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This course shows how to build a polished documentary using Apple Final Cut Pro X and a few essential editing techniques. Author Diana Weynand demonstrates documentary editing in a real-world project, breaking down the process into a series of manageable steps and milestones. After reviewing existing footage, explore how to build and define a narrative, assemble rough cuts, and create motion graphics. Then see how to adjust B-roll shots, incorporate color correction and audio mixing techniques, and export the final movie.
This course is part of a series that looks at documentary editing from the point of view of 3 different editors in 3 different editing applications. For more insight on editing documentary projects, take a look at Documentary Editing with Avid Media Composer and Documentary Editing with Premiere Pro.
I've heard countless stories over the years of people watching awful looking film, or video, with bad color, clips that are too dark or too bright, with film scratches, and even spots on some images. The viewer watches in silence as though everything is just fine, and yet the moment the audio falls out of sync one frame, or makes a somewhat awkward cut, the person will perk up and say, did you hear that? Even though we get 90% of our information through our eyes, it can be much more forgiving than our ears. So you want to make sure to fix, or remove, any negative distractions from the audio in your documentary, or believe me, you'll hear about it.
Now, speaking of fixing things that are distracting, we've been stepping over this first clip of BD where he introduces himself. So let's take a moment to fix that one and check that off our list right now. We'll zoom into that section and just play a part of that clip. (BD Dautch: My name is BD Dautch.) And there it is, that little jump because he was saying something else before, and we didn't get a clean entry. Well, what's very cool about Final Cut is that, if we had the waveform showing, we could use the Fade control. So we're going to set the Timeline up in a way that will help us work with audio.
First, let's change the Clip Appearance and bring our Waveform back. And since we're focusing on audio in this movie, let's go ahead and add a taller waveform. Now, we could make our clips a little taller as well to see even more of the waveform. We also want to look at, throughout this particular project, as we're working on audio, we want to look at the actual audio meters. And you get the audio meters by clicking right here in the dashboard. You can adjust the size of the meters.
And now that we have the audio waveform, we see that little fade control in the clip. Now, every clip that has audio has this fade control, but you have to be right over it in order to adjust it. If you move your pointer a little higher, you get the Trim tool. Right on that little fade, you get the fade control. Now, let's just start with 2 frames, and the fade is actually acting like a little transition. Let's see what 2 frames does for us. (BD Dautch: My name is BD Dautch.) So the next thing you want to do is think about your primary audio.
Primary audio is going to be anyone who is contributing to the primary narrative storyline. So let's go ahead and listen to the content of BD's first clip. (BD Dautch: ...BD Dautch, and I have Earthtrine Farm.) As you listen, look at the audio meters. And you have to think about what's the target level for this project, -12 dB is often used as the target audio level for broadcast audio and video. Sometimes it goes a little bit higher, but really never more than -6. You can take an audio output up to 0, but you don't want to go over that, or it will distort the audio.
For this project, since it's going to be part of a publicity kit and then eventually end up on the web, you have a little more elbow room, and you could utilize the space, but if it was ever going to air for broadcast, you'd want to come back down to the -12. So let's use that as the target range for the work we do now. (BD Dautch: ...and we've got about 10 acres in Ojai, and we grow about 100 different herbs...) So it sounds like BD's clips are all very much in that target, the -12 dB. I'm going to press Shift+Z and jump to John Downey.
He was much more soft-spoken. I'm going to zoom into his set of clips, and let's see what his first clip looks like on the audio meters. (John Downey: We opened this restaurant in 1982, and in about 1983...) That was a really good opportunity to point out that if there's any secondary clips playing at the same time, go ahead and drag their audio down, or disable the clip, by selecting it and pressing V so that you won't hear the sound, and you won't compete with the primary audio.
So this is a simple case of needing to raise the volume up a little bit. When you are displaying a taller waveform, you can see when you start to raise the level too high, because Final Cut shows you yellow and then red. So if we raise it maybe 5 dB, and let's see if that helps us. (John Downey: ...in 1982, and in about 1983 BD came through the back door.) So that's very acceptable. So if we're done with that, I'm going to go ahead and bring this clip back online.
We'll raise its volume a little bit. If we know we want the same amount of volume to be added, or applied, to all of these John Downey clips, what we can do is select them as a group. Remember, this is the section that we took out a lot of his little repetitive words. Select these clips, go up to the Modify menu, choose Volume, and choose Up. And every time we use that shortcut, Ctrl+Equals, it will raise the volume 1 dB.
I'm going to go ahead and do this once. And now I'm going to use the shortcut, Ctrl+Equals, and watch the waveform get higher every time I do it. Now, we start to see a little bit of yellow introduced here, so I might want to go back down, which is Ctrl+Minus. Let's take a listen. (John Downey: He makes you want to cry, with how dedicated he is to producing the very best that he can. It gives me something to think about.) So the next stage, after you get the primary audio at the level you want is you start to listen to the primary audio mixed in with the secondary.
Here's a group of clips, the B-roll clips, the cutaways, that actually provide some secondary audio. And one thing you can do is just take a quick look. Notice that this Farmers Market clip jumps up pretty high. Let's see if that's distracting. (John Downey: I like to put on my plate something which is equally as special as he's bringing to the market.) So one thing we could do is just maybe adjust the faders a little bit. So we just sort of ease in and ease out of the clip. (John Downey: ...special as he's bringing to the market.) And we might still need to lower the volume. So those are very simple things you can do.
But let's head back to the beginning of the project, and let's take a look at some things we can do around this opening sequence. For one thing, when we listened to this before, we noticed that there was a background sound that we liked from this first background clip. But then the background sounds stopped. It might be nice to continue that background sound. An easy way to do that is just to right-click on the clip and say Expand Audio/Video. Now, let me just scroll up a little so we can see it.
And what that does is it gives us independent control over each track. So now I can actually trim the audio by itself and extend it underneath the two clips. Let's see how we like that. (BD Dautch: My name is BD Dautch, and...) Well, that really starts to sell this particular group of clips. And another little thing we can do to finesse it is just to fade that sound out underneath him walking so it doesn't sound abrupt when it cuts out.
(BD Dautch: My name is BD Dautch, and...) Now, you don't have to leave that clip like that, you can say Collapse it now, and it's tucked away, but it's still doing the same thing as it did before. So now it's time for music. What we have is the gap as a reference point from where we want the music to go, that gap has come in very handy. By pressing X we select the gap.
Let's go find a music that we want to place here. Let's go ahead and use Silent Charm at the beginning. Let's listen to what that sounds like. (music playing) I think that's going to work, but I'm sort of missing the natural sound that we started out with before. So one way to allow that natural sound to get started is just to scooch over the track and then we get to hear a little bit.
Another thing we can do is to ease the music in by creating a little bit of a fade. (music playing) This is one of those projects where you really want the music to sort of be part of the story, because it adds an emotional component, and this story is very emotional. So what we're going to do is go ahead and extend the music track all the way out to where the other music begins or right up to it.
The thing is we may not be able to listen to it at full volume, right? Let's take a look at where the volume is hitting on the audio meters. (music playing) In general, the audio is much louder, or higher, than all the primary audio, which you don't want. You never want the music when it's up full and by itself to be higher in volume than the primary audio. (music playing) And then when the primary audio begins, and you start to hear someone speak, well, you need to bring the audio down.
One way you can do that is by creating keyframes. If I press the Option key and click on the volume line, a keyframe is added wherever I click. Think of a pushpin on a rubber band that nails one of the areas down, then allows me to adjust the other ones. So now we've sort of nailed down the volume of the music track prior to BD speaking, and these are adjustable, so we can actually drag them around to change the placement of the keyframes. Let's see if this volume is now at a low enough level to provide some emotional support for the piece but still allow BD to be the primary audio.
(BD Dautch: My name is BD Dautch, and I have...) Well, to sum up, there are a few key points about audio. Never allow your audio sources to compete unless you want that as an effect. Always pick a clear winner, decide which source is the most important, and needs to be heard above all the other audio sources in the mix. And then balance the other sources as supporting cast members. Don't compete with the star.
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