New Perspectives On FCP X

Since the Sneak Peek, I’ve read and watched all sorts of commentary and speculation about the newly designed FCPX interface. I’ve also indulged in both the Larry Jordan and Philip Hodgetts’ webinars to hear their ideas about what we’re looking forward to because, as the saying goes, God is in the details (or the devil if you prefer the dark side).

As I’ve traversed these discussions, one of the features that appears to have polarised opinion is Filmstrip View in the Event Library. I understand Larry, for one, is reserving judgement because he doesn’t think it is an effective way to display a large amount of clips. My immediate thought about that is, no matter how large the project becomes, I don’t actually want to see all of my footage at once when I’m editing. That can quickly become overwhelming. What I need is a way to narrow down the content, to sift through my footage, so that I only see whatever’s appropriate for the section I’m working on and the handful of clips I can choose from now. That’s how I’ve been working with Final Cut Server, and the new tools in Final Cut Pro X seem to extend this concept further.

iMovie X?

Of course for a lot of people the immediate point of reference for the Event Library is iMovie, which includes dynamic filmstrips and skimming processes similar to those demonstrated in FCPX. I think that can nudge people towards feeling it lacks the gravitas required of a serious NLE. While I see that connection too, there’s something else or, more specifically, someone else that comes to mind.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Walter Murch speak on a few occasions and the honour of attending a special Master Class he taught a few years ago in Vancouver. You might argue that his approach is particularly idiosyncratic (whose methods aren’t when judged from the outside?), but I think we must all agree that his contributions to contemporary cinema are profound and there’s no-one more insightful, illuminating or provocative on the subject of editing films today.

Picture boards

You’ve probably already seen documentation of the ‘picture boards’ Walter has mounted around his cutting room. Essentially they consist of vast collections of frames from the film he’s working on. Each image on the boards is intended to represent a significant aspect of the shot it’s taken from. The idea is that the boards facilitate a change in the editor’s viewpoint. From the vantage point afforded by this shift in perspective, the editor has the chance to make different casual connections or observe unexpected patterns in the footage.

In his 2004 book ‘Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain with Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema’, Charles Koppelman describes the philosophy behind the picture boards in some detail:

“Ironically, the more techno-centric film editing gets, the more powerful Murch’s custom-made innovations become. The organic qualities of the scene cards and photo boards compensate for perspectives that are hidden in the digital world. The efficiency, speed and increased choices of non-linear editing all have their benefits. But systems like Avid or Final Cut Pro obliterate some film editing tasks that contribute to the editor’s creative process. As Murch often points out, the simple act of having to rewind film on a flatbed editing machine gave him the chance to see footage in another context (high-speed, reverse) that could reveal a look, a gesture, or a completely forgotten shot. Likewise, the few moments he had to spend waiting for a reel to rewind injected a blank space into the process during which he could simply let his mind wander into subconscious areas. With random-access, computer-based editing, a mouse click instantly takes the editor right to a desired frame; there is no waiting, no downtime and fewer happy accidents. The photo boards are one way to compensate for this.”

The Verdict

The serious editors among you might baulk at an idea as fluffy or new-age-sounding as “happy accidents” but, when I’m feeling stuck, anything that will help me break through the block is a godsend. What I like about the picture boards – and I like them very much – is that they’re about changing how we view and understand the material we work with. They’re designed to spark our imagination, shift our perspective and, in doing so, inspire new ideas.

As demonstrated at the SuperMeet, the Event Library, through a multitude of features is intended to accelerate the editing process and provide that instant access to which Murch and Koppelman refer. While Filmstrips are clearly part of that re-imagined workflow, I also think that we’ll be able to use them to stimulate our creative process.

Read Jonathan’s original article at

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