Collaborative Workflow in FCP X
Part 1 By Ron Priest

This article describes my workflow relating specifically to remote editors collaborating on FCP X libraries. In it, we’ll cover the steps necessary to exchange hard drives containing media from numerous wedding projects and transmitting organized FCP X libraries of completed edits as well as transfer libraries with updated and or new projects between 2 or more remote editors.

Lets pretend that Tracy, who has a studio in New York, needs some help getting caught up with her wedding backlog. She’s come up short in the search for a local editor but has found Bob in LA who has agreed to help her organize some libraries and accomplish some basic documentary edits. Bob is an accomplished wedding editor with a great deal of knowledge and practical experience in FCP X. The projects which she’s going to send to Bob are projects which she has not yet started. She hasn’t even imported the media into FCP, and only has the camera archives she created from the original SD camera cards. So, Bob’s job will be to import the media into a FCP X library, populate the library with metadata, create keyword collections, establish favorites and create smart collections. He’ll then create some documentary edits before transmitting the library file online back to Tracy where she’ll then accomplish some creative edits such as the feature and or highlight edits.


Since we’ve already established that Tracy had created camera archives for each card used at each wedding, she could simply place those archives in a folder representing each wedding project, along with a subfolder of any externally recorded audio of the ceremony and reception, identify it as such via the folder name and send the hard drive to Bob. I’ll also point out here, that if any of the cameras used by Tracy produce HDV (m2t) and AVCHD (mts, m2ts) files, Bob will be able to import these media files in X directly from the camera archives.

While camera archives may be my preferred method for backing up cards, they're NOT however, my preferred method for collaboration. The reason; If Camera Archives are used, any future requirement to relink files, will need to be accomplished on each card, one at a time as you can’t simply tell FCP X to relink to a folder of camera archives. This becomes quite tedious and unneeded if Tracy would extract the .mov files and organize them into a folder structure which will be conducive to a collaborative workflow, as described below. 

Let me be clear; If Tracy sends Bob the folders/files just containing the .mov files versus the camera archives, and both Bob and Tracy use the same volume name and folder/subfolder structure, absolutely no relinking of files should ever be needed in the future by either editor. This includes whether Tracy is initially loading the library Bob sends her, or when either editor sends the other new or updated projects via a transfer library (discussed in part 2 of this article). So, if you want to maintain a "plug and play" workflow, you should keep this in mind.

Even if Tracy had originally created camera archives as her “first line of defense” backup, I don’t recommend sending those camera archives to Bob to ingest into FCP X. I would suggest that she extract the .mov files from the camera archives to her working RAID and place them in a folder structure similar to the one shown in the image below. For a collaborative workflow, allowing the library created by Bob to be linked back to the media files, it’s important for Tracy and Bob to have a cloned copy of the folder and file structure on their working RAID. This will make any future relinking (if required) much easier and faster as FCP X can relink a set of subfolders simply by selecting a single parent folder. It’s also important to point out here that if any of the cameras used by Tracy produce HDV (m2t) and AVCHD (mts, m2ts) files, they need to be rewrapped into QuickTime movies, and placed into the corresponding wedding folders on her working RAID before creating the cloned drive for Bob. Note, these files don’t need to be transcoded to ProRes, they just need to be rewrapped. Notice the .mov files in the opened Card 1 folder in the image below are AVCHD files that have been re-wrapped using the application ClipWrap.


This is a good time to point out that in order to have success with a collaborative workflow, the media files themselves need to reside outside of the library. This is called an externally referenced library. One reason externally referenced libraries are required is to keep the library files extremely small, allowing them to be easily transmitted via DropBox or some other cloud type service. In contrast, when importing the media files into the library, this action creates an internally managed library which may be ideal for a one-man band, but that is not what we want for our collaborative workflow because the Library file will balloon in size and be difficult to share back and forth as they make changes.

Once Bob receives the drive shipped by Tracy, He’ll first need to copy the folders and files to his working production drive maintaining the folder structure setup by Tracy and being extra careful not to modify the structure or files in any fashion. He’ll then establish a single library for each wedding project with a single event (we’ll name it; Media) and import the files using the option; Leave Files In Place, to create an externally referenced library.

Now what if Tracy had instead, provided Bob with camera archives? Before importing the files into the library from the camera archives, he’ll want to redirect the target for the library’s preferences, specifically the Media, Cache and FCPX backup locations. Properly targeting a media folder in advance to importing the files will provide a location for X to copy the individual media files from the camera archives. Bob will accomplish this by selecting the library, and in the inspector pane he’ll click on the Modify Settings button to set the storage locations for the associated library. Once the files have been fully imported from the camera archives, the external drive containing the archives can be unmounted.



Importing Media from Camera Archives: Bob will mount the drive containing the Camera Archives Tracy sent him, and with the Media event selected in the corresponding library, he’ll select File/Import and navigate to each of the camera archives (one at a time) and twirl open the specific archive to select the desired clip(s) for import. It’s important to twirl open the archive and select the clips as you can’t click on the archive itself as you would an entire folder structure from a finder window. Click on the import button and you’ll see the Media Import window open for you to make any additional selections are desired.


You’ll notice in the example below, the choice in the Files Section to “Copy to library storage location: WorkFlow Test” is automatically selected, that’s because we have previously targeted the storage location in the library preferences settings. If you hadn’t of already done this, you would have the option to choose a different location to copy the files to, I just prefer to establish upfront where I want those files to be stored before I get this far.


You’ll also notice that the “Leave files in place” is grayed out and can’t be selected, this is because you are importing files from a camera archive, and you can’t leave files in place as they must be copied from the camera archive to your working drive, otherwise you would not be able to unmount the drive containing the media files. Also notice that you can’t automatically create keywords from finder folders, again this is because you are not importing form a finder folder, but from a camera archive. However, don't be alarmed that you’re loosing functionality here as the name of the camera archive will be used and assigned to the reels and camera metadata fields upon import. If after import, you don’t want the this metadata in both fields, you can simply remove it from the improper metadata field for the affected files. This in my opinion is a great improvement over importing files from the finder level as that method only allows you to assign the camera name metadata to the imported clips automatically, not the reel name also.

Additionally, Bob will need to import the required audio files provided by Tracy in the subfolders on the drive she sent him. Once all of the desired files have been copied (not just imported) and the copy procedure has concluded, verified by viewing the background task window, Bob can eject the drive containing the camera archives.


Bob will now proceed to create keyword collections, select his favorite portions of clips and establish some smart collections to identify the desired media to be used in his doc edit. Once he has organized the library, and completed the doc edit he will be ready to transmit the library to Tracy using his desired method whether that be Apple Mail Drop, Dropbox, SugarSync, or some other cloud or file transfer service.

However, before he sends the library file to Tracy, It’s highly recommend that he compress the library (zip it). This will not only decrease it’s file size dramatically, but it will also insure the file arrives to Tracy with the minimum chance of becoming corrupted. To zip a file in OS X, simply select the file in Finder and right click (control-click) and select to compress the file from the dropdown menu. You can generally expect the zipped library file to be anywhere from 6 MB to 23 MB depending on the overall size and amount of media files originally imported, but anything much bigger then that is a red flag that you’ve done something wrong. Make no mistake, this is an externally referenced library, all of the media, cache and render files (if created) will reside outside of the library so it should be very tiny.

As mentioned above, If you’re running OS 10.10 Yosemite and using iCloud, you can email the library files via Apple Mail using Mail Drop (even if the person receiving the file isn’t using Apple Mail, or even a Mac God forbid). Mail Drop allows sending files that would normally exceed the maximum size allowed by most email accounts. Mail Drop uploads large attachments to iCloud, where they’re encrypted and stored for up to 30 days. Here’s a link describing how to use Mail Drop:

Once Tracy receives the zipped library file from Bob, and if she had initially extracted the .mov files from her Camera Archives to her working RAID in the folder/file structure recommended above, the following is all she needs to do. 

First, she’ll need to unzip the file to any location desired. Then she’ll need to insure the RAID is mounted, and then simply double click on the extracted library file inside finder to load it in FCP X. She’ll initially be presented with the library preference window informing her that some of the folders are missing. This is expected since Bob’s storage preference will most likely differ from Tracy’s. However, she’ll simply need to inform FCP X where she wants to target any new Media, Cache, and FCP X Backup File storage to an existing folder. It doesn’t make any difference really what folders she uses for the targets, she can create a folder on her desktop named _Temp and target all 3 storage locations there if she wants. However, to keep things unified, I would recommend that she create two folders, one named New Media and the other named Cache in the root folder of the specific Productions Assets wedding folder she created. That's where she stored the media files and set her library preferences to these folders keeping the preference for the FCP X backup at it’s original location which is the users default movie folder on their system drive. This will insure automatic backups are created whenever Time Machine creates a backup of the system drive. 

If everything has been accomplished as per instruction above, Tracy should now be able to view and manipulate the library just as if she had imported the media and organized the library herself on her own computer.

But, what if Tracy hadn’t extracted the .mov files from the Camera Archives and simply sent Bob a copy of the Camera Archives? Well the following is why I don’t recommend this method. 

First of all, Tracy is going to have to insure the external backup drive containing the Camera Archives is always mounted before she opens any particular library referencing those archives, unless she copies the camera archives to her working RAID. In either case, she’ll need to re-link the files in the library to the Camera Archives, one archive at a time, until all of the files get relinked. She should only have to accomplish this once, but if Bob sends her a transfer library containing new or updated projects, she’ll have to relink the Camera Archives again for each transfer library, every time Bob sends here another one. What a PITA!

Copyright © 2014 Ron Priest. All rights reserved.
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