Importing videos and basic editing mechanics

Jason Cox

October 2012

Importing from a tapeless video camera

Chances are, if you've bought a video camera in the last few years, it doesn't record to tape; it records to some form of tapeless media. In most consumer and prosumer cameras, this is typically an SD card, but could also be an internal drive, other various solid-state memory cards, or the thankfully short-lived trend of recordable mini DVDs. In the professional world, examples include Compact Flash, P2 cards (usually found in Panasonic models), SxS cards (many Sony and JVC models, Arri Alexa), or some other form of internal flash storage.

How to do it...

  1. Plug your camera in to your Mac's USB port, or if you're using a higher-end setup with a capture box, plug the box into likely your FireWire or Thunderbolt box. If your camera uses an SD card as its storage medium, you can also simply stick the SD card into your Mac's card reader or external reader. If you are plugging the camera directly in, turn it on, and set it to the device's playback mode. If FCPX is running, it should automatically launch the Import from Camera window. If it does not, click on the Import from Camera icon in the left of the toolbar. You will see thumbnails of all of your camera's clips. You can easily scrub through them simply by passing your mouse over each one.
  2. You can import clips one at a time by selecting a range and then clicking on Import Selected… or you can simply highlight them all and click on Import All… . To select a range, simply move your mouse over a clip until you find the point where you want to start and hit I on your keyboard. Then scrub ahead until you reach where you want the clip to end and hit O.
  3. Whether you chose to select one, a few, or all your clips, once you click on the Import button you will arrive at the Import options screen. Choose what event you want your clips to live in, choose if you want to transcode the clips, and select any analyses you want FCPX to perform on the clips as it imports them. Click on Import. FCPX begins the import process. You can close the window and begin editing immediately!

How it works...

The reason you can edit so quickly, even if you're importing a massive amount of footage, is thanks to some clever programming on Apple's part. While it might take a few minutes or even longer to import all the media off of your camera or memory card, FCPX will access the media directly on the original storage device, until it has finished its import process, and then switch over to the newly imported versions.

There's more...

Creating a camera archive

Creating a camera archive is the simplest and best way to make a backup of your raw footage. Tapeless cameras often store their media in really weird-looking ways with complex folder structures. In many cases, FCPX needs that exact folder structure in order to easily import the media.

A camera archive essentially takes a snapshot or image of your camera's currently stored media and saves it to one simple file that you can access in FCPX over and over again. This of course also frees you to delete the contents of the memory card or media drive and reuse it for another shoot.

In the Camera Import window, make sure your camera is selected in the left column and click on the Create Archive button in the bottom left corner. The resulting window will let you name the archive and pick a destination drive. Obviously, store your archive on an external drive if it's for backup purposes. If you were to keep it on the same drive as your FCPX system and the drive fails, you'd lose your backup as well!

The process creates a proprietary disk image with the original file structure of the memory card. FCPX needs the original file structure (not just the video files) in order to properly capture from the card. By default, it stores the archive in a folder called Final Cut Camera Archives on whatever drive you selected.

Later when you need to reimport from a camera archive, simply open the Camera Import window again, and if you don't see your needed archive under Camera Archives on the left, click on Open Archive… and find it in the resulting window.

To import all or not to import all

If you've got the time, there's nothing to stop you from looking at each and every clip one at a time in the Import from Camera window, selecting a range, and then importing that one clip. However, that's going to take you a while as you'll have to deal with the settings window every time you click on the Import button. If you've got the storage space (and most of us do today), just import everything and worry about weeding out the trash later.

But what about XYZ format?

There are two web pages you should bookmark to keep up to date.

One is This web page lists most of the formats FCPX can work with. Expect this list to grow with future versions.

The second site is This web site lets you search camera models for compatibility with FCPX.

Just because a format isn't listed on Apple's specs page, doesn't mean it's impossible to work with. Many camera manufacturers release plugins which enhance a program's capabilities. One great example is Canon (, who released a plugin for FCPX allowing users to import MXF files from a wide variety of their cameras.

Importing MTS, M2TS, and M2T files

If you've ever browsed the file structure of a memory card pulled from an AVCHD camera, you'll have seen a somewhat complex system of files and folders and almost nothing resembling a normal video file. Deep inside you're likely to find files with the extension .mts, .m2ts, or .m2t (on some HDV cameras). By themselves, these files are sitting ducks, unable to be read by most basic video playback software or imported directly by FCPX. But somehow, once you open up the Import from Camera window in FCPX, FCPX is able to translate all that apparent gobbledygook from the memory card into movie files. FCPX needs that gobbledygook to import the footage. But what if someone has given you a hard drive full of nothing but these standalone files? You'll need to convert or rewrap (explained in the following section) the clips before heading in to FCPX.

Getting ready

There are a number of programs out there that can tackle this task, but a highly recommended one is ClipWrap ( There is a trial, but you'll probably want to go ahead and buy the full version.

How to do it...

  1. Open ClipWrap. Drag-and-drop your video files (ending in .mts, .m2ts, or .m2t) into the main interface.
  2. Set a destination for your new files under Movie Destination.
  3. Click on the drop-down menu titled Output Format. You can choose to convert the files to a number of formats including ProRes 422 (the same format that is created when you select the Create optimized media option in FCPX). A faster, space-saving option, however, is to leave the default setting, Rewrap (don't alter video samples):
  4. Click on Convert. When the process is done, you will have new video files that end in .mov and can be directly imported into FCPX via File | Import | Files.

How it works...

In the previous exercise, we chose not to transcode/convert the video files into another format. What we did was take the video and audio stream out of one container (.mts, .m2ts, or .m2t) and put it into another (QuickTime, seen as .mov). It may sound crazy at first, but we basically took the birthday present (the video and audio) out of an ugly gift box that FCPX won't even open and put it into a prettier one that FCPX likes.

There's more...

Other alternatives

ClipWrap is far from the only solution out there, but it is definitely one of the best. The appendix of this book covers the basics of Compressor, Apple's compression software which can't convert raw AVCHD files in most cases, but can convert just about any file that QuickTime can play. The software company, iSkySoft, ( makes a large number of video conversion tools for a reasonable price. If you're looking for a fully featured video encoding software package, look no further than Telestream Episode (www.telestream. net) or Sorenson Squeeze ( These two applications are expensive, but can take just about any video file format out there and transcode it to almost anything else, with a wide variety of customizable settings.

Rewrapping or transcoding

As mentioned in step 3 in the previous section, we could have chosen to transcode to ProRes 422 instead of rewrapping. This is a totally fine option, just know the differences: transcoding, takes much longer, it takes up much more file space, but on the plus side, it is Final Cut Pro X's favorite format (because it's native to FCPX, made by Apple for Apple) and you may save time in the actual editing process by working with a faster more efficient codec once inside FCPX. If you chose to rewrap, you still have the option to transcode when you import into FCPX.

Appending, inserting, and overwriting clips to a storyline

The safest and simplest way to add a clip to a project is to append it. No matter where your playhead is currently located in a project, appending a clip from your browser will always throw it to the end of the project, ensuring you don't accidentally overwrite a clip or split a clip into two.

In other scenarios, however, we may realize we need to go back to an earlier stage in a project and stick a new clip in the middle somewhere. Maybe we want to add some short filler clip between two interview sound bites. We can accomplish this by inserting. If we don't mind being a bit more destructive, we can also overwrite, which plows over anything in its path.

Getting ready

Simply have an open, empty project ready to add some test clips to.

How to do it...

  1. Select a clip or range of a clip in your Event Browser.
  2. Click on the Append button in the toolbar, or press E on your keyboard. The clip is added to the timeline, as shown in the following screenshot:
  3. Move your playhead back to the beginning of the project. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. You can do it in any of the following ways:
    • Drag the playhead back to the beginning of the timeline
    • Hover your cursor over the timeline to make it the active pane of the interface, then hit the up arrow to move to the previous edit point
    • Hit Command + 2 to make the timeline active, then hit the up arrow
    • Hit Command + 2 followed by the Home key (or fn + left arrow) to move to the start of a project
  4. Select another clip from your Event Browser and again hit E on your keyboard. Even though your playhead was before the first clip, it still added the second clip after the first, as shown in the following screenshot:
  5. Position your playhead between the two clips. Try a different method than the one you used in step 3 to move the playhead.
  6. Select a clip from your browser and then click on the Insert button in the toolbar or hit W on your keyboard:
  7. The clip will place itself between the two original clips and "push" (better known as rippling) the second clip further down the storyline. No media is lost, but your project is now longer.

  8. Select Edit | Undo or hit Command + Z. The timeline resets to right before the place where we inserted the clip and your playhead should return to right between the two original clips.
  9. Select Edit | Overwrite or hit D on your keyboard. The new clip has been overwritten into the storyline. Depending on the length of the clip you have chosen to overwrite, it has overwritten either some or all of the clip that followed. In the following example, the clip we used in the overwrite edit (Clip 3) was shorter than the clip we overwrote (Clip 2), so part of Clip 2 was overwritten.

How it works...

Appending a clip always takes your selected clip and adds it to the end of your project timeline. Your playhead or skimmer location is totally irrelevant.

Inserting a clip will place a clip exactly where the playhead (or skimmer, if it appears in the timeline) is located. Be careful—if you accidentally place your playhead or skimmer in the middle of a clip and then insert a new clip, it will split the original clip into two! There may be rare scenarios where you want to do this, but more often than not, you want to avoid this by making sure your playhead is between two clips.

When you overwrite a clip, it plows over anything in its path. Depending on the length of the clip, you will overwrite some or all of the media at the playhead's location!

There's more...

Editing in secondary storylines

You can use all of these editing commands to add clips to secondary storylines as well. Simply click on the black banner above the connected storyline, place your playhead at the required location (if inserting or overwriting), and hit the appropriate keyboard shortcut. As long as the entire connected storyline is properly selected, it will edit the clip to the end of it rather than the primary storyline.

Editing only video or only audio

If you know that you only want to edit the audio or video from a clip into your timeline, but not both, you can do this with one setting change. Click on the triangle in the toolbar attached to the Append, Connect, and Insert buttons. There you will see the option to select All, Audio Only, or Video Only. Select one of the latter two and FCPX will only edit that element of a clip into your timeline.

Make sure your playhead is precisely between two clips

As we have described previously, when you insert a clip, you usually want to have your playhead or skimmer between two clips. To be more precise, in order to properly insert or overwrite, you want to be parked on the first frame of the incoming clip. This will prevent any flash frames, or single-frame clips from being created.

How do you know you're in the right spot, however? Here are a couple tips—first, zoom in closer to your timeline if necessary (Command + =). If you're too far zoomed out, it can be hard to drag your playhead to the right spot. Next, make sure Snapping is turned on. Hover over the button in the upper-right corner of your timeline and make sure it is illuminated blue. If not, click on it:

Start dragging your playhead toward an edit point between clips and it should "snap" into place when it gets close. Finally, you can verify that your playhead is at the appropriate location by looking for the on-screen indicator in the viewer shaped like the letter "L", which lets you know you have parked your playhead on the first frame of the incoming clip.

Working with (and without) the Magnetic Timeline

One of the biggest paradigm shifts in all of FCPX is the Magnetic Timeline. In most other video editing software, if you drag a clip around in the timeline, you have to be careful where and how you drop it, because it will likely overwrite or insert itself, potentially damaging your timeline or messing with the timing of your project. So Apple said, "No more!" Aiming to make your basic edits as nondestructive as possible, Apple created the Magnetic Timeline, allowing editors to swap clips to and fro in their timeline all day long without any chance of overwriting clips or messing with timing.

Getting ready

Append at least five clips into a test project. Also, ensure that the Select tool is active. Either press A on your keyboard or select it from the tool palette in the toolbar:

How to do it...

  1. Click-and-drag the second clip in your project to the right, between your fourth and fifth clips. Don't let go yet. Notice a few things as follows:
    • The space where the second clip was has disappeared
    • The third and fourth clips have rippled to the left to fill that void
    • A hollow blue box has appeared between the fourth and fifth clip indicating where the second clip will be placed if you let go
  2. Let go. The second clip has been placed between the fourth and fifth clips. Nothing has been overwritten and the timing of your project is unchanged, as shown in the following screenshot:
  3. If you are a longtime video editor, this behavior might throw you off a bit. Perhaps it's just a muscle memory, but you might prefer your editing software to not automatically rearrange when you drag clips around. Luckily, Apple thought of this and gave us a workflow more akin to FCP7. It's called the Position Tool (nicknamed by many editors as the Final Cut Pro 7 Tool).

  4. Click on Edit | Undo or hit Command + Z on your keyboard. The clips should jump back to their original order.
  5. Go back to your tool palette and select the Position tool, or hit P on your keyboard:
  6. Go back to the second clip in your timeline, and click-and-drag it to the right again. Don't let go yet! Take a note of the differences as follows:
    • A gap has been left behind where the second clip was
    • The third clip did not ripple back to the left to fill any gap
    • It looks as if the second clip is covering part of the third and fourth clips; in fact, it is, as shown in the following screenshot:
  7. Let go of the mouse. A gap is left behind where the second clip was and the second clip has overwritten part of both the third and fourth clips (depending on exactly where you have dropped the clip, it may only overwrite part of just one clip or the other).

There's more...

When to use the Position tool

If you're new to video editing, the Magnetic Timeline might seem great for editing, and it is, most of the time. However, there's a reason that the Position tool exists. If you're not careful, the Magnetic Timeline can mess up the sync and timing of your project. Perhaps halfway through your project, you have a song where you've cut a series of clips to the beat. If you moved one clip out to an earlier portion of your project before the song starts, it could throw the whole pacing of the edit off! You might want to turn on the Position tool (that is turn the Magnetic Timeline off) to prevent this sort of issue.

Deleting clips and the Magnetic Timeline

When you delete clips using the Magnetic Timeline, all clips following the deleted clip ripple back to fill the gap. This may seem great at first, but be careful! Depending on the complexity of your sequence, this can push certain elements you may have carefully lined up out of sync, such as narration or clips cut in beat with music. To delete a clip, but leave behind a gap clip, highlight the clip you want to remove and hit Shift + Delete (also known as the "big" Delete key on full external keyboards—you can simply hit the small Delete key on full-size keyboards). This ensures nothing is accidentally moved out of sync later in your project.

Creating connected clips

Rearranging clips is a fact of life for an editor. As we've seen, the Magnetic Timeline can take a lot of the pain out of the process. But, what if your clips have b-roll and cutaways? Making sure these shots moved along with clips you were trying to rearrange used to take a lot of focus, but no longer. In their quest to reinvent the way you edit, Apple came up with the idea of Connected Clips, a feature that automatically tethers clips outside of the primary storyline to clips inside.

Getting ready

Have a project with a few clips laid down in the timeline.

How to do it...

  1. Place your playhead anywhere over the first clip in the timeline, as shown in the following screenshot:
  2. Up in your Event Browser, find the clip you want to use as b-roll or a cutaway and select a range or the entire clip.
  3. Click on the Connect the selected clip to the primary storyline button in the toolbar or hit Q on your keyboard:
  4. The clip appears above the clip in the primary storyline. Notice the tiny handle attaching the two clips, as shown in the following screenshot:
  5. Click and hold on the clip in the primary storyline, drag it all the way to the end, and let go. Notice that the connected clip came along for the ride, as shown in the following screenshot:

There's more...

Repositioning connected clips

You don't always get the placement of your connected clips right at the first time. Luckily, they can be adjusted very easily. Simply click on the clip and drag it to left or right. Independent connected clips aren't bound by the same rules as clips in the primary timeline.

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Final Cut Pro X Cookbook

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