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...what I really wanna do is direct.

Feb 2001

...what I really wanna do is direct.

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This article was originally published in February of 2000 on It's the story of a man with no editing experience and his struggles to learn Final Cut Pro. It attempts to answer that most frequent of questions; Can I learn Final Cut Pro on my own and is this "app" right for me? The answer it seems, is yes you can and yes it is.

By Michael Horton

A little background:
I'm an actor here in Los Angeles and have made a good living for over 25 years. About 10 years ago I began wondering if there was more to life then sitting around in a trailer waiting for someone to yell 'first team' and then being told by (usually a moron) the director to go here, say this, and lets do it again with more energy. Yea, that's right, what I always wanted to do was direct. But I never did anything about it. Didn't have the time frankly. I was busy. I was working, and I had a family.

Last June of 99, after seeing a demo of FCP, (Final Cut Pro) by the Promax Company gurus at Apple in Santa Monica, I decided to plunge into the world of NLE, (Non Linear Editing) figuring If I wanted to direct, I should learn how to edit too. Promax's demo made it look easy, (although I didn't understand a word of what they were saying) and I knew my way around a Mac as well as anyone. I was proficient in Photoshop and a lot of other apps. I knew how to tell a story. Heck, how hard could this NLE stuff be? Hah!

June 1999:
It's my philosophy that if you really want to learn something, do it yourself. And I mean do it yourself. No classes. No turnkey system. No mentor holding your hand. Just get a bunch of books, surf the web for answers, dive in and hope you don't drown. That's the way I learned the Mac OS and damn if I wasn't going to learn FCP this way. So I examined the flyer Promax handed out at the seminar and copied down what I needed to buy to be the complete editor. I then spent 2 weeks scanning internet shopping sites for the best prices I could find and finally invested in the following:

NOTE: The following reflects 1999 prices. Obviously, they have changed

B&W 350, 256 mgb ram, DVD, zip, modem- Macconnection-$1599
Turbomax card- $125 (out of business)
Maxtor 20 gig ATA HD- Buy.Com-$238
Bose Mediamate speakers- Buy.Com-$129
Final Cut Pro -$999- Apple Store
Sony NTSC 14N5U montor- Medical Video Systems-$475
Cool 2 level computer desk- Ikea-$214
Adaptec video card- Creative Computers, ($69
(I had a 17"Sony sf11 from my previous Mac)
Total: $4798

Used Sony DCR VX1000- Recycler Magazine ($1600
3 info lithium batteries- DBL-$225
Bogen Tripod and fluid head - - $349
5" LCD monitor for VX1000- - $175
Total: $2349

Grand Total - $7147.00
I am cheap, hear me roar!

While waiting for my orders to begin arriving, I immersed myself into reading all I could about FCP and Non Linear Editing. This way I could get a jump on the system and be prepared once it arrives. And a darn good idea as I look back. For you see, as someone new to NLE, the first hurdle one must get over is the jargon used in this 'bizzarro' world.

Few people know, and I can say this with some assurance, that the language of NLE was lifted directly from hieroglyphics found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. The famous archeologist, whose name escapes me, when asked what he saw upon uncovering King Tut's tomb, did not say, "I see wonderful things." He said, "I'm not sure.There seems to be significant Luma Clamping." It's true.

Determined to understand this language, I stumbled onto a web site that offered definitions of terms This proved invaluable as I now began to understand most of the posts at and, two news groups which I was spending countless hours scanning.

July, 1999
My editing equipment began trickling in, and since I knew Macs well enough, had no problem assembling everything I needed to be the complete editor. Everything worked and fitted like a charm. Trouble was, FCP hadn't arrived from Apple yet. No problem. I wasn't ready for it any way.

I continued my surfing, my reading, my NLE education. It was at this time I found and immediately felt I had stumbled onto FCP nirvana. Here was a place where pros and newbies alike could share their joys and frustrations about this new application. After a couple of days reading all the 'frustrations' and very little 'joys' I wondered if I might of made a big mistake. No matter. I kept at it and after a few more days concluded that indeed FCP was the app for me and 2-pop would show me the way to NLE bliss.

Middle of July, 1999
FCP arrives and I let it stay in the box for 3 days. I'm not sure why, but I believe it was because I just wasn't ready. I was discovering new terms by the hour and my head was awash in "NLE speak." I still didn't understand what 'Codec' meant, and 'Key Frames' had me baffled. And what was this 'nesting' nonsense?

End of July, 1999
I had just returned from a screening of a low budget movie I was in. it was one of the worst movies I had ever seen, and it was exactly what I needed to get started. If these guys could get the money to do this piece of crap and have the courage to actually show the final product to an audience, well then by gosh, let's get going on this editing stuff.

My head swimming with desire and cheap alcohol served at the screening, I hurried home to once and for all start and conquer this strange world of editing.
Having read countless posts at 2-pop on the right and wrong way to install and configure FCP, I breezed through the process. A double click and I was up and running. And I was proud. Take that all you turnkey buying, class taking, tech support calling cowards!

The Tutorial: End of July, 1999
It has been said many times in many posts that the tutorial and the manual, (the manual that comes with 1.0) that comes with FCP leaves much to be desired. I would have to agree. Those new to FCP would be wise to not to read the manual as you do the tutorial as you will surely want to kill the fellow in the goofy hat talking about swing dancing. However, if you want to learn the system, you have no choice but to read the manual and do the tutorial. And to be fair, the tutorial gives a good overview on FCP's interface.

I gotta tell ya, all that reading and preparing I had been doing really did give me a leg up on FCP. I began the tutorial with manual in lap and quite easily got through the first 3 sections. The hardest part was remembering the difference between the Viewer and the Canvas and the Browser and the Timeline. But like any new user of an application I crashed and burned. It was, of course during the compositing section. I just couldn't get it to look like what it was supposed to look like. I mean there was no chance. OK. So I go to 2-pop and post my question, get an answer from Ralph Fairweather in about 5 minutes, (this was 1:00 AM mind you) and I was on my way. At approximately 2:30 AM I finished the tutorial. It was possibly one of the proudest moments of my life. Which is pathetic if you think about it. Anyway, I woke my wife who was kind enough to get out of bed to view my masterpiece. She was proud and thought the guy with the goofy hat was cute.

August, 1999
I had done the tutorial a few more times just to be sure I understood the concepts and get that Viewer and Canvas thing down. I got pretty confident and soon began mixing up the clips, flipping dancers on their heads and distorting the face of the guy with the goofy hat. I played with the dissolves, fades, wipes and filters and discovered all sorts of cool stuff one could do. I added titles. I had a ball.

I was now ready to do my first project. Having been an amateur photographer for many years, I quickly familiarized myself with the VX1000. (with the help of all those digital camera sites on the web) I decided to give myself the following task which would both serve me in learning the camera and FCP; I would take my son and his friend to the park for a couple of days and shoot them skate boarding and what ever else they might do, and bring all that footage back, dump it into my Mac and try to tell a story. I hadn't a clue as to what the story was going to be. But that was the idea.

Middle of August, 1999
I now had lots of footage and it was time to do my first batch capture. Again, all the reading and preparing I did prior to getting FCP and the daily visits to 2-pop paid off. The capture went without a hitch. I now had about 10 gigs worth of media to play with and I was going to tell a story.

First thing to do was drop a clip in the Viewer, set my in and out points and drag it to the Overwrite box. Cool. No problem. Another clip followed and another and so on. Before I knew it I had me a sequence. Hell, I had me a project file. What I didn't have was the makings of a story. But I didn't care, because I had created a sequence, damnit.

After a while I began to see some shape to my movie. I just kept setting various clips 'ins and outs' and dropping them in the Timeline and playing the sequence back, then deleting, then dropping some other clip in place, then deleting... Mind you, none of this was with out problems. I had to contend with the trim edit window which to this day I haven't quite mastered. I'm still unsure of the definition of a roll edit vs. a ripple edit. (The definitions might be clear, but I still don't get it) When I got completely stuck, I posted to 2-pop, got a friendly answer and went back to editing. But I somehow made all of this work and soon had the clear makings of a story.

It was music that got me over the hump. I dropped a track from a U2 album into the Timeline. I used markers to cut to the beat. This was clearly shaping up to be a music video now, but one with a story. More cuts, more deletes, more trims. Put a marker here, put a marker there.Search forever for a clip that will work. Make note to self that next time I name the clips better. Post to 2-pop. Fool with filters and slow-mo and wipes. Bang away, make mistakes, start over, bring in more music, mix audio levels, keep changing and re arranging. Walk away during renders. Come back and change again.

Well, my first project turned out pretty good I must say. It wasn't ready for MTV, but it did posses a kind of purity and charm that seems to often accompany first efforts. I accomplished my task though. I made a beginning, a middle, and an end. I told a story and made something out of nothing using something I knew nothing about. All this in only 3 weeks of using FCP and 4 weeks of a lot of reading.

November, 1999
Discovered and bought DV Companion and immediately integrated it into my new project. It saved and has saved my butt on numerous occasions. The heck with the manual, I say. With this app, you don't need it.


February, 2000
I have since cut a PSA for a Non Profit Organization, and made a music video for my son's football team. I cut a documentary on Women in the Civil War, which was well received by not only everyone who has seen it, but is now out in the world of film festivals. I am also in the process of doing a documentary on handicapped children and their relationship with horses as therapy. I have over 30 hours of footage following the achievements of these children, and how far they have come since the first time they got on a horse. Remarkable stuff, really. And finally, I have a script which I intend to direct this coming April here in LA. The money is in place, the nerves are steady and I 'm ready for the challenge. Oh yeah...I'm going to cut it myself.

I guess the moral of this lengthy love story to FCP is that if I can do it, any one can do it. I make no claims to my being ready for prime time, (there is so much to learn) but I can say with all humility that given the chance to compete with the pros, I wouldn't embarrass myself.

I bought Lisa Brenneis's book, Final Cut Pro Visual Quick Guide as the last supplement to my library of FCP knowledge. Along with 2-pop, DV Companion and a real desire to go out and change the world, it's all you really need. Well, that and some money. Talent helps too.

If I learned anything from my experience with my first project it was that if you just start doing it, you will somehow figure out how to finish it. When you get stuck, post to 2-pop or look it up in Lisa's book or watch the little step by step in DV Companion. You will get it eventually, so help me Ralph.

Read, read, read! Nothing will prepare you better for this app than reading everything you can on NLE, FCP and it's strange jargon. This stuff is not hard, it is just complex. After all, when it is said and done, FCP is just a tool for you to manipulate and mold your movies. The trick is... to teach it to let you. And that takes time, which, come on now, is something we all have enough of.

Update: June 2001
I sold that documentary about Women in the Civil War to an outfit in NY and am in negotiations for 7 more stories concerning same. Didn't make a lot of money on the front end, but the back end looks promising. No matter. It was validation that someone liked what I did.

I directed a soap opera pilot for the internet several months ago. It was very well received, and got as far as Sony giving it the green light, but died when all the dot coms died. We might bring it back to life once we put a plan into place that can work and make some real money. Bought the domain name to go along with it;

That documentary I did on handicapped children and horse therapy? Well as a result of it, it raised a few thousand dollars for the ranch and it is still selling as I write this.

The short movie I wrote and directed turned out less than good. In fact it was awful. The performances were good, the story was fine, the photography was fine, but the audio was horrible. Ultimately unfixable. So I shelved it and started over. Lost a bit of money on it but learned a heck of a lot. Number one was to surround yourself with those who know more than you and let them do their job while you concentrate on doing what you do and know best. Big lesson.

So the script for the next project is almost ready and I have since grown quite comfortable with FCP due, in no small part, to the talented and helpful people I hang out with at lafcpug.

I knew there was a reason I started this group. I just couldn't remember what it was.

Michael Horton

Michael Horton has been an actor in Los Angeles for 25 years. He has guest starred in over 150 TV shows, appeared in over a dozen films, and sold himself to the devil in over 400 National TV commercial. He is probably best known as 'Grady' in "Murder She Wrote," a role he played for 10 seasons.He also appeared in the Last 2 Star Trek movies as Lt. Daniels, and will soon be seen in "The Learning Curve," a film that is destined to go straight to video and languish in the 'rent me if you dare' section. You can contact Michael at <> if you have any questions about FCP, NLE, running a FCP UG or being over 40 in the entertainment industry.

copyright©2000-2010 Michael Horton

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