to revisit and update it. Especially for editors that are new, or just getting back into the industry, my hope is that in following these steps, you’ll have a better way to keep track of what you should be doing “right now.”

At its heart, editing is story-telling, regardless of whether that story is a feature film, wedding, corporate training, or a commercial. The best videos are always stories. And, like all stories, videos get better the more you polish them. This workflow for editing within Final Cut Pro helps you decide where to best spend your time.

Since there is never enough time to get everything done, it is important to make sure you are spending your time doing the right thing. That’s where this 11-step approach can help.

Here’s the overall rule: don’t start a step until all the prior steps are complete. For instance, it makes no sense to spend time adding and polishing transitions when you aren’t even sure what your final shot order is. All the time you spend adding and adjusting a transition becomes wasted when you delete one of the two shots it is attached to.

With that in mind, here is the workflow:

Step 1: Plan your project. Develop a consistent file naming scheme. Set your scratch disks, then leave them alone. Create a project folder to store all your project elements and non-timecode-based media. Think about who your audience is and how you want to reach them. Planning is never fun, but it is essential to successfully completing a project. Here’s an article that can help you get organized.


Step 2: Gather your media. Capture media from video tape. Ingest any tapeless files. Import audio and graphics. Use bins in the Browser to get organized and make it easy to track all the different elements of your project. Figure out what you have and what you need to create.


Step 3: Build your story. View your clips. Set In’s and Out’s and edit them into the Timeline. Don’t worry, yet, about precision. Just make some basic decisions on which clips are in and which are out. The goal here is not to strive for perfection, but to get the ideas you have in your head edited into the timeline so you can decide whether they work or not. Until you have something in the timeline, there’s nothing to review and polish.


Step 4: Organize your story. Watch your sequence and make decisions on the order of your clips. Delete the clips that don’t work. Insert clips that are missing. Shuffle clips around to make your story flow better. Don’t worry about making each edit perfect. Concentrate on improving the flow of your story.


Step 5: Trim your story. Once the organization of your story is complete and your clips are in the right order, now it’s time to start trimming your edit points so that your edits become invisible. There are two reasons to trim: to improve the story, or to get your story to fit for time. What I recommend is trim to improve the story first, then see what you can do to get everything to fit for time.


Step 6: Add transitions. Transitions are fun and sexy, but you’ve only got limited time. Focus on what needs to be done first. Hard as it is to believe, people will still watch your program even if it only contains cuts! (Strange, but true.) They can’t watch your show if you never get it done. There are three categories of transitions: cuts, dissolves, and wipes. A cut is a change in perspective, a dissolve is a change in time or place, and a wipe totally breaks the flow of the story to take you somewhere entirely different. Be cautious not to overuse dissolves, and only use a wipe when you want a complete disconnect between what came before and what comes after.


Step 7: Add text and effects. Now that your story is complete, you can afford to spend all your remaining time adding text and effects. Keep in mind that there is no right answer on what is a good effect. If it looks good, within the context of your project, then go ahead and use it. However, don’t bog down too early in effects, or you’ll spend all your time creating effects, only to discover that your story isn’t complete. In general, effects will suck up all the remaining time in your project, plus about a week.


Step 8: Mix your audio. While you’ve been editing your audio all along, now is the time to start adding sound effects, music, background and atmosphere. This is often called audio sweetening. The best thing you can do to improve the quality of your picture is to improve the quality of your audio. If you are part of a team editing this project, feel free to send drafts to the audio folks so they can start planning their mix. If you are doing the whole thing yourself, hold off audio effects and mixing until you’ve decided the picture is locked, otherwise, you can end up spinning your wheels.


Step 9: Color correct your video. This is the last step of your project – making everything look great. Whether you color correct in Final Cut Pro or Color, save this step until everything else is complete.


Step 10: Output your project. When everything is done — or the deadline has arrived — output your media to tape, or the web, DVD, or a hard disk file. When outputting to tape, use File > Print to Video, unless you need to output to a specific timecode on the tape. If you are exporting a file, always use File > Export > QuickTime movie for the fastest export at the highest quality.


Step 11: Archive your project. Save that which needs to be saved, and trash that which can be trashed. Remember, there are two rules in our industry:

1) No one actually looks at the final version until it has been laid to tape.
2) Someone will always want changes two days after you take the project off your hard disks.


Backups are ALWAYS necessary.


Click here to read an article that gives you much more detail on how to set your system up for archiving.

If you focus on doing what needs to be done right now and ignore getting distracted by those tasks who’s time has not yet come, you will get your projects done more quickly and with less wasted activity.


Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.