Recently, I spoke to Thomas Grove Carter, an award-winning video editor specializing in short-form work, best known for the Honda Type R ad and the recent Game of Thrones teaser, but with a number of high-profile jobs under his belt. We spoke about the industry, about his workflow, and how he got to where he is today. This interview has been edited
IA: How much of London has gone to Final Cut Pro X? I remember horrible tales of horrible workflows when I used to live there.
TGC: I work in quite a small world of commercial editing and music videos, and I think in that world with the small boutique post houses, a lot of them have always been running Avid. A lot of people probably worked on Final Cut Pro 7, but I don’t think there’s many of us, in the world I work in, that are on Final Cut Pro X.
The place I work at, Trim Editing, way more than half of us are on FCP X, we absolutely love it… I don’t want to say it’s definitely not being used, but in the world I’m in, there aren’t huge amounts of people using it.
There’s other completely different parts of the market that probably are using it. I feel that the reason it’s not being used, you’ve got people who’ve got an Avid ISIS, they’ve got editors that are really busy and assistants coming up through the company, they get taught the way that company does stuff, that’s probably Avid in a lot of cases.
IA: Do you think that “apprentice” workflow is particular to editing, where you get taught what your boss uses, and that’s just what you do?
TGC: Possibly. The best editors are at an intersection between creativity and technology or geekery I guess. It’s interesting a lot of editors fall into this bracket with those two sides meeting a little bit. Always makes me laugh when people don’t get into FCP X because you think there’s all these amazing things it can do. It strikes me as quite strange that they don’t see all that stuff.
Obviously editors are working with directors and with people as well, and a lot of the job (especially in commercial) is the relationship you’ve got with a director, so there’s that side of it, and I suppose those kind of people are just working day in day out. They’re not really looking at what’s next, or what they could be doing better, they’re just in the sausage factory, making the stuff they make.
The assistants that then work in that system: that’s what they see, that is editing to them. “We’re in this company, this is how you do it, you put media here and this here and that there…” people get caught up in “this is the way things are done”.
Trim Editing is a small company, but we’re quite light on our feet technology wise. We don’t lock ourselves down to a particular bit of kit, and we’re quite open to doing things differently. There’s three partners of the company, and two of them are on FCP X, one of them’s on Avid. I don’t know that it’ll change, but we run both, you can choose what you want.
IA: Have you used all of the major NLEs?
TGC: Yeah, when I was at university, I did a film and video production degree where we covered all sides of filmmaking. Apart from editing on Steenbeck, which we did to begin with, the first NLE I worked on was probably a really old version of Premiere, and then we learned Avid as well, and then in my final year I was using Final Cut HD. I came up on Final Cut really, then Avid when I started working in a post house.
I started as a runner, working in the machine room at a post-production place called Unit in London. It’s not now, but at the time it was an all Final Cut post house. They had 20 edit suites running Final Cut and a couple of grading suites running Color. That was a really amazing place for me to learn. I was definitely into Final Cut at that time.
I’ve touched Premiere a couple of times, it definitely feels similar to Final Cut 7. I feel if I needed to I could probably pick up what I needed to.
When I first moved to Trim three years ago, as a company we’d made a decision, we needed to get rid of Final Cut 7, because we realized it wasn’t going anywhere. We decided to move to Avid, but they said Final Cut X for personal projects was fine. I did that for a little while on small projects, and over time started using it on more, then one of the other editors started using it… slowly people ticked over. I always think it takes a couple of months for your mind to switch from normal track based… you see the penny drop eventually.
IA: I’ve noticed your edits spend a lot of time on audio—all your timeline have a lot of time of sound effects. Have you got a background in audio?
TGC: No, I really enjoyed it while I was at university, but I’ve never dabbled in proper audio editing. I’m in the world of offline editing, but even just being able to get good audio in the offline can help sell the pitch. Each part sells the other part, they’re kind of one and the same. I do use a lot of sound effects and filters on top of that to build up quite interesting-sounding pieces.
IA: How do you get to work with blue-chip clients like Honda, did you gradually work up to it?
TGC: I think the first two years I was editing I was cutting 35 music videos each year. I really cut my teeth there. Occasionally, one director I worked with might be doing a commercial, and if it wasn’t too big I might be able to get onto it. Things have slowly transitioned from music videos to commercials.
That Honda job was directed by a guy called Daniel Wolfe, who two of the other editors at Trim do a lot of work with. They weren’t available at that time; it was kind of the perfect timing for me to do that job.
IA: It’s got to be the dream of any editor to work on something massive and incredibly popular like Game of Thrones, how’d you get that gig?
TGC: This job came in because… they were shooting a special shoot for Game of Thrones, it’s not made of any footage from the actual show, they go out and shoot especially for the teaser. The director is a guy called Runar, who lives in Stockholm. He approached Trim, he’d wanted to work with a couple of us for a while. I then had to get on a couple of calls with HBO, then I flew to Stockholm and edited it there with a producer from HBO and the director. [The editing] was more about the tension and the mood of the piece. It was always going to be these certain lines happening in a certain order, so it was more about juggling them and building the mood rather than poring through 20 hours of footage trying to find what it was.
The thing I really loved about it, because the whole thing was about building this mood up, and we had these sets of shots of different faces. All the faces are done in post, so we just had a blank face on each of those shots. There are faces in the [shots] but the main faces you see are all CGI. We could juggle the angles around as much as we wanted… the magnetic timeline made it brilliant for reordering, "let’s bring this wide up here and use the medium shot there", so that was really handy. And just with sound as well, I used quite a lot of filters on the music and on these whispers and atmospheric sounds to create a bit of an atmosphere. In the final ad actually, the audio’s very close to how it sounded in the offline. And on the voices as well, we just had the lines of dialog from the show, but I used a filter called Modest Cathedral a lot, I throw that on the voice and it creates that echoey distant voice. There’s a tip I got from Charlie Austin, I use a hold frame at the end of an audio clip. If you use a hold frame, and put reverb on there, it’ll echo through the hold frame. I used that a lot.
Game of Thrones Season 6 Teaser: Probably the biggest teaser we’ve seen so far this year.
Occasionally there was a line of dialog from a character and we wanted to split the two lines so they were placed dramatically apart a little bit, I would put a hold frame in the middle of the two lines, and the reverb would echo into the hold frame, and then the speech would pick back up again at the end of the hold frame. I think the sound was one of the biggest benefits of doing it in X. I think, it was great.
IA: What are the chances of you getting to cut an episode of Game of Thrones, do you think?
TGC: [laughs] I think probably quite low at the moment, because I haven’t got a huge drama background. I don’t know, you never know. I’ll see what I can wheedle out of my connections I guess.
TGC: When you insert on a timeline in any other NLE, things ripple downstream, left to right. I had a music video for Arcade Fire, a narrative piece, it had these sections, where things would definitely happen at certain points in the track. I’d edited the middle section, where something significant was going to happen, and I wanted to start working backwards, inserting the story that was building up to that point. So what I did was I moved the connection point for the music to the middle section that I’d already edited, and began inserting my favorites, building the scene before it, and it ripples backwards when you do that. The back half of the music video was in sync, and I was able to insert, without worrying about it, and the front was what was rippling and going out of sync. Something I couldn’t do in any other NLE. In most cases I like working with everything in the primary.
I’ve been doing a music video in the last week… Once I had my cut together, there might be 15 seconds here that isn’t quite working, I know that whatever happens in those 15 seconds needs to stay in this boundary, what I’ll often do is, everything’s in the primary, I’d lift out the 15-second section I wanted to work on, with the Lift from Storyline command, and then I’ll work with it in a secondary storyline. There’s a 15 second hole in my video below, so I can see the boundaries that I need to hit, but I can ripple and extend and compress my shots in the secondary knowing that I’m not going to knock anything out of sync. I’ve also got this visual guide that showing me that’s the section I need to fit it into. Once I’ve fiddled around, I drop it back into the primary storyline. That’s what I do when I’m a bit further down the line.
The timeline for the award-winning Honda “The Other Side — chock full of audio clips — see the full story at fcp.co
TGC: It’s away from the storyline as well, the way the browser’s set up I absolutely love. One of the other editors I work with, for a few months he would start in FCP X, because he absolutely loved favoriting, and loved the organization. He’d love all that, and then he’d get to the timeline and slam on the brakes because he couldn’t work and he’d send it back to Final Cut 7. I’ve found with a lot of editors that there’s always something that kept them coming back to FCP X. Even if they didn’t like a whole load of other things, they kept coming back for that one thing until the other stuff clicked, and then it was like "Actually, it’s all great".
For me, when FCP X first came out, the fact that you could extend an audio clip and other audio would jump out of the way, that was the first thing that caught my eye, and kept me coming back in the 10.0 days.
I just love working in the browser and favoriting, not having to have stringout sequences, select sequences, all these different rigid sequences that are there. And clients love it as well. If I ever have to go into Avid or Final Cut 7 now, I almost feel blinkered because you’re only seeing the frame that you’re parked over, and I kinda feel that with filmstrip view the blinkers are taken off and you’re seeing all your footage.
I know you can have thumbnails in other NLEs but it feels different in FCP X cause you can just wave your magic wand over it and see all of those frames and if you need them, I just find it a lot quicker.
And the favoriting thing, jumping between Hide Rejected and Show Favorites. You know, the director says to me, "you’ve missed a bit, there was a bit after that bit you’ve selected", I can just jump, without having to go to another sequence or match back. I can switch my view with a keyboard shortcut to Hide Rejected, and continue playing the clip, and then add that favorite in, I really like that whole system.
Everything feels a lot more fluid. If you’re doing favoriting, pressing In, Out, and F for favorite, you don’t ever stop to write something to the timeline. Playback just continues… if I realize I need to extend that shot, I just carry on playing and extend the out point and press F again and it’ll extend the favorite. The things I love most are not technological things… I feel like they really nailed the new metaphor, I really love it, the browser, the way you have clip connections, a primary storyline, you can move chunks of content around and everything goes with it—that’s the thing I absolutely love.
IA: I’ve noticed in screenshots of your timelines that you turn connection lines off?
TGC: It just looks neater. If you actually turn the connections off, whenever you select a clip or select an in and out range in the primary storyline, the connections of those clips appear. So before you do something with a clip anyway, you’re always going to see where the connections are. As you know, with some of my timelines, I might have 20 sound effects below the lower video clip, and when you’ve got loads of lines anyway, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to see all of those, because I can’t see which one is connected to which one if there’s a whole jumble of effects. I find I don’t need them on all the time; they appear when I need them.
I find one of the biggest advantages of working in FCP X is because every bit of audio is associated with the correct bit of video, regardless of where that audio clip begins. It might begin two shots before the shot that it is actually building to and linking to.
I think that kind of thing is one of the biggest time savers further down the line, when I’m working quickly and doing a cut-down or reordering things. Although FCP X allows me to edit faster, if someone gives me a week to edit something, I’ll still use the full week I think, but this speed gives me more time to try different things out. I don’t think I’m ever arguing myself out of doing something.
In FCP 7, if I have to completely pull my sequence apart to do something a director was suggesting, I’d probably find myself saying "I don’t think we should do that", and sort of dressing it up on creative grounds, I’m not doing it maliciously, I think a lot people don’t even realize they do that, but when it’s easy to pick that clip up and move it over there and the sound goes with it, there’s no reason not to do it. And half the time the director will be right anyway, so you may as well.
TGC: We’re obviously doing offline work, so all of our sound work, all of our grade work, and visual effects work, is going to be to done by MPC, The Mill, Framestore, all those big post houses, they will always finish those off. But in the offline, I will always get it as far as possible, because the cut that the agency and the client sign off on will be the cut that I’ve done in my NLE. We need to sell in the idea that this sound design that we’re going to do is going to work, we’ve got to get it as close as possible. It's amazing how close you can get things to a final onlined quality. The built-in tools in Final Cut are so good that you can really craft and polish to a very high level.
TGC: I always think it’s a funny balancing act actually, for the Final Cut team. Just because the app they’ve created is such a hugely and diverse market than what Final Cut 7 or Avid is. No-one is picking up Avid to edit any home videos. So I find it really hard for them that they have to appeal to the two sides of this really wide and diverse market.
IA: Are there any features you’d like to see in the next version of Final Cut?
TGC: One of the things I’d really love is to be able to play through clips in the browser [continuously]. It’s funny because iMovie does it. I understand why it doesn’t do it in X because you could just jump onto the next clip without meaning to. Currently I have to put the selects on a timeline and press play, but if I’m doing that, that’s now disconnected from my browser.
I think I’d like some kind of roles-based organization for audio in the timeline, that’d be nice. I love the audio in FCP X and I know a lot of people don’t, but it can get a little messy when things stack up. We’ve lost tracks, which is great in my opinion. What’s brilliant about Final Cut is that you don’t have to manage where these things are. I actually love Roles as they are already, clicking on a role to highlight that role… it feels like maybe we could go a step further.
Links and more
Some editing tips from Thomas:
Check out some more of Thomas’s award-winning work here:
Finally, if you want more proof that FCP X is production ready, these ads have been cut in in FCP X by editors at Trim Editing:
THOMAS GROVE CARTER
Game of Thrones ‘Hall of Faces Tease’ https://youtu.be/OmrA8nOZF2Q
Honda 'The Other Side' https://vimeo.com/110502624
Perrier 'Balloons' http://youtu.be/rQ4CtzNeo0o
Audi 'Born Restless' http://youtu.be/EiHdgE9VUJc
Canon ‘Skijoring’ https://youtu.be/Jkjkus6fPlw
Arcade Fire 'We Exist' http://youtu.be/hRXc_-c_9Xc
Powerade ‘The Churn’ https://vimeo.com/139321277
Sony 'Script to Screen' http://youtu.be/4P4Wl1Ogg_g
Sport England 'This Girl Can' http://youtu.be/aN7lt0CYwHg
iPad 'Make Music' https://youtu.be/IkWlxuGxxJg
Three Mobile 'Make It Right' http://youtu.be/_6jl5RoyMek
Angry Birds 2 https://youtu.be/175Bq3MSrWo
John Smiths 'Only Ordinary By Name' http://youtu.be/gPafQfokx84
Selena Gomez "Heart Wants What It Wants" http://youtu.be/ij_0p_6qTss
BMW 'Curiosity' http://youtu.be/qO7BA9i72Gw
Gordon’s 'The Boar' http://youtu.be/sMQ5HniaQX8
Cravendale 'The Milk Drinker' https://vimeo.com/127583907
Chemical Brothers ‘Sometimes I Feel So Deserted’ https://youtu.be/saZVNLMMmmo
Miike Snow ’Gengis Khan’ https://youtu.be/P_SlAzsXa7E