Tinkling the ivories

I’ve never thought about driving Final Cut Pro. I remember when I first started, going through the manual, getting all hung up on J-Cuts and doing the hunt-and-peck at the keyboard with a ready reference card at my side, but that was a long time ago. Now, I’m breezing along and the interface never really gets in the way.

But I was cutting the other day with somebody who has recently joined the FCP camp, and he was incredulous.

“You’re using the trackpad?”

“You’re using drag and drop? I thought that was beginner stuff.”

“On my training course, I was told I had to use the keyboard.”

“How come you just dropped it on the window? How come it works?”

“What did you do there?” (when I dropped a filter and a transition back into a bin for future bulk use)

And so on. Yes, unfortunately, I had a Charlie Brooker moment with my audience that day, and continued to edit alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with people wanting to learn, only too happy to pass on tricks and stuff, but there was an underlying feeling for a while that this person didn’t agree with my style of driving because it involved a lot of mousing with the track pad and I felt I was having to justify things rather than explain things. And there’s nothing worse than a back seat driver.

But I digress.

I’ve been thinking, as I spend the afternoon rummaging around my rushes picking out choice cutaways and spotting little sequences, that the reason I don’t habitually hit F-9 to insert a clip (for example) is that the button is a little too small and unidentifiable on my MacBook Pro to hit reliably every time with the confidence I need to move on to the next select rather than checking it’s done what I wanted it to do. It just takes an idle swipe of the finger. To be sure, I can hit T-T-T-T to select everything from there on everywere to open up enough working room to add a new sequence, I can hit R-R to roll off a clip earlier, or R and click with the option key to make a straight cut based on audio into a cunning J-cut rather than mess around with all that 3 point stuff I’ve forgotten how to do with a BVE-3000.

But the rest? If I had a big day-glo Chad-Valley Final Cut Pro keyboard, maybe it would be easier to differentiate F9 from F10 (which is kinda important when you’re editing against the clock) and I wouldn’t be quite so happy to ‘fling clips around’.

And is it really saving time? The Germans have a word for it, which I have forgotten, but I remember that it means ‘eye blink time’. The time taken to fling a clip onto the canvas or dump it onto a sequence above the other clips (rather than replug the things correctly at the left hand side and remember to overwrite not insert) may take a little longer than hitting the right button, but if you tot up all those moments and work out that you’ve saved 15 seconds over the course of a day, even a minute… Okay, so if you’re an itinerant editor, even if it means taking your work home and setting up on the kitchen table, does the time saved by deftly using the F9 key rather than dragging from ‘over here’ to ‘over there’ actually add up to the mealy mouthed irritation time on having to lug around yet another bit of kit (your Fisher Price FCP keyboard)? Is it worth a bag of beans?

All good editing systems allow you to wrap your editing environment around you by providing at least a handful of ways of doing the same thing. If you’ll pardon a little metaphorical meandering, some people like Saabs with their dorky controls, others like Mercedes once they’ve worked out where the hand brake is. Use a mouse, a special keyboard, even a special control surface if you like. Your system. Your flow. A friend is seriously working out how an iPhone might assist as an additional FCP control.

All pro edit systems I’ve played with deal with ‘In’, ‘Out’, ‘put it in’ and ‘take it out’ – and if I’m being reductionist I’d hav to say that beyond that, we’re talking tinsel and lipgloss. Whatever works for you… works.

Today’s lesson: real speed in editing is when the interface disappears, not when you learn the keyboard shortcuts.

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