FCP 7: Changing My Opinion On How To Export From Final Cut Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the December, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

At my “Ask Larry Anything” webinar yesterday, we were talking about exporting files from Final Cut Pro. At that time, I mentioned that I had changed my opinion on exporting.

I now recommend exporting a self-contained QuickTime movie, rather than a reference movie.

Rob Price then wrote to ask:

For years, you recommended exporting your movies as reference QuickTime files. Today you said you changed your thinking on this.


Why so? Are the days of a reference file with a “shelf life of about five minutes” over? I am curious to your answer as to why I should take up more 0s and 1s if I’m still going to Compressor anyway to transcode that exported QT files from FCP.

Larry replies: Rob, thanks for writing. This change has been coming on for a while, so I’m glad to take a bit of time to explain my thinking.

In the past, our principal distribution medium for the show master was video tape. So, if we exported a file, it was only to compress for DVD or the web. The master was archived on video tape.

Creating reference movies was perfect for this. A reference movie could be exported extremely quickly – up to 50 times faster than real time – was very small, and worked perfectly for compression.

However, an underlying assumption of a reference movie was that the master was stored “someplace else.” This is because a reference movie would break if any element of that movie – a video clip, audio file, or render file – was deleted from your hard disk. Also, reference movies could only be played on the system that created them.

In short, reference movies were great when you wanted speed, but miserable for archiving.

Flash forward to today. Tape has virtually disappeared. Instead, we are working with tapeless media. The old system of archiving on video tape is no longer possible.

Now, we export to create show master files for sending to broadcast, clients, DVD, multiple versions for the web, and archiving. Reference movies are no longer adequate for this task. Worse, a reference movies lulls us into thinking that we’ve created an archive version of our show, when we really haven’t.

Today, the only reliable, long-term, archive format for our projects is a self-contained QuickTime movie.

My son is a digital archivist, trying to figure out how to archive millions of digital files, including email, for future historians. So he and I have long discussions on archiving technology, codecs, and processes. There is a lot of debate on what is the best method and codec for archiving.

I’ll save that codec discussion for a later time. For now, though, I want to explain how I export files from Final Cut.

First, FCP 7 has a new Share function. This is a significant improvement over past methods because it runs in the background,it allows you to keep editing while the export is going on. It also allows you to use custom compression settings where you can easily compress and publish your work from the same menu.

These are all good things. However, I don’t use it.

My recommendation is to use File > Export > QuickTime movie, with Settings set to Current Setting, and Make Movie Self-Contained checked.

This creates a master file of your sequence at a quality that matches your clips. Generally, this is the highest quality you can get from your material, assuming you are editing the format your camera shot.

Now that you have a master file, you can delete render files, even project media, without losing the ability to play the master file.

For me, the big limitation of using File > Share is that if I need to create new compressed versions of my program long after the project is complete, I need to reopen the project file, reconnect missing elements, re-render the project, then re-export and compress — even assuming I still have all the elements on my system. It is much easier to create a single, master file that I can reference whenever I need it.

It is for these reasons that I’ve changed my recommendation.


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2 Responses to FCP 7: Changing My Opinion On How To Export From Final Cut Pro

  1. eva says:

    HI Larry, I am exporting from FCP 7 as you say but my exported .mov files will not open correctly in quicktime. Do you have any advice on trouble shooting this? quicktime will play the audio but not the image.

    • Larry says:


      What does “will not open correctly” mean to you? If you are hearing audio, but seeing a black screen, it means that you don’t have the correct codec installed on the computer that is playing the video. If you are using QuickTime 7, you may need to play the video using QuickTime Player X.

      If the video won’t open, it may mean that FCP 7 is still exporting it. Long files will take LONG time to export.

      If the video is filled with strangely colored rectangles, it means that your compression settings are screwed up.

      Try playing the video on a different computer to see if that helps.


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