Around 2009/2010 I acquired two things: A Flip HD video camera and a copy of Final Cut Express. The Flip HD I came by through my relationship with Nintendo. I believe it was a party for Wii Party, which btw is a game that seems a little cheesy at first and then you find yourself pulling it out and having far more fun with it than you ever expected. I find Wii Play to be the same. (Full disclosure: I was given Wii Party, and I bought Wii Play.)
I purchased Final Cut Express because I learned how to edit on "real" editing systems, and the various iMovies, at least at the time, made me feel like someone just handed me a butter knife on my way into surgery. I also figured that learning Final Cut Express would be a gateway to more knowledge of Final Cut Pro, which turned out to be only partially true, but still worth it. And of course, it was what I could afford and install on my system.
Except. These two things, Flip HD and Final Cut Express, do not play well together.
At the time, for a brief moment, I felt like, Finally! I have a camera, and I have an editing system! Now maybe I can shoot and edit and improve my skills. I finally have these tools to help me move forward as a director.
(It should be noted, however, that I vastly prefer to work with an editor and always will despite any increase in my editing expertise. While being a director/editor is a valuable skill that will get you places, it's a bit like cutting off your arms to fit through a doorway. Filmmaking is a team sport, and the editor - a separate editor who is not also the director - is always one of the MVPs that EVERY director is better off with than without. /end rant)
Anyway, I was quickly foiled back then, and no amount of Googling seemed to help. I couldn't get Flip HD footage into Final Cut Pro without evil rendering bars, and I couldn't get it out at a reasonable file size and the correct aspect ratio. I figured there had to be a way, but at the time I couldn't get it to work, it was a rare problem no one else seemed to be working on, and I moved on to other things.
Until the Missing Miranda Kickstarter campaign. When we realized that we weren't catching any steam with our character vignettes, we thought that we should try to shoot something else that might get us some traction. I'd already dusted off my Final Cut Pro to (roughly) cut "Favorite Moments in 'Missing Miranda'", so we decided that some of the onscreen talent would go out and ask people on the street, "What's your favorite romantic comedy?" and I would cut it together as best I could. And the Flip HD is what we had to shoot on.
I knew I could get it done one way or another, but I also thought I'd take the opportunity to try again to develop a viable work flow. Honestly, I can hardly believe I actually did it. And I'm pretty sure I'm still the only one who cares. But nonetheless, I give you:
1. The first step is get the Flip Footage into the right format, which is Quicktime using the Apple Intermediate Codec at 1280x720 at a 29.97 frame rate. For this I use MPEG Streamclip, a free video converter program from Squared 5. I got this step from MrTammik on YouTube, so I will leave it to him:
2. Next, open a new project in Final Cut Express. In Easy Setup off the first pull down menu, make sure your settings are:
- Format: HD
- Rate: 29.97
- Use: HDV-Apple Intermediate Codec-720p30
With that you should be able to import your converted clips into Final Cut and they should not need to be rendered as you use them in your timeline. Whew!
3.Cut your project.
4. When you're ready to export, go to File, Export, Quicktime Movie. Your settings are:
- Include: Audio And Video
- Markers: None
- And do check the box for Make Movie Self-Contained
This makes a very beautiful, very large QuickTime file so you're likely to be tempted to try going to File, Export, Using Quicktime Conversion. I've tried numerous options here with no success. The aspect ratio is always effed.
5. So, now we have to compress our way too large Quicktime for upload to the Internet. And clearly, we'd like it to stay the correct aspect ratio and not look smooshed. For this, I use VisualHub. (Lion updater here.) VisualHub is a bad-ass sanity saver. You can easily set the aspect ratio, and there's even a field for keeping the video with a certain number of MB if necessary. Start by simply dragging your file into Visual Hub.
At the top of the main window, choose MP4, quality as you desire (I use High), and check the box for H.264 Encoding.
Under the advanced settings your settings are:
- Size: 1280 x 720
- Bitrate: 5000
- Deinterlace should be unchecked
- Fit your video with a certain number of MB if required
- Audio at 44100 Hz
- Audio Bitrate: 384
- Channels: Auto
Then simply hit start back on the main window and wait. When it's done you should have a Quicktime of a more reasonable size that still looks and sounds good. Flip HD Video to Final Cut Express Workflow, hooray!
So, now I have a camera and an editing system. And... no hard drive space. While working on this post I cropped a video I took of my friend Joseph Marble playing The March of the King of Laois on the bagpipes at Echo Park Rising this year, and when I went to export from Final Cut I got the dreaded "not enough hard drive space" message I knew was rapidly becoming inevitable. And the new external hard drive I bought this year for my various projects and that I use for back-up is full, full, full, especially after I had to move some stuff there from my computer so I could finish the bagpipe video.
I've been trying to run my writing/directing business smarter this year. With my blogging income decreasing there was a chance I'd get a paid directing gig this year, but that opportunity didn't materialize. I've been much more conservative with my business spending, but going into the fourth quarter, I've not made a profit. So, I'm not making any business purchases I can avoid for the rest of the year. I'm holding off on my Film Independent membership renewal, for example. And no new hard drives.
I'm spending the last few months of the year getting organized, closing some projects out, and prepping for next year. I'm due to hear about a short film pitch in November that will have me off and running on something new and exciting (and funded!) if I get it, so there's really only a few weeks of calm with any luck.
But next year I'm also going to try to shoot some videos I can put up on YouTube and monetize. My silly standard def vlog video "How To Pop Popcorn On The Stove" finally earned $100, so that was some cool income this year. And I really want to shoot a music video or two. Maybe another spec commercial if I get any ideas. (Have you seen my Trojan Fun Pack Commercial?) Of course, some things you can monetize, and some you can't. I definitely need to shoot some things I can monetize. Obviously, shooting the other things is about increasing skills and content and the chance of paid directing work.
Anyway, cracking the nut of this work flow is a pretty awesome accomplishment for me this year, and one which I will put to good use. And I hope this post helps anyone ever besides me. But... it probably won't.