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Bill Davis

Bill Davis runs the Arizona Final Cut Pro Users Group. He's the creator of the StartEditingNow! video editing curriculum for schools and has been a writer and contributing editor at Videomaker Magazine for many years. You can reach Bill here.


When you begin using FCP-X, you may start to notice how deeply the concept of keyboard shortcuts has been woven into the fabric of the program.

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Final Cut Pro X is built around a robust keyboard shortcut system.

In X, as with other NLE programs, the keyboard shortcut combinations are listed in many menu selections, a direct reminder of their power and utility.

Professional editors seldom work efficiently without a robust keyboard shortcut system – but, FCP-X is a bit of a different beast – so the way it uses keyboard shortcuts is also just a bit different.

It becomes obvious when you look at what I’ve come to refer to as “the singles” – an upper left keyboard cluster of single key modifiers that X uses to allow the editor to perform rapid edits, change editing modes, and turn on and off functions.

Some of the terms in this cluster like INSERT, APPEND and OVERWRITE will be familiar to many experienced video editors – but others like CONNECT and SKIMMING will be foreign to non-FCP-X users.

The key to understanding how they work requires a basic understanding of FCP-X’s new magnetic timeline.

Unlike any other NLE before it, X has a default behavior that “magnetizes” clips so they auto attach to their adjacent neighbors.

Magnetism in FCP-X can be initially off-putting to some traditional editors but I honestly urge everyone coming to X to give it a fair chance. After learning to expect the behavior, I’ve found it has become a major timesaver for me – automating the positioning of new content directly adjacent to existing content – the most common positioning I need when assembling clips.

Magnetism also makes single keystroke editing shortcuts extra efficient in X.

Highlight a clip in the Event Browser – and tap E – and whatever you have selected magnetically attaches to the end of your current Storyline. Even better, highlight a group of clips, tap E, and they ALL append magnetically – no gaps, no mess, no fuss. If they arrive out of the order you prefer, you can drag them individually into new positions, and the same magnetism drops them perfectly into position with no need for any additional trimming.

Similarly, the insert edit (W) takes a selected clip or range and INSERTS it at the play head position, a standard editing operation – but in X, magnetism makes sure that even though an insert virtually “pushes” the rest of the storyline content downstream, magnetism keeps all of your downstream content relationships intact. No need to group select, open space, insert your content– and close the gaps. That modestly complex process is reduced to a single keystroke!

Connecting with X

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                                      The Connected clip is a new concept in FCP-X

A cousin to these standard edits in X is the Connect edit (Q) but it’s a great example of how the keyboard shortcuts in X relate not just to standard editing functions, but the new editing thinking in X. Because in X, magnetism works not just horizontally, but vertically as well, and CONNECT is a magnetic link in vertical storyline space.

This is where you start getting into the new X ideas. Connected clips let you arrange stacks of content in discrete modules that you can use to magnetically build out your story section-by-section.

Once you create these stacks you can move them as “content blocks” rather than just as groups of discrete elements. It’s a very powerful and simple way to edit the flow of a story or project.

And moving such stacks leverages the magnetic timeline since upstream or downstream content will literally move out of the way to allow space for the new content to land.

It’s entertaining to watch as you hover over possible landing zones and watch as X re-arranges whatever is necessary to allow for the required landing space – but after the visual fun wears off, you’re left realizing that this is a massively functional way to re-arrange story elements without any need to break your work apart and subsequently re-position it.

Skimming

Another X innovation that’s proving hugely popular with editors is its extremely powerful skimming capabilities that let you rapidly audition video and audio elements.

The skimming key (S) is one of what I call the “mode” keys since unlike the edit keys we’ve covered – which do a single specific function when tapped – mode keys toggle between different editing modes. 

Skimming is the default state of an X timeline – and with it, simply moving your play head over the timeline with your mouse or track pad lets the editor watch the content at the speed you skim. This can be a huge productivity boost for visually oriented editors.

But sometimes you don’t want to skim. (Honestly, skimming audio can get a bit annoying when you don’t want the behavior!) So the S key (in conjunction with the clickable skim mode controls on the toolbar in X) toggles the various skim functions on and off.

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                             A yellow box commonly defines a RANGE selection

At Home On the...

Range (R) is another Mode key that allows the editor to be more productive. It turns your cursor into the Range Select tool and lets you “scrub” a piece of content and virtually isolate it as a selection. Once you’ve done that – you can apply keywords, effects and otherwise affect just the RANGE rather than an entire clip.

Ranges in X can intersect with and overlap other ranges – so it’s a very flexible targeting concept.

Range selection is also the heart of the robust key-wording system in the event browser, so again for a touch typist, your left-hand, home-row position makes the R key readily accessible, ready to toggle on and off the RANGE function in an instant.

Be Careful Out there

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                                 A POSITION move leaving a gap clip behind

In traditional style timelines, an editor often had to be careful about moving elements since if one landed on another – or a clip move pushed one clip into another – the result would be the partial or whole removal of the displaced content from the timeline. Editors had to be constantly aware of the downstream consequences of their upstream asset positioning moves.

The final highlighted key on my singles chart (D) is one I seldom use (Overwrite) because it’s a destructive edit that overrides magnetism to allow you to blow out one piece of content with another. Yes, there are situations where it’s appropriate, but I don’t do it nearly as much since I now have the option to preserve my downstream work via magnetism. Still, when you want to just “overwrite that content with this” – the D key is your solution.

But one reason I use it so little is the more subtly useful P or Position Tool (not in this cluster) It also overrides magnetism, but works with click and drag editing to move a clip to a new location. Position leaves a Gap Clip behind to hold relative space. Gap clips are part of the X ecosystem that demonstrates that unlike traditional timelines, in X when you have “nothing” on a part of your storyline, you actually have just that – nothing.

Those who’ve become accustomed to thinking of unfilled timeline space as “underlying black” have to re-adjust this thinking. Gap clips might seem odd at first, but when you realize that since they are a “something” rather than a “nothing” – you can actually do useful things with them – like apply a custom duration or connect things to them. So if you’re fashion oriented, I suppose you can consider gaps in X “the new black” – but with accessories!

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                                        Select mode (A) is my most common keystroke.

I’ve left, if not the “best” then at least my “most used” single tap keyboard shortcut for last.

It’s the humble A key. I probably tap A a hundred times an hour when I’m editing in X. It’s probably my single most used keystroke.

It’s officially known as the Select Mode key. But I’ve come to think of it as my “Normal” key. Because Select puts X into the mode where your mouse simply selects things as if you’re working in the Finder.

I’ve trained myself that whenever I change modes – for example, tap R for a Range Selection – the moment I’m done, I tap A by rote. That puts me back in Select – ready to use my mouse, the menus or call up a text box. (By the way, clicking in a text entry box automatically defeats the single keystrokes and just lets you type away)

So we’ve covered seven of the simplest single key keyboard shortcuts in this short look. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the combinations that use the Command, Option, Shift or Control key modifiers – in conjunction with letter and number keystrokes – to make your editing work go faster and smoother.

I took the time to count the official Apple keyboard shortcut guide PDF – and to my surprise there are more than 300 default keyboard shortcuts built into Final Cut Pro X – and beyond that, FCP-X provides keyboard customization capabilities that let an individual editor assign and/or re- assign common and custom commands to specific keys in any way that makes better sense for how each editor likes to work.

The Shortcuts To Success

As I mentioned before, keyboard shortcuts are important tools allowing experienced editors to navigate around a timeline rapidly while making selections, executing edits and trims, and applying effects – all while relying less on a mouse or track pad.

So take my word for it. If you’re training yourself to use Final Cut Pro X – start paying attention to the keyboard shortcuts built into the interface.

They’re truly the keys to more efficient editing!

Thanks Bill for a great article.