how to get started in video editing

If you want to edit video at the amateur level , iMovie is a great option that has been around for a long time on Macs and iOS devices. But you might want to take a little more out of your editing and learn a more professional way to work and practice.

Now that Final Cut Pro X has extended its pre-purchase trial period by 90 days, it may be a good time to get started with this great Apple professional program , one of the pillars of the professional world of editing along with other greats such as Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer.

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how to get started in video editing
how to get started in video editing

The first thing we need to understand is how Final Cut Pro X (from now on FCPX) classifies the information. It is essential that we understand this to do a good job . To work, FCPX needs a library. This lies in a bundle where we have all the information from one or more projects.

The libraries are a folder with the extension .fcpbundle that we can open in any copy of FCPX in any computer we want. It, by itself, keeps all the necessary information to be portable and copies any element that we drag to it to this bundle .

Final Cut Pro X libraries are portable in themselves. We can use them and open them in any copy of the program, just as they are, forgetting about complex resource folders.

Now let’s look at the top left . We have the resource browser where we have a clapperboard with a star inside, a circle with a musical note and a camera behind it and two with a T as an icon and a number behind it.

The clapperboard is the access to the elements of our library , the musical note the sound resources and the access to the photo library and the T is the access to the titling and pre-designed generators which includes FCPX.

In the part of the clapperboard, where we are going to focus, we have the name of our library and underneath a folder Smart Collections ). Below, the list of the different events in alphabetical order. An event is a classification of video, audio, image, clip, or any other resource that we incorporate that can be used to edit our video . Each event represents a first level folder in our library.


The next level of information classification is the keywords. We can create folders, yes, but these will not be folders within events to classify the material as if they were subfolders . All the material will always be at event level and folders are used to classify what we mark with keywords .

FCP X only has one level of classification of the information by folder: each event. From there we classify the content by keywords and we can create folders, but only to classify keywords that classify material.

Imagine a clip where we have the moment to prepare the recording, the beginning of “action” and then the action itself with the “cut” included. All that clip would be in our event .

Looking at the clip we can mark the actual start and end points of the clip . To check it we only have to move around it with the arrows or the mouse and once we have found the start point we press the I key to mark the entry point. We look for the end of the clip, the exact frame, and press the O key to mark the end.

And here to a key point of using FCPX: has so many options that its normal way of being handled is by using keyboard shortcuts . Following that way of working, we press CMD+K and a popup window will open with the keywords ( keyword ). In it we write “Toma buena” and press ENTER. We will see that the word is created and assigned to the first hot spot with CTRL+1.

Now, any shot that we want to mark as good, just mark its start and end point with I and O, and then press CTRL+1 to have it labelled as “Good shot” with that keyword . The pop-up window will not be needed anymore unless you include more keywords to classify material. If we go to the event now and display it, we’ll see the keyword “Good Shot” appear as a subfolder. This will give us direct access to the exact subclip of the entire clip we’ve marked.

That’s the first thing we have to do to start editing: sort our material . It’s essential that we sort it, pre-select it, tag it and then work more smoothly. By accessing the keywords we create, we will get a good shot of the shots that are worthwhile and will be part of the montage.

Editing our project

By clicking on the Event we have created where we have classified our material with the keywords, we right click (contextual) and create a new project (also with CMD+N). The project is what we will use to create a video. Our unit of work .

When we create the project, the audio is automatically classified in stereo at 48Khz and the video is chosen as ProRes 422 working codec . This means that all the clips we put into the project will be transcoded (converted) into this format to use only one working codec . The resolution and frames per second of the video will be decided when we drag the first clip into the project, based on its properties.

Once created, we have at the bottom the most important part of all: the magnetic timeline. This is where we will place the different video or sound material that we will work with to compose our edition . We have video tracks and sound tracks and in principle we’ll see 3 of each. But don’t worry, if we need more they’ll be created just as we need them.

The magnetic timeline is the heart of all our publishing. Where we will place clips over the main story and they will all be glued together like magnets. There can be no empty spaces without clips or generators among other clips.

Another important thing to understand before working: the main timeline (or storyline main) is only one and the rest will be secondary tracks. Any track other than this main track will always be connected to the main timeline at any point.

If for any reason we delete a piece of the main clip and it has a secondary clip attached to it, we will also delete the secondary clip attached to it . And if we move the clip over the main line, all the sub-clips attached to it will move with it. In fact, we’ll see that they have a line attached to them .

Clip connected to the main story

If we put a video clip connected to the main line, above it, in the edit we will only see the secondary clip because we are putting an element in a layer above the main story .

This is a very practical way of working because allows us to replace what we see in the assembly without having to cut and insert on the main line itself . In the example in the image, I’m talking about a theme on the main line and when I put the clip on top, it stops looking at me (you can only hear me over the audio) and when the clip on the line ends, it looks at me again. I insist, without cutting or pasting anything. This way of editing is very intuitive and practical when we have inserts on the main story .

On the magnetic timeline we have a small information bar that will allow us to select some fundamental options: from incorporating a clip into the timeline or seeing the ordered index of all the clips in our edition (on the left) to accessing the video and audio effects or accessing the transitions (on the right).

In the center of the bar we have the time that tells us the position of the cursor or line that marks our position in the edit.

Index of a project

If we go back to the left of that bar, when we click on Index we’ll see an index where we can follow, ordered by position, all the clips, transitions, titles and elements that have been added to the edition and if we click on them we can select them. At the bottom we can filter them by their type: video, audio or titles.

Now we’re going to choose any of the clips that we’ve previously tagged in our keywords, we choose it (all or a piece, depending on what we want), we place the cursor where we want to put the element (at this point it should be the start of the project) and we can use or press one of the following options:

  • Connect the selected clip to the main story (shortcut Q), where it will insert the clip wherever the time selector is on a new subtrack, connected to the main track’s time point.
  • Insert the selected clip into the main story (shortcut W), where it cuts off whatever is on the main line and inserts it at the time point where the cursor is. What was before will stay in place and what was after the point of insertion will move and join the inserted clip.
  • Add the selected clip to the main line (shortcut E), where it is added to the end of the main story (where there are no more clips) or in the selected sub story if it is not the main story.
  • Overwrite with the selected clip the main line (shortcut D), where you delete what is in the main story (or other selected story) by removing what is in it and putting the inserted clip in. How to record on a tape on top of what you would have already recorded.

We can also drag and drop , but then we’ll have to try out where we insert to get the clip where we want it. It’s easier to use these options to get started.

If we look to the right of the four buttons (options) we have mentioned, there is a little arrow down . If we hit it, we can choose whether we want to drag all of the content from the selected clip, just the video or just the sound.

To the right of these four options, there is our work tool selector where we see a cursor symbol and another arrow to its right (looking down) that if we press will show us the tool palette to use in the clips of our edition.

Each with his own keyboard shortcut, we have the following:

  • Selection (A), allows us to select that clip only the one we press, transition, titling or element that is on the magnetic timeline. In editing.
  • Trim (T), allows us to position ourselves at an intersection point between two clips and move their cutting point left or right, making there more content from one clip than from another.
  • Position (P), allows you to change the position of the main story clip (or a selected one), along with all its connected clips. Note that this does not affect the magnetic timeline and will overwrite existing material. In the gap we leave, the system will generate a gap that means a clip without content that allows us to adjust the editing.
  • Range Selector (R), allows us to select ranges within a clip or several, for the purpose of affecting various zones or determining how long a piece lasts.
  • Blade (B), cuts the clip where we press, making two. It creates a small line on the clip to indicate the cut inside the clip.
  • Zoom (Z), allows us to zoom in on the area we press. If we make the gesture of the gripper over the editing area, we will see how the line grows or decreases to show more or less information, with more or less time detail in the edition.
  • Hand (H), allows us to move around the editing timeline without having to press to select anything.

One important thing to understand is that in FCPX there are no gaps in our edition, so it is a magnetic timeline. Whatever we put in will make all the other elements in the main story always stick together . If I insert a new clip between two others, the clip on the right will move to the end of the insert.

We can generate empty generators like the gap mentioned above that will be a clip without content (it will look black) and we can treat it as one more clip making it bigger or smaller. Also a Placeholder : a gap but with contextual content, like a gap where a specific shot is missing and we put a gap of type storyboard . Both, in the Edit menu, Insert Generator .

To get used to this way of working, the best thing to do is to take some project we have from iMovie (whose projects are compatible with Final Cut Pro X) and start trying to cut, insert, mark and get with the workflow that although it seems complex, it is intuitive and in my case, it was very easy to assimilate back in 2010 when this FCPX was released and I started using it professionally.

The iMovie library (if we have one) will appear directly in FCPX and we can use it without any problem . Also from Files and then Import, we can load projects from the iMovie iOS version.

FCPX Import Window

Or we can press CMD+I (or File, Import) to access the import window where we can import our files from any camera or even an iOS device.

Properties, effects and transitions

To the right of our UI we have more interesting things. At the top right we can show or hide the library browser, timeline or property inspector .

The property inspector allows us, once we click on any element anywhere in the UI (clip, sound, project or whatever) to get the information from it . In several tabs we can access the video, sound, information or metadata options.

In each one of them we will be able to modify options of our clip: from correcting the color, moving its position, scale, adding effects… in equal sound: correct the volume, apply effects, equalization… and in information we will have the data of our clip as far as how much lasts, codec, tracks…

Any value we play there will only affect the selected clip , either in the event library or on the clip already in the edit.

Underneath, we have two buttons in the middle right that allow us to show, hide or switch between effects and transitions, image or sound .

To apply a single effect we have to choose it and drag it onto the clip where we want to apply it placed on the mount .

To place a transition, we must drag it over the clip that will start the transition and create it (in case there is another clip attached) between them.

The transitions and effects are classified by type, although at the top we can see all of them. Also if they affect video or sound .

Movement is demonstrated by walking

With all this information and by locating where everything is in the UI, we can start to try editing and see how it works . I guarantee that the fear you may have of it in the first instance is not at all justified.

FCPX is a professional, complex program (why would we fool ourselves) but if we get the hang of it, we can do real wonders . We can’t forget that many big-budget movies and series are edited with this software (just like the other big ones like Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere).

The only thing left to know is that to generate your work and see it finished, at the top right of the UI you have the share symbol , where you can choose between different file generation presets or use the “Master File” option to choose which video codec you want to use and have your complete project or selected clips generated into a file and see how it looks.

It also allows you to upload directly to services such as Facebook, Vimeo or Youtube or add custom destinations.

I hope you get a good use out of the program and if you like this introduction, later on we can see other more specific aspects on how to get the most out of this one of the best software Apple has ever created. At least for me.

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