Blade and a J-cut, two bits!

Final Cut Pro X doesn’t do J-cuts. It doesn’t do it at all, and whilst I am not an aggressive or violent person, I feel the need to sit on a naughty step for thinking what I’d like to do to this bit of software if it were something tangible.

What am I talking about? Any editor will tell you that, in ‘How To Edit 102’, we learn about the J cut. Very simply, it’s when a simple cut between two shots has the audio of the second clip start at just a fraction before the picture starts. Or, put it another way, the second shot starts with new audio over the old shot, then the video cuts to the new shot.

Let’s imagine a string of 3 comments by 3 different people.

We edit the comments so that they flow. But the magic of the J cut is that as we look as the first person, we hear the second person starting to talk – like we do in a discussion round a table in real life – and then (AND ONLY THEN) we look at them. There’s about half a second or maybe a bit less between hearing them and actually looking at them. So we start the audio when it should, then the video follows between 7 and 12 frames afterwards (that’s a quarter to half a second – we’re being subtle here!)

When we see this in television and film, it mimics our every day experience, and it feels very natural. Comfortable.

It’s an editing ‘condiment’. Like adding a bit of salt to food, it’s not clean and pure, but it feels right.

So looking at the clips in the timeline, there’s an offset between when the audio cuts, and when the picture cuts.

It works both ways: if sound cuts before picture, it’s a J (see how the tail points to the left, indicating the lower (audio) track starts first in our left-to-right scan. J-cut. If the pictures cut first and then the audio cuts, we get an L-cut – visually speaking.

SO we cut our first take of a sequence, and we’re really trying to get the sequence of what people are saying in a logical sequence. Let’s not worry about pictures and cutaways now, let’s get the ‘radio programme with pictures’ version done. Sometimes, it gets messy and we’re cutting little bits of words and halfwords together so a parenthetical comment is allowed to stand alone. So long as it sounds right, we’ll cover the messy pictures with their jump cuts with a cutaway.

The reason for my ire is that this mainstay of professional editing, this 1 step operation in FCP7, this ‘thing you can sum up in a letter’ is peformed thusly in FCPX:

It’s like trying to put hospital corners on a duvet: it can be done, but that’s an awful lot of effort for something that should be quick and simple.

After all, when firing off a bunch of edited interviews for a client, hands up those who, in FCP7, Avid or PPro, would perhaps slip a few edits to add a little polish? Then unslide them back again to continue editing? Exactly.

Well, now and again I find a really good reason to switch from PPro or FCP7 into FCPX, but then spend an afternoon bumping my shins and grazing my scalp whilst climbing through its ‘little ways’. Well, I lost my temper big-time over the whole J-cut thing and turned to good friend Rick Young for solice. He’s writing a book on FCP-X, he’ll know how to do it.

And he did.

“Basically, detatch all your interview clips’ audio so they’re separate from the video, and use the T tool to slip the video. Simple!”

But that’s quite an odd thing for an app that touts to never suffer bad sync – dangle your audio off your video for ever? Deal with a double-track for every clip that could be in a J-cut? In a modern bit of software destined for the next 10 years of editing? That’s madness! Actually, I think I put it a little stronger than that.

It sounded like my solution for getting a pet dog through his dog door was to cut him in half and re-attatch with velcro once he’s through. Just live with a dog for ever more that has to be cared for in case his velcro join comes apart. Yes, I do have funny feelings about my footage, but if you were to spend so much time with them you’d go funny too.

And here’s the conclusion: Rick’s method works – it works fine. It works great, in fact. Give it a try, drop that beastly Apple method.

But here’s my finishing salvo: Apple’s FCPX team shouldn’t feel ‘oh that’s all right then’ and not implement an offset tool. It’s so simple: apply an Option key behaviour on the T trim tool. Thanks for XML and all that, I’m sure multicam will be great too. Just finish off your tool with a way to turn radio edits into J cuts *Just* *like* *you* *used* *to*. Put the Pro back into FCPX!

5 thoughts on “Blade and a J-cut, two bits!

  1. It’s easier than that.

    If you’ve edited a sequence (sorry project…) for dialogue timing and want to work through and delay some video cuts, then the easiest way is to choose
    View > Expand Audio/Video Clips > For All
    Then you can just select the trim tool and quickly delay any video edits you want without affecting the audio timing.

    Alternatively if you’ve edited for video timing and want to pull the incoming audio earlier so it starts on the outgoing video clip, then expand the clips as above, select the trim tool (don’t forget you can temporarily select the trim tool by holding down T and clicking on an edit) and adjust the incoming side of the video only. I’d say this trimming operation is actually easier in FCPX than it was in FCP7. No clip collisions to deal with.

    The Apple help doc doesn’t really help much because it shows an unusual example where a different number of frames are being trimmed off the incoming video and the outgoing audio.

  2. So that’s ‘do your radio edit, expand all clips and use the trim tool to roll the video edits a little later’

    When clips are expanded, you can ripple the video and audio separately, but you can only roll video.

    As expanding clips makes the audio look like it becomes a set of connected clips, the FCP X magnetic timeline metaphor requires that you cannot roll audio edits, because independent connected video clip boundaries can’t be rolled.

    I propose then that the trim tool can be used to roll any edit – including two new cases – when editing audio in expanded clip mode and rolling the finish and start of adjacent connected clips or storylines.

  3. I think this post and the comments trying to explain how to do it shows that the magnetic timeline leaves something to be desired when it comes to BASIC editorial things we have to do over and over and over again. It goes back to my early argument that while a lot of FCPx technology is GREAT the app wasn’t designed by editors who edit every day. That’s its biggest overall fault.

  4. Chris Phrommayon reminded us (via Twitter) of the Shift-\ shortcut to select expanded audio edits. You can then use the keys to roll the edit. Pity the trim tool can’t be used to do this.

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