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Filmmaking 101: Anatomy of a Final Cut Express Project

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Before you can make movie magic, it helps to understand how your editing program organizes and manipulates all of those sequences and clips you've been shooting. In this sample chapter from Final Cut Express 4 Visual QuickStart Guide, author Lisa Brenneis shows you how to manage a well-organized project in Final Cut Express.
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A Final Cut Express project is more than a collection of media files. The real power of Final Cut Express lies in the way the media is controlled by the intelligence of the program's data structuring. To take advantage of that power, you must take control of the data.

This chapter introduces Final Cut Express's system of organizing your video projects. You'll get an overview of Final Cut Express's organizing frameworks: projects, sequences, and clips. You'll also learn how to manipulate that organizational framework so that your projects, sequences, and clips stay sound and organized.

Longer, more complex projects sometimes require a little extra care and feeding, so you'll find project management strategies and techniques for building a project that contains multiple sequences. You'll also find tips on how to delete media files—and how to resurrect deleted files.

Final Cut Express is a nondestructive, nonlinear editing system, and that design has an impact on the way it handles file management. You'll be much more effective as a media manager if you understand how Final Cut Express tracks media files and project data before you use the project management techniques described in this chapter.

"FCE Protocol: Clips and Sequences," found later in this chapter, explains the rules you really need to know to understand how this program constructs edits.

Anatomy of an FCE Project

A Final Cut Express project breaks down into the following key components.

  • Project file: The top level of the FCE organizing framework, a project file stores references (file location information) to all the media files you use to complete a particular program, along with the sequencing information (your cut) and all settings for special effects you apply to any clip in the project. The project file contains no media—it's strictly the "brains" of your project—but this one file is your project's most valuable asset. All your editing genius is stored in this modest data file.
  • Sequence: The middle level of the Final Cut Express organizing framework, a sequence is an edited assembly of audio and video clips. A sequence is always part of a project, and you can have multiple sequences in a project, but you can't save a sequence separately from a project. However, you can copy a sequence from one project and paste it into another project.
  • Clip: The ground level of the FCE organizing framework, the clip represents an individual unit of media in Final Cut Express. A clip can stand for a movie, a still image, a nested sequence, a generator, or an audio file. Clip types appear in the Browser's Type column, and each type of clip displays an identifying icon.

    Figure 4.1 diagrams the FCE organizing framework.

    Figure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 The project file is at the top level of FCE's organizing framework. You organize multiple clips and sequences inside a project file.

    Figure 4.2 shows how the FCE project structure plays out in the Browser and Timeline windows.

    Figure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 The Browser (top) and Timeline (bottom) interfaces provide a variety of information about your project.

Project item types

On a project's Browser tab, you'll find quite a few different clip types, but you'll also find containers for holding clips: sequences and folders. The Browser's Effects tab contains other types of nonclip project items, audio and video filters and transitions, and generators. See "Browser Window Icons" in Chapter 7 for descriptions of each type of item you'll encounter in a project.

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