Focus: A New Take on Feature Post with Final Cut Pro X

Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra believed that to make a compelling film about a con man, they’d need to lie at least as persuasively as he did. “Any movie is a series of lies,” says Requa. “But you have to make sure the lies work so you don’t alienate the audience.” For their new feature film, Focus, that meant creating intricate, tightly edited scenes that convincingly sell the schemes of grifter protagonist Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith).

Sustaining complex misdirection required an editing tool that was just the opposite — clear, straightforward, and accessible enough that the directors could edit footage along with lead editor Jan Kovac. It needed to be fast so they could experiment with scores of alternate takes. It had to be flexible so they could easily move between cutting on Mac Pro in the edit suite and working with MacBook Pro on location. And it had to be robust enough to reliably organize and process 2K Apple ProRes 4444 footage from production through multiple stages of post.

After researching several workflows, Requa and Ficarra decided to cut their major studio feature entirely in Final Cut Pro X. The results were even better than they’d expected. The movie came in on time and under budget, and it played and looked just as they’d envisioned it. “We got exactly the film we set out to make,” says Requa. “What I love about Final Cut Pro X is that it allowed me to be involved with, and in control of, every aspect of making our film.”

Organized Right Out of the Camera

Before the directors or editors even saw a frame, Final Cut Pro X was saving them time by efficiently organizing hours of footage. The crew used Mac Pro–equipped on-set mobile post systems from Light Iron — a cutting-edge Los Angeles–based post-production company — to generate dailies with metadata imported from the camera and the directors’ notes. Final Cut Pro X made all of this metadata searchable, while handling the full-resolution ProRes 4444 files with ease. Neither task had been possible with previous nonlinear editors.

Using Light Iron’s Live Play app, the production team could view same-day H.264 versions of the dailies on iPad from anywhere on set. And editing began just hours after the camera rolled. Metadata markers allowed the edit crew to quickly find and use the best shots. “When you’re cutting a movie, it’s a struggle for clarity,” says Requa. “You get fatigued and you get really tired of your footage, and you need access to a new point of view. A lot of times, the metadata provided an insight into what we were thinking when we shot it.”

Ficarra believes that the metadata advantage gave them unprecedented control over their story line. “I was able to say, ‘I need Will’s side in this take,’” he says. “And because even his improvisations were specially tagged, we were able to filter and come out with it. The upshot was just infinite searchability. We could change direction so fast and do multiple iterations. Sometimes while we were editing we felt as if we were actually rewriting the movie.”

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Focus: A New Take on Feature Post with Final Cut Pro X